Jamal Joseph

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Jamal Joseph, 2012

Jamal Joseph (formerly Eddie Joseph;[1] 1953) is an American writer, director, producer, poet, activist, and educator. Joseph was a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. He was prosecuted as one of the Panther 21.[1] He spent six years incarcerated at Leavenworth Penitentiary.[2]

Early life and Black Panthers[edit]

Born Edward L. Joseph in Havana, Cuba, Jamal Joseph was raised in New York City where he joined the ranks of the Black Panther Party in September 1968 at the age of 15. The Assassination of Martin Luther King had occurred that same year, leaving Joseph feeling outraged. He sought out the Panthers believing them to be the most militant Black group around. However, when he asked his local branch to arm him, instead of receiving a gun as he expected, the local chapter gave him a stack of books by African-American authors instead. He was informed that is how he would be "armed".[3]

Legal experiences[edit]

In 1969, Joseph was one of the defendants in the Panther 21 trial, which accused the Panthers of planning a series of deadly attacks across New York City. Joseph spent a year in prison pending the verdict before it was deemed he, as well as all other defendants, were ultimately not guilty.[4] During Joseph's time in the Black Panther Party, he befriended Afeni Shakur, who was later one of his fellow defendants in the Panther 21 trial, and would act as Godfather to her son Tupac Shakur.[5][6]

In 1973, Joseph, loyal to the New York faction led by Eldridge Cleaver, pleaded guilty to attempted manslaughter for his part in the 1971 murder of Samuel Napier, a Black Panther Party member who belonged to the California BPP faction loyal to Huey Newton. [7]

In 1981, he was convicted for harboring a fugitive, Mutulu Shakur (Afeni's husband), who had taken part in the robbery of a Brink’s armored car in Rockland County, New York as part of an operation by members of the Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground.[5][8][9][10] For this, Joseph served 5 and a half years in Leavenworth State Penitentiary in Kansas, where he earned two college degrees and wrote his first play.[11]


Upon his release from prison, he became a poet, an author, a playwright and director.[12] He earned his BA summa cum laude from the University of Kansas while at Leavenworth.[13] His first position after incarceration was at Touro College, in East Harlem. While there he was instrumental in arranging for historic graduation ceremonies at the Apollo Theatre. with a graduation address by Ossie Davis, preceded by a spectacular Graduation Procession down the middle of 125th Street [14] He is a full professor and former chair of Columbia University's Graduate Film Division and the artistic director of the New Heritage Theatre Group in Harlem. He has been featured on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, BET's American Gangster and on Tupac Shakur's The Rose That Grew from Concrete Volumes 1 and 2.[citation needed] He is the author of the interactive biography on Tupac Shakur, Tupac Shakur Legacy.[15]

Joseph was nominated for a 2008 Academy Award in the Best Song category for his contributions to the song "Raise It Up", performed by IMPACT Repertory Theatre and Jamia Nash in the 2007 film August Rush.[16][17]

His memoir Panther Baby was published in February 2012 by Algonquin Books.[1]

Joseph is a co-founder of the Harlem Film Company with producer Cheryl Hill, which released the 2017 feature Chapter & Verse, a New York Times Critics’ Pick


  1. ^ a b c Sneak Peek: Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph, Algonquin Books blog, 15 November 2011. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  2. ^ Joseph, Jamal, Panther Baby. New York: Algonquin Books, 2012.
  3. ^ Joseph, Jamal (7 February 2012). "I Was a Teenage Black Panther". theatlantic.com. The Atlantic. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  4. ^ Deusner, Stephen M. (15 February 2012). "A Revolutionary Life". Washington Post. Retrieved 15 June 2019. In April 1969, Joseph was arrested as one of the “Panther 21” on charges of conspiracy and spent a year in jail. Later, he was charged with harbouring fugitives and spent six years in prison at Leavenworth, Kan.
  5. ^ a b Varagur, Krithika (18 November 2015). "Former Black Panther Uses 'Bonus Years' To Make Art". huffpost.com. Huffington Post. Retrieved 15 June 2019. In 1981, he was arrested for robbing an armored truck and spent five and a half years in federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas
  6. ^ Farquharson, Safiya (23 July 2012). "PANTHER BABY:Jamal Joseph Talks Revolution". ebony.com. Ebony. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  7. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (22 May 1973). "4 Panthers Admit Guilt in Slaying". The New York Times.
  8. ^ O'Brian, Bridget (22 February 2012). "Jamal Joseph's Path From Black Panther to Professor". news.columbia.edu. Retrieved 15 June 2019. n 1981 he was convicted for harboring a fugitive, someone who had taken part in the robbery of a Brink’s armored car in Rockland County. Sentenced to 12 years in prison, he served 5½ years
  9. ^ Kalish, Jon (3 February 2019). "Jamal Joseph:Chapter & Verse". wbgo.org. Retrieved 15 June 2019. Joseph spent several years behind bars himself after being convicted of a variety of crimes including the sheltering of members of the Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground involved in the infamous Brinks robbery and murders in 1981.
  10. ^ Lubasch, Arnold H. (3 October 1987). "JUDGE REDUCES SENTENCE OF MAN IN BRINK'S CASE". nytimes.com. NY Times. Retrieved 15 June 2019. In the Federal trial of the Brink's case in 1983, Mr. Joseph was acquitted of participating in the armored-car robbery in which a guard and two police officers were killed. But he was convicted of being an accessory after the fact because he helped hide an associate, Mutulu Shakur, accused of carrying out the robbery.
  11. ^ Moynihan, Colin, "Oscar Nomination Caps Columbia Film Professor's Long Journey", The New York Times, February 21, 2008.
  12. ^ "'Panther Baby,' From Prisoner To Professor". npr.org. NPR. 22 February 2012. Retrieved 15 June 2019. Along the way, he became a poet, a playwright and director, and now he's the author of "Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention."
  13. ^ Jamal Joseph – Purpose Prize Winner 2015.
  14. ^ personal recollection
  15. ^ Anne Burt, FACULTY Q&A: Jamal Joseph on His New Biography of Tupac Shakur, Columbia News, 8 September 2006, modified 14 November 2007. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  16. ^ "Harlem's IMPACT Repertory Theatre members will sing 'Raise It Up' from film 'August Rush' at Academy Awards ceremony", New York Daily News, 20 February 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  17. ^ "Additional reporting by Jessica Letkemann and Keith Caulfield," [1], Billboard, undated (1 February 2008). Retrieved 13 February 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2012. ISBN 978-1-61620-126-5

External links[edit]