He was born Jeral Wayne Williams on August 8, 1950, in Baltimore, Maryland, but the world, particularly the activist community, knew him as Dr. Mutulu Shakur. After nearly 40 years in prison, he was released on December 16, 2022, and later given six months to live. But typical of his New Afrikan spirit, Shakur defied death for several months, at last succumbing to cancer on July 6. He was 72.
Shakur was 7 when he and his sister moved with their mother to Jamaica, Queens. His political and social consciousness emerged very early, due to being raised by a blind mother with the responsibility of helping her to navigate the labyrinthine social service system. These trials and tribulations paved the way to his understanding of racist and capitalist America.
As a teenager, Shakur began participating in the New Afrikan Independence Movement. That commitment automatically placed him in the crosshairs of COINTELPRO and other federal agencies. According to his website, Shakur was actively engaged in the struggle for Black liberation, principally as a member of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM). He also lent his services and insight to the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), which envisioned carving out a nation in the South. He became associated with and devoted to the aims of the Black Panther Party.
In 1970, Shakur worked at the Lincoln Detox Community (addiction treatment) Program, where he taught political education and later earned a doctorate in acupuncture, which he began using in the treatment of withdrawal symptoms. Six years later, he was certified and licensed to practice acupuncture in the state of California. Soon, he was the program’s assistant director, playing a pivotal role in the development of a five-point auricular acupuncture protocol that is now widely in use for addiction and a variety of other trauma-induced conditions. He was instrumental in the creation of the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America (BAANA) and the Harlem Institute of Acupuncture.
He married Afeni Shakur, the mother of Tupac Shakur, in 1975. They had a daughter, Sekyiwa, before divorcing in 1982.
Among a number of political formations, Shakur was a member of the Black Liberation Army and allegedly the ringleader of a Brink’s armored car robbery in 1981. One Brink’s guard and two police officers were killed during the robbery and Shakur evaded capture for four years. He was arrested on Feb. 12, 1986, in California by the FBI. Along with his conviction for the robbery, he was charged with helping engineer Assata Shakur’s escape from a New Jersey prison. He was due for a mandatory parole determination after having served half of his 60-year sentence, which began the long fight to get him out of prison after he was denied parole several times.
This reporter covered Shakur and Marilyn Buck’s trial in which they were charged with racketeering, conspiracy, kidnapping, armed robbery, and murder, but the prosecution focused on the defendants’ alleged connection with Assata Shakur. “Mutulu Shakur is a target in this case because of his roots in the Black liberation struggle,” Chokwe Lumumba told me. At that time, he was a leader of the RNA and later, like his son, a mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. “He is a target because of affiliation with the RNA and its link to the Prairie Fire of the Weather Underground in 1976, his work in healthcare acupuncture for drug treatment, and his development of surveillance evasive techniques.”
At his bedside when he died were friends and relatives, including his children and several grandchildren. He was an inspiration for many of the positive messages in the musical work of his late adopted son, Tupac.
In a tweet, the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party said, “Rest In Power to the honorable and fearless revolutionary Mutulu Shakur. His memory will live on forever.”