Interview with Formerly Incarcerated Political Prisoner Sekou Kambui

Also, here is a repost of an interview with Sekou Kambui from ARA LA.

Interview with Sekou Kambui

by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action L.A., editor,
“Turning the Tide”

Q: What got you involved in political activity?

Sekou: As a youngster, I grew up in different parts of the country – Harlem, Orlando, FL, in Springfield, Massachusetts, Cleveland, Ohio, and finally Detroit, Michigan, where my father had begun work with the Ford Motor Company, building cars as a foreman. My parents brought me up from the South (Gadsden, Alabama) to become a part of an experiment orchestrated by a faction of the Civil Rights Movement, very likely the NAACP, where I was chosen to become a part of the school integration efforts after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in Topeka Kansas. The Civil Rights Organization was selecting Black youth with good grades to integrate different schools across the U.S. – both North and South – to challenge “Jim Crow” racial segregation of the schools.

I was sent back down south with the Freedom Riders that were to be pitted against racial segregation in transportation and the racially segregated department stores. I was returned to the care of my grandparents in Gadsden AL. I had come home from high school and told my grandmother that I wanted to become part of the Civil Rights Movement. She told me at the time that, “Son, I know I’m always telling you to do this/do that, that’s right/that’s wrong; but this is one of those times you’ll have to decide for yourself whether you’re really ready for such a serious, obviously dangerous commitment; are you willing to take those kinds of risks with your life?”  I became involved with CORE, SCLC, SNCC, and other local Civil Rights Movement organizations in AL and Miss., where I, along with other youth were trained to become resistant to violence that was being used to try and intimidate people involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

I was brought together with a coalition of Black youth, being trained to become future leaders and organizers within the Civil Rights Movement. With my influence among the youth, my little group was often used to form security perimeters around meetings, programs, and events held in churches at night, to attempt to thwart possible violence, bombings by members of the KKK/White Citizens Council or such like. In my adolescence, I was committed to such groups training up young future leaders.

I, and other youth was moved back and forth between the south and north as needed. I joined the BPP (Black Panther Party) and later the PG-RNA (Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika) by way of N.Y. & Detroit; and later the BLA (Black Liberation Army). We moved from one area of the country to another (clandestinely) to organize whatever type of group was needed or more practical for people in that area, or just bring security back-up to protect them from hostile folks. The particular formation we organized might be the Urban League, NAACP, or any other Civil Rights group, depending on the consciousness, condition, and needs of local people — then we would fade into the background, and they would carry their
struggle forward.

Q: How did you become a political prisoner?

Sekou: COINTELPRO came into play. There were attempts to murder us, some people I knew in the Panthers, the Moors, the Civil Rights group[s], and other formations were brutally killed, or blatantly attacked; others were framed up and outright railroaded into prison. We moved into different parts of the country in a more clandestine effort with the BLA (Black Liberation Army). I was captured at one point while leaving Michigan and heading back to the South in 1967, when police (and what was suspected later as the FBI)  raided a Civil Rights Movement Organization (said to be hosting illegal activities) wherein there were several veterans of the military and some returning Vietnam War soldiers, who were or had been approached earlier on the night of the riot, by young militants and students asking them to train them in paramilitary tactics…..The students, along with myself (who had a young girl friend off 12th and Buchanan,)  left to go home, leaving the militant brothas at the hotel. It had occurred on at least two occasions, where the police had come to my house on the East side of Detroit, several cars deep, running around my family home, saying they’d had a call that a burglary was in progress at this address. After they looked in at my mother cooking dinner at the stove in the kitchen they left. They came a second time, the night the riot began. My mother told me that was no coincidence, I should return to AL that night. I, with two other brothas, left for Birmingham AL immediately (traveling opposite the way we had arrived in Michigan) to where I was residing at the time.

