Independence Day for some: 7 Black political prisoners held since the 1970s

Urbanites may be surprised at the number of political rebels who have remained behind bars since the 1970s
Independence Day for some: 7 Black political prisoners held since the 1970s
Mumia Abu-Jamal (Image source: YouTube/Democracy Now)

As the nation celebrated Independence Day, there are those who ironically fought for everyone to have complete independence from oppression in America who remain imprisoned since the 1970s or longer.

According to the Office of Justice Reforms within the U.S. Department of Justice (ojp.gov), a political prisoner is defined as “one who is detained for his or her beliefs, color, sex, ethnic origin, language, or religious creed, regardless of whether the individual has advocated the use of violence and includes those detained without trial or prosecuted as a form of persecution.”


Political prisoners have existed since the days of, ironically, the Revolutionary War and continued through the civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960s and ’70s. The website gave several examples, including former Black Panther Party member Elmer Pratt who was falsely convicted of killing a White schoolteacher in 1968 – and who was eventually freed in the 1990s by the late legendary lawyer Johnnie Cochran. 

Cheatsheets.com lists over 100 political prisoners languishing away in prisons across the U.S., while the National Alumni Association of the Black Panther Party says that most of them are former Panther members.


Below is just a short list of the many freedom fighters who remain in America’s concrete confines, according to The Guardian. 

1. Former Pennsylvania death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther

Age: 64

Incarcerated since: 1981

Convicted of: Murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner

Sentence: Life without parole

Current prison: SCI Mahanoy, Pennsylvania

2. Mutulu Shakur in the Manhattan Correction Center. Photograph: New York Daily News Archive/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Age: 67

Incarcerated since: 1986

Convicted of: Helping Black Panther Party member Assata Shakur escape from prison in 1979

Sentence: 60 years

Current prison: Federal Correctional Complex, Victorville, California

3. Janine Africa, a member of Move, preaches to the crowd that gathers in front of their barricaded house. Photograph: Leif Skoogfors/Corbis via Getty Images

Age: 62

Incarcerated since: 1978

Convicted of: Third-degree murder of police officer James Ramp during Philadelphia siege

Sentence: 30 years to life

Current prison: SCI Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania

4. Ruchell ‘Cinque’ Magee

Age: 79

Incarcerated since: 1963

Convicted of: Aggravated kidnapping in 1970 courthouse break-out attempt in which Judge Harold Haley was killed

Sentence: Life without parole

Current prison: California Men’s Colony, San Luis Obispo, California

 This entry was amended on 2 August 2018 to correct Ruchell ‘Cinque’ Magee’s age from 65 to 79.

5. Kamau Sidiki aka Freddie Hilton Photograph: Handout

Age: 65

Incarcerated since: 2002

Convicted of: Murder in 1971 of Atlanta police officer James Green

Sentence: Life

Current prison: Augusta State Medical Prison, Georgia

Ed Poindexter. Photograph: Courtesy of Ed Poindexter

Age: 73

Incarcerated since: 1970

Convicted of: Murder of Omaha police officer Larry Minard

Sentence: Life

Current prison: Nebraska State Penitentiary, Lincoln, Nebraska

6. Fred ‘Muhammad’ Burton. Photograph: Handout

Age: 71

Incarcerated since: 1970

Convicted of: Murder of police officer, and later murder of two prison officers

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Current prison: SCI-Somerset, Pennsylvania

Sentence: Life

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