Revolutionary Worker #916, July 20, 1997
It was a beautiful, sweet, historic moment. People will look back, for years to come, and recall the revolutionary anticipation and electricity of the crowd. After being framed up, railroaded and unjustly imprisoned for 27 years, Brother Geronimo ji Jaga* (known as Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt) was finally free, speaking to the people! This was a real victory for the people--won by the struggle of the people.
The auditorium of the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia was packed with people waiting to see "G", as many affectionately call Geronimo. When 300 people showed up, it got so hot and crowded, people decided to take it outside, right into the street.
Ramona Africa welcomed everyone on behalf of the MOVE organization and then handed the mike over to Herman Ferguson of the New Afrikan Liberation Front, who spoke briefly and introduced Geronimo.
Geronimo walked to the front of the crowd with his wife Ashaki, fist high in the air. People jumped to their feet, threw their fists in the air and clapped wildly. Some simply shouted, "Geronimo! Geronimo! Geronimo!" Others laughed or cried. It was a moment many who were there had waited and struggle many years for. There were veterans of the struggle in the crowd, including some of Geronimo's former comrades in the Black Panther Party. And there were others, like the youth from Refuse & Resist!'s Freedom Summer Project, who weren't even born when Geronimo was unjustly locked up.
Geronimo's first words made it clear that he had never given up the struggle for revolution or the Panther's "serve the people" outlook. Through the applause he shouted: "Power to the people! Power to the people! I love you all." And he went on from there to speak about the need to step up the struggle for the liberation of Black people:
"First of all, I want to let you know, anybody who knows of me knows, that I come from the Ministry of Defense. We did not have speakers in the Ministry of Defense. The Ministry of Information took care of that, so I'm not a speaker. But things have fallen into my lap and I have to carry these messages to you about what's happening behind the walls and one of the first things that I think I should convey to you is that the brothers and sisters asked me to ask you why isn't there a state of emergency right now? With what's happening with the rapid rate of incarceration and imprisonment of all of your sons and daughters, too, and fathers and brothers and sisters, and there's not a big enough response, a resistance to that kind of a genocidal program. So I would like to call for, on behalf of all of the brothers, the prisoners of war, political prisoners, for a state of emergency."
Geronimo had traveled to the East Coast to tape a program with BET (Black Entertainment Television) and stopped in Philly to help step up the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal from death row. He spoke with love and respect for "Little Brother," which is what some of the Panthers called Mumia because he was so young when he first got involved with the struggle:
"Mumia is the phrase on my lips because Mumia's not just a name to me. I always called him my little brother. I remember when he came and we brought him out to the national headquarters in Oakland back in the '60s and I showed Captain Reggie around. Mumia stood out so much and he was like a child prodigy. We were all so proud of him. He was like 13, 14 back then. I remember the Minister of Culture, Emory Douglas, who would just love to have him work with him on the paper and do various things that Mumia always came and excelled at as a young revolutionary fighting for his people.
"Years later when I heard that Mumia had this case, I couldn't believe it because I know Mumia. I know he is a beautiful brother. He comes from a very strong family. He's a soldier. And we did further investigations and we found out, just like I had already suspected, that Mumia did not do that murder. See we know that the truth is going to come out, just like for years everyone knew I didn't do the murder that I was doing all this time on.... We know the truth, just like what freed me, the truth came out about the frame-up on me, the truth will come out about the frame-up of our beautifully great brother, Mumia Abu-Jamal! And I am committed to seeing Mumia out here speaking to you because Mumia, this is his forté. It's not mine. We've got to free those brothers who can articulate these things to you much better than I and free me back to do my work in the Ministry of Defense."
The battle to free all political prisoners was a thread running through everything Geronimo said. He spoke about the conditions political prisoners face behind bars and the urgent need to free them--including people in exile like Assata Shakur, who fought for the liberation of Black people in the 1960s and was forced to flee the country. Then he added, "But like I said, the main thrust is to get Mumia out of there, make sure the truth comes out and I want to urge everyone to support the MOVE people. Support everyone who's trying to get Mumia out of there. Let's get him out of there.
"I spent 18 months on death row. Death row ain't no joke. I went to death row, I spent my first eight years in the hole and every time they opened a cell door we had to fight. So they had me in at San Quentin, A.C., where George Jackson was killed, which was considered one of the most infamous and tortuous holes in the country. So they put me on death row on March 14, 1974, when they said that I was involved with the kidnaping of Patricia Hearst and the SLA.
"Now, back then we didn't have TVs in prison. You didn't have radios and you sure didn't have nothing in the hole. We couldn't get a newspaper, anything. So I didn't even know who Patricia Hearst was. So I was put in there. First they tried to kill me. They shot me with buckshot and they hit me with a rubber bullet. The real bullet passed by my head right here and then when that didn't work, they jumped over there and they put me on the six floor north block, which is death row, and I stayed up there for 18 months.
"Death row ain't no joke. It's not a joke. It is very, very serious, constant stress. It's constant, constant--I can't describe it. I wish I had the words to convey to you. And Mumia don't deserve that. Mumia do not deserve to be in that situation one more day. We've got to free Mumia."
When Geronimo talked about how the government has attacked and persecuted MOVE, someone in the crowd shouted, "Free the MOVE 9!" And Geronimo said, "I also want to mention the entire MOVE organization, the MOVE 9 and all of the beautiful brothers and sisters. And when that bomb was dropped on those brothers and sisters and children, our hearts still bleed for that. And it brought me right back to 1969, December 8th on 41st and Central, Los Angeles, California when we were attacked...because they dropped a bomb on us, too. But we had sandbagged the roof. So the bomb only created a hole this big. But we were fortunate that the same tragic fate didn't happen to us. And on top of that, we shot the helicopter down through the hole that they blew the roof in and I'm very proud of that. But I know the viciousness of the enemy and you all should know that we are still at war. It ain't never, it's never stopped."
