Martin Sostre

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Martin Sostre
Painting of Martin Sostre by Jerry Ross as an older man;[1] compare photographs in Ebony[2]
BornMarch 20, 1923
DiedAugust 12, 2015 (aged 92)
Known forActivism, being falsely imprisoned

Martin Ramirez Sostre (March 20, 1923 – August 12, 2015) was an American activist known for his role in the prisoners' rights movement. He was recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.[3]


He served time in Attica prison during the early 1960s, where he embraced doctrines as diverse as Black Muslimism, Black nationalism, Internationalism, and finally anarchism. In 1966 Sostre opened the first[4] Afro-Asian Bookstore at 1412 Jefferson[5] in Buffalo, New York.[6] For its somewhat short existence, Sostre's bookstore was a center for radical thought and education in Buffalo's Black community. As Sostre details:

I taught continually - giving out pamphlets free to those who had no money. I let them sit and read for hours in the store. Some would come back every day and read the same book until they finished it. This was the opportunity I had dreamed about - to be able to help my people by increasing the political awareness of the youth.[7]

Sostre and his coworker, Geraldine Robinson, were arrested, at his bookstore on July 14, 1967, for "narcotics, riot, arson, and assault", charges later proven to be fabricated, part of a COINTELPRO program.[8][9] He was convicted and sentenced to serve forty-one years and thirty days. Sostre became a jailhouse lawyer, regularly acting as legal counsel to other inmates and winning two landmark legal cases involving prisoner rights: Sostre v. Rockefeller and Sostre v. Otis. According to Sostre, these decisions constituted "a resounding defeat for the establishment who will now find it exceedingly difficult to torture with impunity the thousands of captive black (and white) political prisoners illegally held in their concentration camps."[10]

Sostre was placed in solitary confinement for more than 5 years.[2] In earlier legal activity, Sostre secured religious rights for Black Muslim prisoners and also eliminated (in the words of Federal Judge Constance Motley) some of the more "outrageously inhuman aspects of solitary confinement in some of the state prisons." He was responsible for de-legitimatizing censorship of inmates' mail, invasive bodily exams, and penal solitary confinement.[11]

In December 1973 Amnesty International put Sostre on its "prisoner of conscience" list, stating: "We became convinced that Martin Sostre has been the victim of an international miscarriage of justice because of his political beliefs ... not for his crimes ."[12] In addition to numerous defense committees in New York State, a Committee to Free Martin Sostre, made up of prominent citizens, joined in an effort to publicize Sostre's case and petition the New York Governor Hugh Carey for his release. On December 7, 1975, Russian Nobel Peace Laureate Andrei Sakharov added his name to the clemency appeal. Governor Carey granted Sostre clemency on Christmas Eve of 1975;[12][13] Sostre was released from prison in February 1976.[13]

Sostre died on August 12, 2015.[14]


Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin attributes his initial interest in anarchism to Sostre.[15]

In 1974, Pacific Street Films debuted a short documentary film on Sostre called Frame-up! The Imprisonment of Martin Sostre detailing Sostre's case with in-prison interviews.[16][17]

In 2012, activist Mariame Kaba lamented the lack of biographies on Sostre.[18] His death prompted greater biographical attention.[14]

In November 2017, the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library hosted To and From 1967: A Rebellion with Martin Sostre, an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Black rebellion on Buffalo's eastside.[19] The event included an installation created by local eastside artist called Reviving Sostre.[20] The installation consisted of three bookshelves painted by the artists and placed in the lobby of the Merriweather Library, which was built on the same location one of Sostre's bookstore used to stand.[21]

The Martin Sostre Institute maintains a website that includes an archive of Sostre's writings, photos and films about Sostre, and information about court cases in which he was involved.[22] In March 2023, the Institute co-hosted a birthday centennial celebration for Sostre alongside the New York Public Library's Jail & Prison Services team, the NYPL's Harry Belafonte Library, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.[23]

