photo of Martin Sostre as a young man by Jerry Ross (painter) [Image reflects Sostre as an older man, see: Ebony, October 1970, p.122]
|Born||March 20, 1923|
|Died||August 12, 2015 (aged 92)|
|Known for||Activism, 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 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 Afro-Asian Bookstore at 1412 Jefferson in Buffalo, New York. For its somewhat short existence, Sostre's bookstore was a center for radical thought and education in the Buffalo ghetto. 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.
Sostre was 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. 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."
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.
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 ."  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; Sostre was released from prison in February 1976.
Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin attributes his initial interest in anarchism to Sostre.
In 1974 Pacific Street Films debuted a documentary film on Sostre called Frame-up! The Imprisonment of Martin Sostre. It detailed Sostre's case with extensive interviews from prison.
Sostre died on August 12, 2015.
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. The event included an installation created by local eastside artist called Reviving Sostre. 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.
References and sources
- HUAC There were three, according to Police Commissioner Frank Felicetta
- Frame Up, at 10:30. The first was at 1412 and a half Jefferson Ave. A second was at 289 High
- The Alternative Community in Buffalo, 1965-76 B. Martin Sostre Bookseller Turned Black Revolutionary (1967). The Buffalonian, 2001. Retrieved July 7, 2011.
- Powell, Elwin. "B. Martin Sostre Bookseller Turned Black Revolutionary (1967)". The Alternative Community in Buffalo, 1965-76. The Buffalonian. Retrieved December 20, 2011.
- 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.
- Gross, Gerald J. (March 23, 1972). "Letter to the Editor: The Case of Martin Sostre". New York Review of Books. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
- "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.
- Schaich, Warren L. (March 1977). "The Prison Letters of Martin Sostre: Documents of Resistance" (PDF). Journal of Black Studies. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
- "How One Inmate Changed The Prison System From The Inside". NPR. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
- 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.
- "To and From 1967: A Rebellion with Martin Sostre". Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center. September 9, 2017. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
- "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". ppgbuffalo.org. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
- "To & From 1967: A Rebellion with Martin Sostre". Just Buffalo Literary Center | Buffalo, NY. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
- Copeland, Vincent (1970). The Crime of Martin Sostre (1st ed.). McGraw-Hill.
- Wicker, Tom (December 8, 1974). "Iron of Martin Sostre". New York Times.
- McLaughlin, Malcolm (2014). "Storefront revolutionary: Martin Sostre's Afro-Asian Bookshop, black liberation culture, and the New Left, 1964–75". The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture. 7: 1–27. doi:10.1080/17541328.2014.930265.
- Felber, Garrett (2018). ""Shades of Mississippi": The Nation of Islam's Prison Organizing, the Carceral State, and the Black Freedom Struggle". The Journal of American History. 105: 71–95. doi:10.1093/jahist/jay008.
- Schaich, Warren L.; Hope, Diane S. (March 1977). "The Prison Letters of Martin Sostre: Documents of Resistance" (PDF). Journal of Black Studies. 7 (3): 281–300. doi:10.1177/002193477700700303.
- Felber, Garrett (May 16, 2016). "Martin Sostre and the Fight Against Solitary Confinement". Black Perspectives. AAIHS.
- Symonds, Alexandria (April 24, 2019). "Overlooked No More: Martin Sostre, Who Reformed America's Prisons From His Cell". p. 11. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
- Worthy, William (October 1970). "The Anguish of Martin Sostre". Ebony. Vol. 25 no. 12.