Assata Shakur

Cameron Cox

The name ‘Assata’ means “she who struggles.” Assata Shakur lived through the struggles of the black liberation movement, the students rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. Even though she struggled to advance the American people from an era of blunt racism and inequality, the government saw her as a terrorist. Her efforts were altered in media to make society believe she was a criminal.


Assata Shakur, formerly known as Joanne Chesimard, is a leader in Black political activism and liberation. She was a member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army before her criminalization by the United States government in 1977 that led her to flee to Cuba as a refugee.


During her time as a member of the Black Liberation Army, Assata was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and indicted for 3 bank robberies, the kidnapping and murder of two drug dealers, and the attempted murder of policemen. On May 2, 1973, Assata Shakur and two of her counterparts were stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike by state troopers for what seemed to be a motor violation. After the officers discovered guns in their car, a confrontation ensued, and Assata Shakur was shot twice. One state trooper suffered minor injuries and another, Werner Foerester, was killed. Accounts of this incident vary and it is unclear if Assata Shakur discharged any weapon that day; however, she was hospitalized and charged for Foerester’s murder.

In 1977, four years after the incident, Assata Shakur was convicted of murdering state trooper Werner Foerester, although medical experts testified that her injuries would have rendered her incapable of firing the fatal shot. After spending two years in a prison with deplorable conditions, Assata, abused and mistreated, managed to escape. After her escape, Assata was added to FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list with a one million dollar reward. Because of  government persecution, she was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominates the US government’s policy towards people of color. Assata calls herself a 20th century escaped slave.

In 1987, Assata Shakur’s autobiography, which chronicles her life and ideological development, was published. Although many of her activities in Cuba have been shrouded in secrecy, Assata Shakur continued to be a vocal activist in the 1980s and 1990s, speaking out on global justice issues and the prison industrial complex. In 1998, Congress passed a resolution to demand Shakur’s extradition from Cuba, causing Shakur’s supporters to create the “Hands off Assata” campaign. Also in her memory, Assata’s Daughters is a grassroots intergenerational collective of radical Black women located in the city of Chicago. This group was formed in March 2015 in order to address a shortage in programming and community for young Black women in Chicago. Founded, planned, and operated by Black women, Assata’s Daughters carries on the tradition of radical liberatory activism encompassed by Assata Shakur.