On the 17th anniversary of his death, it seemed appropriate to remember the birth of the man born Lesane Parish Crooks who died at 25 years old as Tupac Amaru Shakur.
The legendary rapper was born a revolutionary. As the son of two Black Panthers, Tupac embodied the spirit of uprising and rebellion that made the Panthers one of the most enigmatic, notorious and feared organizations in American history.
His mother had joined the Panthers in New York City’s Bronx borough in 1964. In her biography, written by Jasmine Guy, Afeni Shakur said the Black Panthers “took my rage and channeled it. They educated my mind and gave me direction.”
Like her son, Afeni was a writer. She began writing articles for the Panthers’ newsletter, the “Panther Post,” and helped craft a misdirection campaign that led FBI agents to believe that the Panther Party was fading in 1968.
This may have been why she and 21 other Panthers were arrested on April 2, 1969, and charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to bomb police stations, department stores and other public places in New York, according to Encyclopedia.com. Shakur was released on bail in the fall of 1970 and became pregnant not long afterward. But her bail was soon revoked, and she was returned to jail to await trial while pregnant with her first child.
Tupac was born just one month after his mother’s acquittal on more than 150 charges of conspiracy against the United States government. He was gestated in prison and born into the free air of East Harlem.
The struggle for freedom, both his own and that of his people, surrounded Tupac for his entire life. His godfather, Geronimo Pratt, a well-known Panther, was convicted of murdering a school teacher during a 1968 robbery, though his sentence was later overturned.
His stepfather, Mutulu Shakur, spent four years on the FBI’s Most Wanted list in the 1980s, largely for helping Assata Shakur, Mutulu’s sister, escape from a prison in New Jersey, where she had been jailed for allegedly shooting a state trooper to death in 1973. Assata insists she is innocent to this day and has fled the country.
(Recently, for reasons unexplainable to anyone, the Justice Department increased the reward for Assata’s capture to $2 million.)
This was the struggle that Tupac was born into. When he died, a valiant voice in the struggle for black rights and Black Power died too. He was more than a rapper and certainly more than a gangster. ‘Pac was a poet, a prophet and a philosopher.
“Let me say for the record,” Tupac said in 1995 to the Los Angeles Times. “I am not a gangster and never have been. I’m not the thief who grabs your purse. I’m not the guy who jacks your car. I’m not down with the people who steal and hurt others. I’m just a brother who fights back.”