Shakur, Assata 1947- (JoAnne Deborah Byron, JoAnne Chesimard, JoAnne Deborah Chesimard, Joanne Deborah Bryon Chesimard, Assata Olugbala Shakur, Assata Shakure)

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Shakur, Assata 1947- (JoAnne Deborah Byron, JoAnne Chesimard, JoAnne Deborah Chesimard, Joanne Deborah Bryon Chesimard, Assata Olugbala Shakur, Assata Shakure)


Born July 16, 1947, in Queens, NY; daughter of an accountant (father) and Doris Johnson (an elementary school teacher); married Louis Chesimard, April, 1967 (divorced, December, 1970); partner of Fred Hilton; children: (with Hilton) Kakuya Amala Olugbala Shakur (daughter). Education: Attended Manhattan Community College and City College of New York; graduate study in Cuba.


Home—Havana, Cuba.


Writer and activist.


Assata: An Autobiography, L. Hill (Westport, CT), 1987, reissued with forewords by Angela Davis and Lennox S. Hinds, 2001.

(With Dhoruba Bin Wahad and Mumia Abu-Jamal) Still Black, Still Strong: Survivors of the U.S. War against Black Revolutionaries, edited by Jim Fletcher, Tanaquil Jones, and Sylvere Lotringer, Semiotext(e) (New York, NY), 1993.


Assata Shakur is an author and self-styled "black revolutionary" who lives in exile in Cuba, where she has been granted political asylum from prosecution and legal entanglements in the United States. Born JoAnne Deborah Byron in 1947, Shakur experienced discrimination and segregation as she grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina. Often the only black child in her class, "she was never allowed to forget that she was different because she was black," commented a contributor to Contemporary Black Biography. After dropping out of high school and running away from home, Shakur became accustomed to life on the streets.

Later, Shakur's aunt, Evelyn Williams, helped her to regain control of her life and obtain a GED. When she went to college at Manhattan Community College, she became keenly interested in the school's black studies program. This interest led her to become deeply involved in Black consciousness and activism, noted the Contemporary Black Biography writer. From there, her interests became more political and at times, more militant. She joined the Black Panther Party and, when she became disillusioned with that group, became involved in the more radical Black Liberation Army (BLA), an organization that felt that change would only come with revolution. She became deeply involved in the BLA, and was "acknowledged to be the soul" of the Black Liberation Army by the media and law enforcement, wrote the Contemporary Black Biography contributor. She was charged with numerous serious crimes in connection with the BLA's activities, but was convicted of none. However, a lethal encounter with police during a traffic stop in 1973 led to a violent exchange which left Shakur shot twice and a colleague and police officer dead. Taken into custody and charged with murder, in addition to other serious charges that the police said were active at the time, Shakur became known as a dangerous militant and a cop-killer, which led to her mistreatment during her hospitalization and incarceration. Her health suffered from the neglect and abuse she suffered while progressing through the prison system. When she became pregnant by Fred Hilton, one of her codefendants, her case ended in a mistrial, but a new trial three years later, in 1977, resulted in a conviction and a life sentence. On November 2, 1979, with the help of two accomplices, Shakur escaped from the New Jersey Corrections Institute for Women. On the run, she was eventually placed on the FBI's most-wanted list. However, in 1984, she fled to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum. Shakur lives a quieter life there today, pursuing higher education and enjoying life with her daughter, Kakuya, in a country where she is cared for and does not have to fear prosecution. Shakur continues to maintain that she is innocent of the crimes leveled against her, that she had no role in the shooting of the police officer during the traffic stop, and that it was she who was wrongfully shot by the police while she was cooperating and trying to surrender. In the meantime, she has become an international voice against inequality and oppression.

In 2001, Shakur published her autobiography, Assata: An Autobiography, in which she sets out her side of her life story and details her early life, upbringing, militant years, legal troubles, and time in exile. She also shares a number of her poetic works in what New York Times Book Review critic E.R. Shipp called a "deftly written book of autobiography and poetry."



Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 6, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Outlaws, Mobsters, & Crooks: From the Old West to the Internet, U*X*L (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Shakur, Assata, Assata: An Autobiography, L. Hill (Westport, CT), 1987, reissued with forewords by Angela Davis and Lennox S. Hinds, 2001.


Canadian Dimension, July-August, 1998, "Open Letter from Assata Shakur," p. 17.

Emerge, May, 2000, Lori S. Robinson, "A Survivor," p. 32.

Essence, February, 1988, Cheryll Y. Greene, "Word from a Sister in Exile," p. 60; February, 1992, review of Assata: An Autobiography, p. 30; June, 1997, Evelyn C. White, "Prisoner in Paradise," interview with Assata Shakur, p. 72.

Library Journal, January 1, 1988, Anthony O. Edmonds, review of Assata, p. 83.

New York Times Book Review, March 6, 1988, E.R. Shipp, review of Assata, p. 21.

Nation, September 21, 1992, Angela Y. Davis, review of Assata, p. 297.


Assata Shakur Home Page, (June 24, 2007).

Blacklight, (June 24, 2007), Evelyn C. White, interview with Assata Shakur.

VG: Voices from the Gaps, (June 24, 2007), biography of Assata Shakur.