Assata Shakur’s Journey in Her Own Words

Assata Shakur
Wikipedia Commons
Assata Shakur
Wikipedia Commons

When President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. was restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba, talk immediately turned to the fate of Assata Shakur, who evokes a sense of victory among some African Americans, primarily because she escaped imprisonment while serving a life sentence for a murder that many believe she did not commit. Shakur went on to receive political asylum from Cuba in 1984, where she resides today.


Some people wonder if the reconciliation between the U.S. and Cuba, as well as the recent announcement by New Jersey authorities calling for Shakur’s extradition for the killing of a state trooper, will affect Shakur’s safety. Writer and social activist dream hampton posted this message to her Facebook account in response to that line of inquiry:

Post by dream hampton.

The following edited segments were culled from a 1987 interview with Shakur that WABC’s Like It Is host Gil Noble conducted in Havana. You’ll see a radiant Shakur recounting her journey from being a student trying to make good on a college degree that would enable her to command a higher salary to becoming a symbol of the black resistance movement in America.

1. Shakur describes how she stumbled upon Afrocentrism and the civil rights movement while attending college in New York City.

2. Shakur conducted research about a variety of social-justice organizations and explains why she ultimately decided to join the Black Panther Party. In her mind, reform was no longer an option. The U.S. government needed to be revamped from the inside out in order for African Americans to be treated equally. 

3. The Black Panther Party was targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO initiative, which sought to dismantle any organization or person deemed a threat to the “existing social and political order.” Shakur explains why she decided to leave the Black Panther Party and how the FBI began to target her specifically.

4. Shakur describes the series of events that took place on May 2, 1973, on the New Jersey Turnpike that led to her being accused of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and gravely injuring Trooper James Harper. Shakur was shot twice during the incident and maintains that she was treated inhumanely during her time in the hospital where she remained in police custody.

5. Shakur, who escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey in 1979, speaks about why she chose to go to Cuba to continue to bring about political and social change for oppressed people.

Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beatsa Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.