A Ritual to Celebrate the Life of Mumia Abu-Jamal

Alice Walker on how to honor Mumia


| May-June 2001



Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on death row since 1982, convicted of murdering a Philadelphia policeman. Writer Alice Walker penned this piece as an introduction to Mumia’s collected radio commentaries, which National Public Radio commissioned but never aired. 

I will not write any longer about Mumia Abu-Jamal’s innocence. Millions of people around the world believe he is innocent. I will not write any longer about how he was framed: The evidence speaks for itself. I will not write any longer about the necessity of a new trial: That is obvious. The state intends to take Mumia’s life for its own purpose; for all our love and work, it may succeed.

In every generation there is a case like Mumia’s: A young black man is noted to be brilliant, radical, loving of his people, at war with injustice. Often while he is still in his teens, as in the case of Mumia, the “authorities” decide to keep an eye on him. Indeed, they attempt to arrest his life by framing him for crimes he did not commit, and incarcerating him in prison. There, they think of him as something conquered, a magnificent wild animal they have succeeded in capturing. They feel powerful in a way they could not feel if he were free. Imprisoning such a spirit prevents their knowing just how much of the natural, instinctive, loving self they have lost, or have had stolen from them, whether by abusive parents, horrendous schools, or grim economics. They do not know they have engaged their own masculine beauty, their own passionate soul.

This is immediately apparent when one enters the prison where Mumia is kept. The apprehensive, bored guards. And Mumia, in his orange prison uniform, alert to every spark of life on a visitor’s face, seemingly interested in everything. His essays demonstrate his engaged attention to what is going on in the world, his identification with those who act against injustice and who suffer. His great love of truth and what is right. It is his integrity, in analyzing dozens of events, that makes it possible to sense that he is not a murderer. Certainly not a liar. They will have to kill Mumia to silence him; he has lost his fear of death, having been threatened with it so many times; he is a free man, at last.

A man who is free, whose life has been signed away several times already, is a man I can listen to. What does such a man, unrepentant of his beliefs, have to say? And what places in the listener’s soul are fed by his words? As we push off into the next thousand years, which I personally feel are going to be great, what is the fundamental voice we need to hear to start us on the journey? It is the voice of those like Mumia, whose love outweighs his fear.

So I will ask you to read at least one of Mumia’s books, as a way to begin to feel your way into this new millennium. He has written and published books from death row, an amazing feat, and of course he has been punished for doing so. I will encourage you to listen to his voice. Losing that voice would be like losing a color from the rainbow. I will tell you we have a reason for being here, in America, and that Mumia reminds us what it is. It is to continue to delight in who we are, because who we are is beautiful. Who we are is powerful. Who we are is strong. Mumia is us, this amazing new tribe of people that being in America has produced. With plenty consciousness, plenty beauty, plenty intelligence, and plenty hair.

We are like the Zapatistas of Chiapas in southern Mexico in many ways: vastly outnumbered, many of us poor, humiliated daily by those in power, feeling ourselves unwanted, unseen, and unnamed. Mumia helps us know how deeply and devoutly we are wanted; how sharply and lovingly we are seen; how honorable is our much maligned name. And like the Zapatistas, who are an indigenous people still trustful of Nature, we too can rejoice in knowing it is not too late to take direction from the Earth.