See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ Ross, Jerry (May 5, 2020). "Portrait of Martin Sostre". Burchfield Penney Art Center.
  2. ^ a b Worthy, William (October 1970). "The Anguish of Martin Sostre". Ebony. Vol. 25, no. 12. Johnson Publishing Company. pp. 122–126, 128–129, 132.
  3. ^ "Amnesty International Annual Report 1974-1975". Amnesty International. 1975. Archived (PDF) from the original on January 11, 2023. Retrieved February 21, 2023. Much attention has been given throughout the year to the case of Martin Sostre, sentenced to a possible 40 years' imprisonment in 1968 for the alleged sale of narcotics. The only witness of the alleged sale has since recanted his testimony, and AI believes that Mr Sostre was falsely implicated because of his political activities. He was one of the prisoners featured during Prisoner of Conscience Week in October 1974.
  4. ^ HUAC There were three, according to Police Commissioner Frank Felicetta
  5. ^ Frame Up, at 10:30. The first was at 1412 and a half Jefferson Ave. A second was at 289 High
  6. ^ The Alternative Community in Buffalo, 1965-76 B. Martin Sostre Bookseller Turned Black Revolutionary (1967). The Buffalonian, 2001. Retrieved July 7, 2011.
  7. ^ Powell, Elwin. "B. Martin Sostre Bookseller Turned Black Revolutionary (1967)". The Alternative Community in Buffalo, 1965-76. The Buffalonian. Retrieved December 20, 2011.
  8. ^ Shapiro, Joseph (April 14, 2017). "How One Inmate Changed The Prison System From The Inside". National Public Radio. Retrieved April 21, 2023.
  9. ^ Churchill, Ward; Wall, Jim Vander (2002). Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. South End Press. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-89608-646-3.
  10. ^ Gross, Gerald J. (March 23, 1972). "Letter to the Editor: The Case of Martin Sostre". New York Review of Books. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  11. ^ "Overlooked No More: Martin Sostre, Who Reformed America's Prisons From His Cell". The New York Times. April 24, 2019. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  12. ^ a b Schaich, Warren L. (March 1977). "The Prison Letters of Martin Sostre: Documents of Resistance" (PDF). Journal of Black Studies. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  13. ^ a b "How One Inmate Changed The Prison System From The Inside". NPR. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  14. ^ a b Symonds, Alexandria (April 24, 2019). "Overlooked No More: Martin Sostre, Who Reformed America's Prisons From His Cell". New York Times. Retrieved April 25, 2019.
  15. ^ Ervin, Lorenzo Kom'boa (February 25, 2020). "Martin Sostre: Prison Revolutionary". Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation. Retrieved March 31, 2023. I became an Anarchist, a jailhouse lawyer, and a prison activist during the 1970s because of Martin Sostre.
  16. ^ "Frame Up! + Torture of Mothers: Case of Harlem 6". BAM. November 5, 2022. Retrieved March 23, 2023. Frame Up! shines a light on politically motivated abuses within the American justice system as well as Sostre's remarkable and enduring campaign for human rights.
  17. ^ Sucher, J. (1974). Frame-up! the imprisonment of Martin Sostre. Pacific Street Films.
  18. ^ Kaba, Mariame (June 12, 2012). "Martin Sostre Was a Legal Advocate, Prisoner, and a Revolutionary". Offshoot.
  19. ^ "To and From 1967: A Rebellion with Martin Sostre". Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center. September 9, 2017. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  20. ^ "PPG Partner Squeaky Wheel Offers Two Day Series Of Screenings And Discussions Inspired By Prison Justice Activist Martin Sostre > News > News > Partnership for the Public Good (PPG) - Buffalo, NY". Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  21. ^ "To & From 1967: A Rebellion with Martin Sostre". Just Buffalo Literary Center | Buffalo, NY. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  22. ^ "HOME". Martin Sostre. Retrieved July 4, 2023.
  23. ^ Pollock, Robert (April 19, 2023). "The Legacy of Martin Sostre (1923-2015)". PEN America. Retrieved July 4, 2023.

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