Still free: Assata Shakur, fifty years on the FBI's most wanted list

"Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them."

― Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography

"In the Spirit of God
In the Spirit of the Ancestors
In the Spirit of the Black Panthers
In the Spirit of Assata Shakur
We make this movement towards freedom
For all those who have been oppressed, and all those in the struggle."

These spoken lines introduce "A Song for Assata," track #9 from the Common album, Like Water for Chocolate, released in 2000.

FBI mugshot of Assata Shakur

On May 2, 1973, Assata Shakur, along with Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli, were stopped by police officers Werner Foerster and James Harper on the New Jersey Turnpike. A shootout ensued, and in the confrontation, Assata, Acoli and Harper were injured, and both Malik Shakur and Officer Foerster were killed. Acoli was sentenced to life without parole in 1974, while Assata Shakur received the same sentence in 1977. In 1979, with the support of the May 19th Communist Party and members of the Black Liberation Army, Assata escaped. She lives in Cuba.

Common's joint thoroughly narrates this history for those new to the story. For more, check out Assata: A Biographyor the documentary film, Eyes of the Rainbow.

Paula Rogo from Essence offers, "8 Things to Know About Assata Shakur and the Calls to Bring Her Back from Cuba."

The outro features a recording of Assata responding to a question about freedom.

"Freedom! You asking me about freedom

Asking me about freedom?

I'll be honest with you

I know a whole more about what freedom isn't

Than about what it is, cause I've never been free

I can only share my vision with you of the future

About what freedom is

Uh, the way I see it

Freedom is, is the right to grow, is the right to blossom

Freedom is is the right to be yourself, to be who you are

To be who you want to be, to do what you want to do."

Common has taken flack for this song. In 2015, the New Jersey's Trooper Association protested Kean University extending an invitation to Common. "I was disappointed. … I also recognize that things that I stand for and believe in, if someone doesn't want me there for that reason then I'm not going to go. If someone is saying, 'We don't want you here' because I supported Assata Shakur, who is someone who I believe to be [innocent and consider] a freedom fighter [and] a woman who was a part of the Blank Panthers… Because I did a song about her, if they don't want me to speak at a college because of that reason, then I mean, I still support her."

In the 1988 joint, "Rebel without a Pause," Public Enemy shouts out their support Assata (Joanne Chesimard).

"Hard, my calling card
Recorded and ordered, supporter of Chesimard
Loud and proud, kicking live next, poet supreme
Loop a troop, bazooka, the scheme."

Historian Donna Murch, author of the award-winning Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, recently published Assata Taught Me: State Violence, Racial Capitalism, and the Movement for Black Lives.

"Black Panther and Cuban exile Assata Shakur has inspired generations of radical protest, including the contemporary movement for Black lives. Drawing its title from one of America's foremost revolutionaries, this collection of thought-provoking essays by award-winning Panther scholar Donna Murch explores how social protest is challenging our current system of state violence and mass incarceration.

This timely and urgent book shows how a youth-led political movement has emerged in recent years to challenge the bipartisan consensus on punishment and looks to the future through a redistributive, queer, and feminist lens. Murch frames the contemporary movement in relation to earlier struggles for Black Liberation, while excavating the origins of mass incarceration and the political economy that drives it."