Jul 18, 2011
Geronimo Pratt died on June 3rd in Tanzania at the age of 63. Geronimo was the name Elmer Pratt took when he joined the Black Panthers. The Black Panther movement was born in Oakland, California in 1966, an era of black radicalization. He was one of its militant leaders.
The Black Panther Party in Oakland was influenced by the ideas of Malcolm X before his assassination in 1965. The Black Panthers’ ten point program demanded the end of capitalist exploitation, decent housing, education which takes into account the history of black people, exemption from military service, the end of police brutality and a halt to assassinations of well known black people, and black juries to judge black people.
The party set up a free breakfast program in Oakland for children that was very popular. It also distributed clothes, gave self-defense classes, provided transportation to jails for prisoners’ families, and fought against alcoholism and drug addiction. Some of this was emulated in other cities.
The Black Panthers drew the attention of the U.S. government. J. Edgar Hoover was head of the FBI when the Panthers began armed patrols against police brutality. Hoover wrote that the Cointelpro spy plan used against opponents of the Viet Nam war must “make moderate young blacks understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teaching, they will become dead revolutionaries.” Hoover wrote that in March of 1968, just as the FBI was beginning an organized campaign of assassinations. Thirty-eight militants were killed in raids organized by the police and FBI against Black Panther offices. On December 4th, 1969, one of the Panther leaders, Fred Hampton, was executed in his bed. Thirty members of the Black Panthers were given the death penalty, 40 got life in prison, 55 more were sentenced to 30 years in prison.
These prosecutions were carried out as if the Black Panthers’ organizations were “criminal conspiracies to commit terrorist acts.” Twenty-one Black Panthers faced that charge, although they were acquitted in May of 1971.
Geronimo Pratt was one of the victims of this determination of the U.S. government, ready to do anything to prevent the entire black community from rising up. Pratt, an influential militant, was tried and found guilty of a murder he didn’t commit. He spent 27 years in prison. A long legal battle was finally able to free him.
When Pratt was finally freed and the FBI role was brought to light, he was awarded 4½ million dollars in restitution for the 27 years of his life that the government had stolen – an implicit admission of what the government had been doing.
In Tanzania, where Geronimo Pratt went to live, he summed up his life, “I was born under segregation. I had to face KKK terror and all the forms of ignorance which afflicted our people. That gave me a type of pride, the idea that we could lead ourselves and protect ourselves. I was selected for training in this task. But almost immediately, I was sent to Viet Nam, where I survived.
When I returned, Malcolm X was just assassinated. We said then, ‘It’s necessary to do something.’ We were a group of young people and we continued to act for our people in proportion to our means.”
Pratt added that he intended to aid comrades still in prison, like Mumia Abu-Jamal, for example. In fact, the battle he fought for black political prisoners is far from over.