Black Books Matter: A message from Mumia Abu-Jamal to the Baltimore Book Festival
As the Black Lives Matter movement has shown us, the state's contempt of black bodies is only countered by people rising up and demanding something different. Mumia Abu-Jamal—a political prisoner incarcerated in Pennsylvania since 1981—has suffered for decades as a target of this contempt at the hands of the state, and it has been popular mobilizations which have prevented his execution, and which are now needed to secure his freedom. This need is particularly dire given his deteriorating health, and the refusal of the state of Pennsylvania to offer proper treatment. As Johanna Fernandez, editor of the new collection of Mumia's prison writings Writing on the Wall,told us in her talk at the Baltimore Book Festival, Mumia is believed to be suffering from hepatitis C—which the state refuses to diagnose because to do so would involve the possibility of a cure rather than a slow, ostensibly "natural" death in prison, with the disease accomplishing what popular movements ensured the executioner could not.
We think that our role as a radical bookstore is to amplify the voices that the state would rather shut down, as they did last year when the PA legislature attempted to enact a bill aimed entirely at silencing Mumia (eventually struck down). Mumia Abu-Jamal is, as Cornel West notes in his preface to the new collection, part of the "black prophetic tradition"—a voice that will without a doubt resonate throughout the decades and centuries to come, even if the state succeeds in strangling it today. So we were incredibly honored, with the help of Prison Radio, to have been able to share a brief recorded message from Mumia Abu-Jamal, on why Black Books Matter....
Dear friends at Red Emma’s Book Fair, and Bookstore,
Hello! On a move! I want to thank you all for hosting my latest book, Writing on the Wall, a collection of essays from my earliest days in prison to some of my most recent days.
It’s exciting to speak to you in Baltimore, especially after Baltimore joins Watts as a site of resistance in America’s longest war—against black life. When I think of Baltimore, of course I think of the recent case of Freddie Gray, but also, in the realm of the arts, [of how] the immortal Nina Simone, in her delightful contralto, made the city a site of lamentation: “Oh Baltimore, ain’t it hard, just to leave, just to leave…”
Sometimes a song can capture a world, a feeling, an emotion, a vibration in the soul. I speak today as the Black Lives Matter movement is ripening in America, the Caribbean, and beyond. For yes—black lives matter. Also—black books matter, for they tell the story of black lives, the history of black lives, the trauma of black lives, the struggle of black lives.
Deepen the struggle by demonstrations, yes—it must be so—but also by reading our people’s works, so we can appreciate where we are in the continuum of the long, hard struggle for black freedom and black liberation.
In books of black life we find the words and wisdom of our revered ancestors, such as Frederick Douglass, who taught us lessons that remain vital and alive today. This bold escaped slave said “Without struggle, there is no progress” and “Power concedes nothing without demand.” Douglass taught us to struggle, and to demand social justice, freedom, and total liberation.
Black lives matter in Baltimore, and beyond. Black books matter. Black books matter, to impart the words of wisdom of our ancestors. Thanks again to Red Emma’s Bookstore, and the Baltimore Book Fair.
On a move! Long Live John Africa!
From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
And as a hopeful postscript, we'd just like to point out that the last political prisoner whose book talk at the Baltimore Book Festival we had to organize through a recorded message from prison—Baltimore Black Panther Eddie Conway—was free and on our stage in person to talk about his book just a few years later. Let's bring Mumia home, too.