Barbara Casey is back with Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave
Barbara Casey is a favorite guest of ours here on Jaquo. Her style of writing, the variety of her subjects, the stories themselves are always intriguing and so enjoyable.
Now on tour with her latest, Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave, we hope you will check out her schedule of events and drop in on some. Hosted by iRead Book Tours, you will find reviews, more articles written by Ms. Casey, and interviews.
It’s always a pleasure. Today we are happy to share an article by this lovely author. You are sure to enjoy it!
By Barbara Casey
ASSATA SHAKUR: A 20th Century Escaped Slave is the story of a young woman who determined at a very early age that she wanted to lift “her people” from under the feet of a white society through “armed resistance” and “no matter what it took.” As Joanne Deborah (Bryan) Chesimard aka Assata Shakur followed her self-professed mission in life, she became involved with the Black Panthers, and, then later, the Black Liberation Movement. At first her mission was a humanitarian one: she worked helping to set up free legal counsel, free medical treatment, and food for children who would otherwise go hungry. But at some point, the direction of her mission changed; the path she chose became dark. And in her wake there was only death, destruction, and the many lives that had been destroyed. It is one life in particular that I want to discuss here: Aunt Evelyn.
Evelyn Williams was the younger sister of Assata’s mother. The daughter of an automobile mechanic/entrepreneur and a seamstress; married once. She graduated from Brooklyn College in the mid-1940s and earned a law degree from St. John’s University Law School. When Williams earned her juris doctor, she was one of two African Americans in a class of 154. During her dual career as a law student and social worker, she became involved in a high-profile case involving the children of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, two American Communists executed in 1953 for espionage. Her future was promising.
By 1971, Joey, as Aunt Evelyn called her niece, had rechristened herself Assata Shakur and had gone underground in order to escape legal prosecution for the many crimes she had committed as a member of the Black Liberation Army. In an effort to end what they saw was a literal war on the African American community, the BLA was involved in a series of incidents that included bank robbery, kidnapping, and the targeting of law enforcement personnel for murder.
For two years, Williams, now a New York City attorney, and her family were surveilled by the FBI and lived in fear that Shakur would be killed in a shoot-out with police, as some other members of the BLA had been. When Shakur was eventually captured and taken into custody in early May of 1973, Aunt Evelyn quit her job and her own goals and dreams to become Shakur’s defense attorney as authorities began issuing a barrage of criminal charges against her and other BLA members. For the next several years, she served as their defense lawyer in a legal nightmare involving the prosecutorial arms of the States of New York and New Jersey, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Altogether, there were ten trials. Through it all, Aunt Evelyn stood by her niece, defending her, supporting her, and offering moral support. In return, Assata chose to criticize Aunt Evelyn, often refusing to follow instructions, being obstructive during court procedings, and disrespectful toward the court in general.
In November of 1979 Aunt Evelyn learned from news reports that Assata Shakur had escaped from prison. Once again, her niece was a fugitive from the law. Meanwhile, in June of 1980, Williams took a position as executive director of Harlem Legal Services. However, Williams’s defense of her niece had made her a target of harassment, and work was difficult. She again set up private practice in mid-1981.
Aunt Evelyn attempted to move on with her life and continue her career as an attorney; however, she eventually lost her private legal practice. From 1987 to 1989 Williams taught at City College of New York, then entered private practice again with the New York City law firm of Stevens, Hinds and White, where she continued to work for social change for the African American community. Now semiretired, she admits that she has reached the same conclusion that her niece reached a long time ago: “Direct action by the people is the only hope for change.” This is such a sad comment from someone who gave up everything in the name of justice.
Merry, it is so wonderful to be a guest on your blog site again. Thank you so much for inviting me and for your interest in my new book, Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave. You might be interested to know that my previous book of nonfiction, Kathryn Kelly: The Moll Behind Machine Gun Kelly, which you also highlighted on your blog site, has been optioned for a major film and TV series. I wish you and your bloggers all my best.
Readers: Click here to find our review of Kathryn Kelly: The Moll Behind Machine Gun Kelly.
In May 1973, Assata Olugbala Shakur was involved in a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike in which she was accused of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and assaulting Trooper James Harper. This resulted in her indictment of first-degree murder of Foerster and seven other felonies related to the shootout. A member of the Black Panther Party, she became a prime target of the Federal Bureau of Investigations Counterintelligence Program. When she joined the Black Liberation Army and went into hiding, between 1973 and 1977, she was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for three bank robberies, the kidnapping and murder of two drug dealers, and the attempted murder of two New Jersey police officers.
In March 1977 Assata Shakur was convicted of murdering state trooper Werner Forrester and was imprisoned. Two years later she broke out of the maximum-security wing of Clinton Correctional Facility in New Jersey, pistol in hand, as she and three cohorts sped out of the prison grounds. In 1984 she was granted political asylum in Cuba where she has lived ever since. On May 2, 2013, the FBI added her to the Most Wanted Terrorist List, the first woman to be listed. Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave is the story of Assata Shakur, before she became a fugitive and since.
Barbara Casey is the author of several award-winning novels for both adults and young adults, as well as book-length works of nonfiction true crime and numerous articles, poems, and short stories. Her previous nonfiction true crime work, Kathryn Kelly: The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly, has been optioned for a major film and television series.
In addition to her own writing, she is an editorial consultant for independent publishers and writers, and president of the Barbara Casey Agency, established in 1995, representing authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. Barbara lives on a mountain in Georgia with her husband and three dogs who adopted her: Benton, a hound-mix; Fitz, a miniature dachshund; and Gert, a Jack Russel terrier of sorts.
Connect with the author: Website
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