Until Thursday (May 2), hearing the words “woman” and “FBI most wanted” in the same sentence was a rarity, but Assata Shakur, the first woman to be added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) terrorists list.
Since 1979, the social activist has been living in Cuba where she was granted political asylum after escaping prison. The self-proclaimed “20th century escaped slave” may be a trending topic, but few know her real story. Click through the pages to learn more about the revolutionary woman.
1. In May 1973, Assata and fellow activist Zayd Malik Shakur were pulled over by New Jersey State Troopers Werner Foerster and James Harper. According to Harper, Zayd starting shooting when asked to step out of the vehicle, while Assata claims the police initiated the gunfire even after putting both hands in the air. Once the violent exchange left Zayd and Foerster dead, an injured Assata was charged with murder that same year and given a life sentence. With the help of allies, she fled to Cuba in 1979, where she remains to this day.
2. Shakur has an incredible amount of supporters decades after her arrest. Most believe her fate was decided by a corrupt political system post-Civil Rights. A number of experts argue that sustained interest in the case is linked to white America’s guilt over its racist past. She is considered a revolutionary by Cuba, whose government provides her living expenses.
In 1998, she read an open letter to Pope John Paul II, who was asked by FBI to extradite her during his visit to Havana.
3. Assata Shakur was born Joanne Byron in Jamaica, Queens, New York City. She joined the Black Panther Party at age 23 after graduating college and changed her name when she joined the Black Liberation Army in 1970. During her time at the City College of New York, she participated in countless protests and sit-ins as part of the Civil Rights movement.
4. Shakur is the godmother of Tupac Shakur, whose politically charged lyrics were no doubt influenced by the work of Assata and her comrades in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Conspiracy theorists like to believe that Tupac is in Cuba as well.
5. Hip-hop has long embraced Assata as a hero, not a murderer. Besides Tupac, Public Enemy’s Chuck D. name-checked her in the late 1980’s, sparking the minds of youth who had no idea who she was. Common also made headlines when he was invited to the White House in 2011 and recited “A Song for Assata” in support of the “wrongly convicted cop killer.”
Photo Credit: Charles Dharapak/AP