Behind Bars

Thoughts for the Uhuru Solidarity Movement

By Lynne Stewart

Uhuru, the Swahili word for Freedom, part of the rallying call for the emerging nations of Africa and the nationalist military movements that finally brought them into being in the sixties and seventies, also became, standing alone, the name of an organization that 50 years ago was founded with the same goals for the freedom of captive Africans, slave descendants in the United States.

For me, during most of the early days, I only knew Uhuru for its publication of Burning Spear newspaper. It was the truth-teller, the must read. So many times I would get a letter from a captured political prisoner asking for my help getting the prison to permit him or her to receive it. Why? The name alone is so powerful—Burning Spear—the harbinger of what is to come; the symbol of uprising, resistance by those who will if they must fight even with burning spears. The enemy’s fear of Burning Spear, both the truth-telling print version and as a symbol for grievances long ignored is still as powerful today. I rejoiced last year when deep in the belly of the beast, a federal prisoner, I opened my mail to find a copy.

Also importantly, I do want to mention the other work of Uhuru. Until we were invited to St. Petersburg to speak about the dire warnings to the movement sent by the Government by my arrest, we were not truly knowledgeable about the on-the-ground work of Uhuru. Immediately visible, and fundamental to us was their work in the Black community—we’re not talking about a lackluster poverty charity, going through the motions, but a vibrant, no holds barred, confrontational challenge to the power structure. Taking on everything from police brutality and murders, to media (Radio) silencing, and even celebrating the victory of a local boxer who made good—Winky Wright, Uhuru was there—part of the lives of the People.

The leadership under Chairman Omali Yeshitela knew no fear. His outspokenness about identifying true enemies—Not Osama—but the bloated American Imperialism—domestic and foreign—is also testament to the strength and importance of the Uhuru organization.

Now as they expand as a political force into Mother Africa, herself, a new day dawns. When the word socialism is chosen as part of the naming, it is as provocative as the use of Uhuru was 50 years ago. It carries the needs and hopes of the African peoples who originally invented the very concept of socialism, but also the power to defend it.

In closing, Che Gueverra’s call for many Vietnams—we would echo him by urging many more organizations like Uhuru—locally rooted, but aware and expanding into the world to defeat the common enemy—Imperialism, Exploitation, Racism.





Lynne Stewart Defense Committee

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