In a hotel room, known later as the Algiers Hotel Incident, Federal National Guard and Detroit PD raided the establishment, and shot up three or four brothers from Birmingham. They were accused of being bank robbers, and said they were shot because one of them had reached for a gun under a pillow – turned out to be a cigarette lighter. However, the true nature surrounding their death at the hands of the police and National Guardsmen is a mystery still left untold.  Only a few people know who they were and what they were doing at the Hotel Algiers.

After returning to Birmingham, I was subsequently arrested and charged with murder, but later exonerated and released. I was eventually framed up, rearrested and sent to prison for many, many years. The charges were fraudulent and the testimony against me was coerced by the police and prosecution, which was the only basis for conviction. Later the people who gave this false testimony eventually admitted to my investigators, years later, that they had lied under coercion and pressure from the authorities, but were still terrorized from coming forward to help free me.

Q: How were you able to win your release?

Sekou: We brought together a coalition of many organizations, Paulette D. and their network with the Jericho Movement, Houston ABC membership, with Heather and Maggie and others working on a telethon for two days running prior to my hearing on June 18, 2014; NYCABCF & ABC, Denver ABC, Tim Fasnacht
with ABCF of Philadelphia, Sara Falconer, and ABCF members of Toronto, Canada, Montreal ABCF, Alina Dollat and friends from France; Jennifer Murnan and members with Deep Green Resistance, Freedom Archives and its network under Claude’s hand. AL State Senator Hank Sanders, the Chief Spokesperson at my parole hearing, and his wife, Attorney Faya Ora Rose Toure, who was a member of my Defense Committee in support of my release. She had not been able to receive mail from me mailed from the prison, so she became even more enthusiastic over working in support of my release and united with my Defense Committee members from across the country.

Senator Sanders acted as my chief spokesperson at my hearing, and Attorney Toure was my sponsor and worked with my Free Sekou Kambui Defense Committee to show my predicament as a blatant miscarriage of justice too long denied. Youth organizations like the Bloods and Crips, Black Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords and such like, whose incarcerated members knew me, came to aid and assisted the other organizations by downloading a hard copy of the on-line petition put up by my Free Sekou Kambui Petition Drive and Letter Writing Campaign, by way of Arron and others from Denver ABC, at Change.org, putting it on the streets of communities all across Amerikkka, obtaining signatures and forwarding the same to the governor, Parole authorities and Attorney Toure.

The online petition used lynching pictures from “Without Sanctuary,” covering contributions to Lynching in the $lave manufacturing $outh. The petition used these photos as exhibits, demanding the same justice, same equal treatment under the law that those who’d perpetrated those spectacle and outright lynchings of Black Men, Women, and children had received. No time was available to obtain proper permissions, but pray such a deliberate oversight will be forgiven, due to the urgency of the moment. “No” was not seen as an option. We had our own Legal Support and Defense Committee for Sekou Kambui  focused specifically on my case, and received further support from the Freedom Archives, All of Us or None,  and many other groups.

Former political prisoner Linda Evans, of All of Us or None,  and her partner Eve Goldberg came down to Alabama to act as liaisons between my Sekou Kambui Legal Defense & Support Committee and Faya Ora Rose Toure. Houston ABC, with group members Heather and Maggie and the rest of their grouping coordinated a two-day telethon call-in campaign to the Alabakkkma Parole Board to demand my freedom on June 16-17, two days prior to my hearing on June 18th, 2014. People came together from across the country and world, from England to Germany to France, with their different political, philosophical, ideological backgrounds, and ideologies, to embrace and promote the idea that I should be released from my illegal, unjust imprisonment.

Today, I am a formerly incarcerated political prisoner because of the initiative taken by the groups I’ve mentioned herein.

Q: What sustained you while you were locked down all those years?