Geronimo talked about his background, how he came up in rural Louisiana and how he bought his first pair of shoes by selling catfish. He described how his family organized against the lynching of Black people in the south. And he recalled how his family told him and others to go to the army, "to get some training so we could come back and further protect the community against the Klan terror and we did that." He talked of his great faith in the ability of people to rise above the everyday struggle for survival and all the other traps the system lays out. He spoke about how the Panthers had gone to gang members and how, "they would change their gangster mentality into a revolutionary mentality." He said that while he was in prison, "not one time was I ever disrespected by one of the Crips or Bloods" and that the youth need leadership, not contempt or cynicism. He put the blame for problems in the community like drugs and guns and "Black-on-Black violence" on the system, not the people.
He said other political prisoners had asked him to get the Black Congressional Caucus to hold hearings to expose how the FBI's COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program) had been used to target the Black Panther Party for destruction and had resulted in the death and imprisonment of dozens of members of the Black Panther Party and other organizations in the 1960s.
Geronimo also talked about his support for a plebiscite in which Black people would vote on whether to become a separate nation: "I'm an African. We've got to liberate the entire African nation, regardless of where we at.... We have to conquer the fear of freedom that has been trained in our people since the so-called Emancipation Proclamation when the newly freed slaves looked and they said well damn, master, you done freed me. What I'm gonna do? I don't know what to do. So they turned around and they went with their master again with the sharecropping and what not. That's called, with sociologists and all that big name stuff, it's called the fear of freedom and it's very real because we tested that. You see, people have fear that they can't function without the United States and that's a damn shame. Look around you at these beautiful sisters and brothers and leaders that you have around you and increase your confidence, you know, self-confidence and have that to increase that national dignity and will."
Geronimo ended his speech by saying, "I just want to tell everyone asaka ashana, thank you very much, merci beaucoup, all that. And from the bottom of my heart, I love all of you all and we'll continue to struggle. Free the land!"
The applause and warmth of the crowd went on for a long time. There was a real sense that people were feeling their strength--that they knew it was their struggle that had gotten this brother out of the hellhole this system had put him in and that it is possible to win big victories. And Geronimo's presence strengthened people's determination to win the battle to free Mumia and other political prisoners.
After Geronimo's speech, Ramona Africa, a former political prisoner and survivor of the bombing of MOVE, presented some gifts on behalf of the MOVE 9. Other people came up and also presented Geronimo with gifts. Mike Africa did his rap, "Just Because It's Legal Don't Make It Right" and the Daughters of the Diaspora gave a powerful performance in Geronimo's honor. Over $700 was raised for Geronimo.
The whole event was a powerful testament to the revolutionary strength and dignity of Geronimo ji Jaga. After enduring 27 years of unjust imprisonment, this brother is now out among the people, committed as ever to fighting for the liberation of Black people. His appearance had a powerful impact on the North Philadelphia neighborhood--which was one of the bases of support of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. The Panthers had an office just a few blocks away from the Church of the Advocate church where Geronimo spoke. This church was also where the Panthers held a memorial service for Black Panther Fred Hampton after he was murdered by the government. And Reverend Paul Washington, who opened the doors to the Panthers in the 1960s, is still the pastor at this church.
One brother who had come to hear Geronimo speak told the RW that he was active in the '60s and remembers how the police lined up the Panthers and strip-searched them right on the streets. He said the people's victory, getting Geronimo free, "makes me feel like I can lift my head again."
New York, July 11, 1997: The day after Geronimo ji Jaga spoke in Philadelphia, he spoke in New York City at a program sponsored by the New African Liberation Front. A thousand people packed the auditorium at the Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Geronimo entered the room to a loud drum roll and everybody was on their feet, fists in the air cheering and clapping. Before Geronimo spoke, there was an African libation (blessing) and messages from a number of different African-American organizations. A representative of Pro Libertad, an organization that supports Puerto Rican political prisoners, also spoke. Speaker after speaker stepped up to the podium and embraced Geronimo. Most of the audience was Black and there were members of many different organizations and political trends. A collection was taken up in the audience and over $3,000 was raised for Geronimo.
People were very moved when Yuri Kochiyama made her way to the stage with the aid of a walker. Yuri is an Asian-American activist from Harlem who has been involved for many, many years in the struggle against the oppression of Black people and was with Malcolm X when he died. She spoke of Geronimo as one "whose spirit and strength has been an inspiration for all" and honored Geronimo for his "ability to withstand all the objective adversities," and for the fact that he remained "strong and spirited, warm and loving, with dignity and humility." She ended by saying, "Your courage, your persistence, your integrity, your faith, your love of people characterizes you as a leader...."
When Geronimo was introduced, the audience burst into the chant, "Freedom Fighter!" which went on for a few minutes. Geronimo reached over and pulled his wife, Ashaki, up to the podium to be with him. Geronimo thanked everyone for their support. His speech touched on the struggle to free all political prisoners from Amerikkka's dungeons, no matter what their organizational affiliation. Geronimo called on people to support the Jericho March on Washington next spring to free all political prisoners.
He said many political prisoners expected, anticipated prison when they joined the struggle and that "We were there to give our lives for our people and still are." He spoke about how treacherous the government's COINTELPRO was in dividing people in the struggle and called for people to put aside differences and unite in a common struggle. He ended by thanking everyone for the beautiful reception and said, "I love you all and I'm not gonna stop!"
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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