Ruchell Magee wins his freedom after 67 years in prison

Ruchell Magee before his release from prison

Oakland, California

Black August events this year will no doubt celebrate the release of Ruchell Magee, the longest- held political prisoner in the U.S. and perhaps the world. Magee is a hero of the Black liberation struggle, the fight to release all U.S. political prisoners and, were it not for this racist, colonialist system, would never have spent one day incarcerated. 

The Coalition to Free Ruchell Magee recently announced the imminent freedom of Magee from the California Medical Facility at Vacaville. 

Magee, now 84 years old, was imprisoned in the racist South at the age of 16 for an alleged attempted rape charge against a white woman, the same year that Emmett Till was brutally lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Upon release, he headed to Los Angeles, where he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for a dispute involving $10 worth of marijuana. 

But Magee was not only a victim of this racist system; he emerged as a freedom fighter. While in prison, Magee became a jailhouse lawyer, helping others with writs and legal cases. He also took on the name of Cinqué, an African freedom fighter who led a rebellion on the Amistad, a ship transporting enslaved people. 

It was Magee’s heroic actions in August 1970, when an armed Jonathan Jackson burst into the Marin County Courthouse to demand the freedom of his brother, George Jackson, that won the admiration of the worldwide movement for freedom and prison abolition. 

Magee, without hesitation, joined Jonathan Jackson’s bold attempt to free his brother, which ended in a murderous hail of gunfire by deputy sheriffs, killing young Jackson, a judge, two prisoners and three jurors. Magee, badly wounded, survived and was held in prison for the next 53 years for his selfless act of solidarity. 

Magee and his supporters have worked tirelessly over many decades to win his release. The Coalition to Free Ruchell Magee, which formed in 2019, has gathered over 37,700 signatures and over 2,600 letters, organized many demonstrations and made countless calls to Governor Gavin Newsom. The Coalition notes, however, that Magee has been the main organizer of his release effort. 

“We must be clear that Ruchell has been the main driver of his own release. This release will allow him to spend the rest of his life outside of prison walls, with his loved ones,” the Coalition announced. (#ruchellmageeisfree)

After his announced release from CMF-Vacaville, the Coalition launched a “reentry” fundraising effort for Magee to help with his living expenses. According to the initiator of the fundraiser, Charlie Hinton, a prisoners’ rights activist, the goal is to raise $500 for each of the 67 years suffered by Magee inside prison. 

The Coalition hopes that his release will inspire renewed efforts by the human rights, progressive and prison abolitionist movements to free all U.S.-held political prisoners, many of whom are elderly and suffering from decades of brutality and medical neglect behind the walls. Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, and Imam Jamil Al-Amin are only a few examples of elderly political prisoners who must be released immediately.  Go to tinyurl.com/54ttusks to donate to the reentry fundraiser.  

Judy Greenspan

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Judy Greenspan

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