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Sat, 04.24.1954

Mumia Abu-Jamal, Activist, and Writer born

Mumia Abu-Jamal

*Mumia Abu-Jamal was born on this date in 1954. He is a Black activist and writer.

Born Wesley Cook in Philadelphia, PA, his high school teacher gave Abu-Jamal in 1968, a Kenyan instructing a class on African cultures in which students took African classroom names.   That same year he suffered a beating from whites and a policeman as he tried to disrupt a George Wallace for President rally.   In 1969, at the age of 15, he helped form the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party and was responsible for writing information and news communications.

That same year, he dropped out of Benjamin Franklin High School and took up residence in the branch's headquarters.  He lived in New York City and Oakland with BPP colleagues as a party member from May 1969 until October 1970. He was subject to Federal Bureau of Investigation COINTELPRO surveillance until  1974.

He adopted the surname Abu-Jamal ("father of Jamal" in Arabic) after the birth of his son Jamal in 1971. He has three children; his first marriage, at age 19, to Jamal's mother, Biba, was short-lived. Their daughter, Lateefa, was born shortly after the wedding. Mazi, Abu-Jamal's son by his second wife, Marilyn, was born in early 1978.

Abu-Jamal was living with his third wife, Wadiya, shortly before going to prison. After leaving the Panthers, he returned to his old high school but was suspended for distributing literature calling for "black revolutionary student power." He also led unsuccessful protests to change the school name to Malcolm X High.  After attaining his GED, he studied briefly at Goddard College.

In 1975, he began a career in radio broadcasting, first at Temple University's WRTI; then, in 1975, he was employed at radio station WHAT, and he became the host of a weekly feature program of WCAU-FM in 1978. He also worked at WPEN and became active in the local chapter of the Marijuana Users Association of America.  From 1979 until 1981, he worked at National Public Radio affiliate WUHY when he was asked to submit his resignation after a dispute about the requirements of objective focus in his presentation of news.

As a radio journalist, he was known for identifying with and giving exposure to the MOVE anarcho-primitivist commune in Philadelphia's Powelton Village neighborhood, including reportage of the 1979–80 trial of certain of its members (the "MOVE Nine") charged with the murder of police officer James Ramp.  During his broadcasting career, his high-profile interviews included Julius Erving, Bob Marley, and Alex Haley, and he was elected president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.

Abu-Jamal worked as a taxicab driver in Philadelphia two nights a week to supplement his income. He had been working part-time as a reporter for WDAS. In 1981, Abu-Jamal was arrested, tried, and convicted of gunning down white city police Officer Daniel Faulkner. He garnered worldwide support for his claims that he was the victim of a racist justice system.   In 2001, prosecutors drop their bid for capital punishment against Abu-Jamal. He now received an automatic life term.

Maureen Faulkner, the officer's widow, had said in a statement that she wanted Abu-Jamal to be removed from the seclusion of death row and placed in the institution's general population. "And I am heartened that he will be taken from the protective cloister he has been living in all these years and begin living among his own kind, the thugs and common criminals that infest our prisons."

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