Johanna Fernandez for The Huffington Post:
"Two years ago, the New York Times featured an illustrated article on the discovery of a manuscript penned by hand in a dank, 19th century cell by a black prisoner, Austin Reed. Ignored in his lifetime, Reed's memoire elicited great interest among contemporary historians, activists, scholars of African American literature, and the general public. The Yale professor who is editing the manuscript celebrated the singularity of Reed's message and its "lyrical quality" in the American canon. But Reed's text is also significant because it forms part of a body of searing black prisoners' narratives on freedom that destabilize, through their humanism, the demonization reserved for the "black outlaw" in American history. Reed's writing exemplifies what Cornel West calls the black prophetic voice in American history --voices committed to illuminating the truth about black oppression and its systemic causes, and to advancing the project of justice and freedom without compromise.
Because they speak uncomfortable truths, black prophetic voices, while they are alive, are vilified and violently persecuted by repressive agents of the state. And they are swept under the rug by those who, in West's words, are "well-adjusted to injustice." This hard reality has defined the lives of those we celebrate today during Black History Month, from Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass to Angela Davis and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In our lifetime one American, not unlike Austin Reed, articulates uncomfortable truths -- about the centrality of black oppression to the project of American capitalism and empire, the unbridled racism of the U.S. justice system, the unfinished project of American democracy, the horrors produced by war, and the possibilities of a liberated society not just for black people at home, but for everyone, everywhere. He seeks to give ordinary people a sense of their own power and to inspire those on the margins of society to stand up and fight. From the solitude of a prison cell, he has dedicated thousands of hours contributing to the black prophetic tradition and enriching the canon of African American literature with his writings. The conditions under which he has written seven books and produced thousands of short, incisive and elegantly rendered commentaries are likely not much better than the abysmal setting under which Austin Reed penned his memoir 150 years ago.
This man is Mumia Abu-Jamal."
Read More at The Huffington Post