During the 1960s and 1970s Afeni Shakur was a poet and activist with the Black Panthers, writing regularly for the Panther Post newsletter.
You can buy Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary by Jasmine Guy here.
You can watch Adam Curtis' Can't Get You Out of My Head on BBC Iplayer here.
In her biography, Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary, she explained the experience to the author, Jasmine Guy, recounting how seeing Bobby Seale speak inspired her to take action and describing what the Panthers did for her.
‘So there I was wrapped in my Africanness. For the first time, loving myself and loving, now that there was something I could do with my life. There was now something I could do with all this aggression, and all this fear. Because up until this point, I wasn’t shit…Before I joined the party, I was fucked up. I would slap a motherfucker in a minute. I cussed my mama out, disrespected her, left her cryin’ on the kitchen floor. Would you be proud of that shit?...So the Panther Party for me, at that time, clarified my situation. They took my rage and channeled it against them [she points outside], instead of us [she holds her heart]. They educated my mind and gave me direction. With that direction came hope, and I loved them for giving me that. Because I never had hope in my life.’
Adam Curtis’s recent BBC series Can’t Get You Out of My Head shone a beacon of light on Afeni as herself representing a beacon of hope in the context of what he presents as a failing revolution.
In Part 2 of his series, he includes details of her involvement in her party and features her group’s plans to bomb targets like Macey’s and other department stores and public targets in New York. She was anxious about the potential loss of civilian lives and felt the group was being bullied into taking this kind of direction, in particular by one member of the group, Yedwar Sudhan, who she began to suspect might be a double agent trying to lead them into trouble.
She shared her misgivings with another member of the group who confronted the man. In response, he pulled out his gun and fired warning shots into the table. His main argument to prove his innocence was that Afeni Shakur was just being a typical emotional woman and somewhere between his words and his macho show of violent commitment, the group believed him over her.
In 1970, Afeni Shakur and the rest of her group, who became called the Panther 21, were arrested and charged with a largescale conspiracy to bring down the power structures as they saw them.
But during the trial, it came out that three of the founding members of the group, were undercover officers and they were the most active members of the group actually taking a lead on organising the groups’ revolutionary activities. They arranged to buy dynamite, the locations for the proposed attacks, the cars to transport the explosives; in the end it seemed that the plot to overthrow the establishment was being conducted, largely, by the establishment itself albeit undercover.
Afeni Shakur was at the heart of moments in the trial that led the jury to acquit her and the other Panthers. Even though she had no legal background, she represented hersel and in doing so was able to question the undercover agent (who she had suspected all along) in the courtroom.
Under her questioning, he admitted that what they’d done together as activists was ‘beautiful’ and agreed the he had betrayed the community and misrepresented the Panthers to his officers. What the Panthers might have achieved if they had not dismissed Afeni as an emotional woman and trusted the double agent, and what her astute questioning in the courtroom did for the results of their trial as well as their public image is clearly enormous. As Adam Curtis puts it, she is ‘a powerful example of how an individual could challenge those in power and win.’
And yes, she is related to Tupac Shakur – she is his mother. In his song ‘Dear Mama’ he described her as his ‘Black Queen’, but he also describes the hard life she had, which at times he made worse.
Her story is one of constant struggle, of finding meaning in the fight, and of being willing to put herself on the line in the battle for racial justice,equality and Black Power.