Sekou: When I went to prison, racism was very openly brutal, very violent. Convicts were being outright  murdered with impunity, or beaten to insanity. Prison authorities used hard labor as punishment, and in general exploited convict labor for the State’s economic gains. They would throw us into filthy, crap and lice infested cells (called doghouses back then), and overcrowded cages to retaliate against the growing rebelliousness and resistance that was being organized by the Mafundi Lake’s and Sekou Kambui’s, and a long list of brothas whose names elude me at the moment but came together to form the Inmates For Action organization against the violent aggression of prison guards and administrators, even at the face of death that came easy in those early years of my imprisonment; a street organization called Families For Action, under the leadership of Mrs. Annie L. Norri;, Dr. Steven Whitman, and other family members of Alabama’s Incarcerated , including other people from across the country organized support marches on the outside to back up Inmates For Action and its fighting on the inside. There were many brothers killed, beaten down by racist guards (no blacks worked  in any prison during those years; not until law suits challenging this condition was won by Willie Beard, Richard Mafundi Lake, Sekou Kambui, and a list of other brothers, to include Wayland Bryant of South Carolina, and William Campbell of Massachusetts;) beaten with pick handles, shot in the head and had their head bashed in to cover the bullet wounds, some who were blinded or near-blinded in one eye, or made to suffer brain damage from serious injuries and blows to their heads.

I was encouraged to study law inside, and mentored by Rev. Caliph Washington, who won a lawsuit in the late 60s to force the  integration of the AL prison system. I became not only a skilled prison “jailhouse lawyer” and litigator on civil rights/human rights, but legendary throughout the ADOC (we couched our litigation in human rights terms from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights violations as well as Civil Rights violations under 18 USCS $241 & 242, and 42 USCS $ 1983 against prisoners in both state and federal court. We created study groups and organized literacy classes inside the prison, and also pursued litigation to get people the right to an education while inside. We won many victories over time, even had help from Attorney Michael Figures and A. J. Cooper of Mobile AL in our fights. Rep. Charles Rangel saved many an Alabama incarcerated person’s life or directed the AL DOC to provide proper and adequate medical care even from Washington, DC. But the state legislators eventually voted against higher education for prisoners, and then the federal government blocked Pell Grants for prisoners. So we set up our own  self-help groups and advocated and practiced the idiom:  “EACH ONE TEACH ONE,” to effectively produce a literate people; we would read to people who couldn’t read, or write, and do whatever was necessary to bring together people together from different ethnic groups and backgrounds regardless of the diversity in  religious beliefs.

Q: What are some things you learned while incarcerated that you want to share? How were you able to overcome those differences and build unity?

Sekou: We organized groups by addressing the common needs people had, rather than their differences. We would focus on meeting those basic human needs, that were not being met by the $tate $lave $ystem. Brothers who were strong in math, reading, comprehension skills would help those who were weak in math, reading, comprehension skills, or brothers who could read would help those who couldn’t read or couldn’t read so well to insure they improved. We did poetry readings, art-craft training to attract brothas with skills they didn’t know they had; we put together workshops and cultural art programs and exhibitions as such activities seemed to get people enthusiastic about expressing themselves. Maybe they would start by reading a poem and realize they could also write a poem.

We didn’t allow ourselves to get hung up on debating our personal, ethnic, racial, even political levels of consciousness. These differences were put aside, and we focused on meeting people’s basic personal needs, writing their letters or teaching them to write better themselves; helped them learn how to get their GED, and then made the $tate give them the exams; we styled our efforts of self help as “each one teach one”.

The organization that was co-founded by myself and Mafundi Lake, and several other brothas, behind the walls to provide an umbrella of protection for youth, and a means of obtaining knowledge of liberation ethics
for the young revolutionary, or prison human/civil rights activists, was called in the early years “Inmates For Action.” It evolved into a second grouping identified as the “Inmates For Action-Atmore/Holman Collective,” even later: the “Social Consciousness Development Group” (SCDG), and its sister organization that evolved out of this group, the “Cultural Awareness Think Tank” (the CATT). Clandestinely speaking: the Black Panther Org.

