by Todd Steven Burroughs, Ph.D.

special to  Prof. Kim's News Notes


NOTE: In his new book, "We Want Freedom: A Life In The Black Panther Party" (South End Press), Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Pennsylvania Death Row inmate, remembers his Party days. In this excerpt of "We Want Freedom," Abu-Jamal recalls his life as a founding member of the Party’s Philadelphia branch.

"As an officer," Abu-Jamal writes, "it was disconcerting to have older members come to me with Party, and even personal, problems. I had to dispel the suspicion that I was a young snot, that I instead had the confidence of the chapter and Party leadership, and thus had a duty to try to do my level best to help any Panther brother or sister, older or younger, who came for help, and if unable to do so, to refer them to other leaders in the organization."

In this excerpt, Abu-Jamal refers to Philadelphia as the fourth largest city in America. An inconsistency of the book is that in another remembered passage, he remembers Philadelphia as being the fifth largest. – Todd Steven Burroughs


By Mumia Abu-Jamal

Being a Panther in Philadelphia was a unique challenge. One was home, but not at home. For "home" meant where Panthers dwelled, not where one’s mother lived or where one’s biological brothers and sisters lived.

It meant living in a family of several hundred young men and women, all dedicated to building, defending, or promoting the revolutionary collective.

With offices in several sections of the nation’s fourth largest city, the BPP was in contact with broad segments of the Black community on a frequent and daily basis, in North Philadelphia, through the two offices at 1928 West Columbia Avenue and 2935 West Columbia Avenue; in West Philadelphia, through the office at 3625 Wallace Street; and in Germantown, through the office at 428 West Queen Lane.

There was a free breakfast program for schoolchildren in a South Philadelphia community center and near all major offices.

The offices were like buzzing beehives of Black resistance. It was always busy, as people piled [in] starting with its opening at 7:30 a.m., and continuing till after nightfall. The days were full, the nights too short, and the fellowship was electric with Black love and die-hard commitment.

People came with every problem imaginable, and because our sworn duty was to serve the people, we took our commitment seriously.

Early in the morning, we might get visits from nearby merchants, who just wanted to chat. We welcomed such visits, for they normalized our presence in the neighborhood, and they cemented relationships and businesspeople who had a stake in the area. When people had been badly treated by the cops or if parents were demanding a traffic light to slow traffic on North Philly streets where their children played, they came to our offices. In short, whatever our people’s problems were, they became our problems. We didn’t preach to the people; we worked with them.

Throughout the early afternoon, we would get visits from school kids—not those of breakfast school age, but junior high and senior high school kids—who wanted to sell the paper in their schools. We would caution them to be careful, to only take as many as they were fairly certain they could sell, and ask them to return to the office to the office 20 cents on each paper sold before the week was out.


SOME OF US worked hard to develop relationships with our neighbors, because we knew that they knew the neighborhood intimately and they could teach us things about it.

One of the closest neighbors were the Siedlers, a family who ran a children’s clothing store across the streets from us. They were an older couple, affectionately called Mom and Pop Siedler, who lived in an apartment overtop their Columbia Avenue storefront.

Although they were white, they were warm and supportive, and, as they were apparently well read in Marxist literature, we held political discussions with them after the office was closed.

One of our sisters, a mother with a young child, stayed with them, as it seemed far more conducive to their well-being than the rough and tumble, and dangerous Panther Pad where we lived communally. Although unstated, we knew that the cops would be more hesitant to raid a home where white merchants lived, than a Black Panther apartment building, where we were known to be well-armed. The sister was the wife of a well-known Panther from the West Coast who left the country surreptitiously, so we were grateful for the Sielders’ generosity and kindness.

Unfortunately, all did not go well from the Sielders’ as Pop (Bill) was killed during a robbery of the downstairs store. We shared our grief with Mom (Miriam) at the tragic loss of her mate.

Copyright © 2004 by Mumia Abu-Jamal. Excerpted from "We Want Freedom: A Life In The Black Panther Party," published by South End Press. Reprinted with permission from South End Press.

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Todd Steven Burroughs, Ph.D. ( is an independent researcher/writer based in Hyattsville, Md. He is a primary author of Civil Rights Chronicle (Legacy), a history of the Civil Rights Movement, and a contributor to Putting The Movement Back Into Civil Rights Teaching (Teaching For Change/Poverty & Race Research Action Council), a K-12 teaching guide of the Civil Rights Movement. He is writing a biography of Abu-Jamal.




photo of Mumia Abu Jamal

from Internationalist Group

photo of Steven Todd Burroughs

from Research Channel