Mumia Abu-Jamal on ‘An Abolitionist Life’

What does it mean to call oneself an abolitionist?

The word doesn’t mean today what it meant 150 years ago. Then, it meant an end to what some have called “America’s Original Sin” — Slavery.

Today? Well, it’s not a common term today, but it should be. Abolition was the nation’s first biracial movement, built by both Blacks and whites, to oppose the evils of Slavery.

But it’s important for us today to recognize that when abolitionists were active, during the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s, they were portrayed in the press, and spoken about by prominent and powerful men, as madmen and crazy women, who dared to oppose something so fundamental to American wealth like Slavery.

Abraham Lincoln, speaking at New York’s Cooper Union before his election, depicted the radical abolitionist, John Brown, as a madman and not a member of the Republican Party.

It was only after the U.S. Civil War that abolitionists were regarded as sane people — not before.

There is a lesson here for you all, people at the Abolitionist Forum. That is, don’t worry about what people in power or media say about you.

Ask yourself if what you’re doing is right — then roll with it.

It’s right to oppose mass incarceration.

It’s right to seek to abolish the racist death penalty.

It’s right to fight against state repression.

And the right time to do that — is Now!

Mumia Abu-Jamal © 2017

This talk was originally delivered via recording to a Harlem Abolition Forum to counter police violence on Oct. 1. See Workers World coverage at   

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