At this time, the SCDG is being revised and set up to become a Self Help Community Organization here in Dothan, AL under the leadership of Jennifer Murnan and Sekou Kambui. As I left the prison, aside from the organizations I left in place, there is now the fast growing “FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT,” itself taking up the banner and legacy of the previously mentioned organizations within the AL DOC, everyday involved in the same human/civil political and economic rights struggle. They are taking a stand,demanding freedom from mass incarceration, long-term imprisonment, blatant physical abuse from prison officials, deprivation of human rights, inadequate medical conditions, abusive and hostile living conditions, etc. The struggle for human dignity don’t stop! Forward With the Revolutionary Struggle Behind Enemy Lines! SUPPORT THE FAM MOVEMENT OF GEORGIA, ALABAMA, AND MISSISSIPPI NOW!!!

Q: What recommendations or lessons do you have for the effort to free all political prisoners?

Sekou: We just had a conference call here in AL about how to build a coalition of all different organizations. I said we need to address the situation of Sundiata Acoli, who was given a parole date and then not released. We can’t allow the state to play RUSSIAN ROULETTE with people’s lives; we can’t let more people die in prison like Merle &  Phil Africa; one moment they are seen in the best of health and the next, they’re doing too poorly to live.

We have to step up support and activity on the outside. Sometimes, we need to focus our attention on a particular individual at a critical time. It’s not about making someone a “star” — it’s just that by focusing collectively on one individual when its needed most, and at a time we can make a real impact on their plight,  that we will strengthen the collective ability to get everyone out of prison (ALIVE). People on the inside or the outside have different skills or constituencies that they can bring together to put pressure on the state to release these freedom fighters. Then we can connect together, build bridges from one Legal Defense and Support Committee to another, helping linking an individual case of a particular political prisoner to all the political prisoners and to all the prisoners facing and dealing with racism and injustice, and mass incarceration.

We’re connecting with the young people out protesting racist police murders. There’s a coalition here in AL. I talked recently with some youth in the Black Lives Matter and Ferguson type formations. There’s a Jubilee Arts Festival that’s being planned in  Selma, around the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March. The meeting was instrumental in reminding me about how I began as a youth, traveling, and  training in the civil rights movements of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s;  just like these young people are doing today, going
around the country learning how to organize resistance against police abuse and injustice. That’s how I began in my youth, learning street organizing and community work on a basic human  level.

We have a situation today where police around the country are murdering young Black men, women and children with impunity; everybody can step up to the plate to deal with this age-old phenomenon, not only New Afrikan or Black people. We have to use these events as opportunities to raise the level of consciousness of all people, and organize activities and method of struggle that all people benefit from.

Who’s next? Don’t wait for the next attack. European or (White) people or other ethnic groups and  nationalities shouldn’t wait  until the police attack or kill one of their children. Why wait? Come forward and let’s unite around the issue[s] at hand. Let’s dismantle these forms of brutality and violence against our children NOW!!!.

Please note, once these PP/POW’s are released, they need support units in place; don’t abandon them. Some have no family or friends outside after long term imprisonment. They need economical, psychological, even
spiritual support from you once they are released by your efforts. DON’T ABANDON THEM! Stand beside them until they are on their feet, and can stand alone!

Were it not for the continued support and backup of Friends and groups instrumental in helping me regain my freedom still standing beside me, giving me their love and support, I could very well become a recidivist
statistic of the $tate. (But tell my enemies and Nay-Sayers: ‘DON’T COUNT ON IT!)

Note: You can reach Sekou Kambui at P.O. Box 195, Dothan AL 36301. or at: sekoykambui@gmail.com or call him anytime at: 334 200 9364. He has been dealing with health issues resulting from his long incarceration and lack of proper, adequate medical care while incarcerated, but is continuing to organize on the outside for justice and to free all political prisoners. This interview conducted for “Turning the Tide: Journal of Intercommunal Solidarity,” available from Anti-Racist Action, PO Box 1055, Culver City CA 90232; sent free to over 1700 prisoners around the country.

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