Black Liberation Army

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Black Liberation Army
Participant in Black Power movement
Logo of the Black Liberation Army
Active 1970-1982
Ideology The liberation and self-determination of black people in the United States
Black nationalism
Black separatism
Leaders Assata Shakur
Eldridge Cleaver
Area of operations United States
Originated as Black Panther Party
Became May 19th Communist Organization
Battles and wars 1972 Delta Air Lines Flight 841 hijacking, 1981 Brink's robbery

The Black Liberation Army (BLA) was an underground, black nationalist militant organization that operated in the United States from 1970 to 1981. Composed largely of former Black Panthers (BPP), the organization's program was one of "armed struggle", and its stated goal was to "take up arms for the liberation and self-determination of black people in the United States."[1] The BLA carried out a series of bombings, murders, robberies (what participants termed "expropriations"), and prison breaks.[2]


The Black Liberation Army gained strength as Black Panther Party membership declined. By 1970, police and FBI pressure (see COINTELPRO), infiltration, sectarianism, the lengthy prison sentences and deaths of key members (among them Fred Hampton, at the hands of police), had significantly undermined the Black Panther Party. This convinced many former party members of the desirability of an underground existence, including the assumption that a new period of violent repression was at hand. BLA members operated under the belief that only through covert means, including but not limited to violent acts, could the movement be continued until such a time when an above-ground existence was possible.

The conditions under which the Black Liberation Army formed are not entirely clear. It is commonly believed that the organization was founded by those who left the Black Panther Party after Eldridge Cleaver was expelled from the party's Central Committee.[3] A fallout was inevitable between Cleaver and other Panther leaders after he publicly criticized the BPP, among other things accusing Panther social programs of being reformist rather than revolutionary. Others, including black revolutionary Geronimo Pratt (AKA Geronimo ji Jaga), assert that the BLA "as a movement concept pre-dated and was broader than the BPP," suggesting that it was a refuge for ex-Panthers rather than a new organization formed through schism.[4] Maxwell Stanford cites the Black Guards, a wing of the Revolutionary Action Movement, as direct BLA forerunners.[5]

Some accounts of the Black Liberation Army argue that the BLA grew out of the BPP and its original founders were members of the Party. The organization is often presented as a result of the repression on the BPP and the split within the Panthers. It is said to have formed after the collaboration of several Black revolutionary organizations and consisted of the Black underground which came to be collectively known as the Black Liberation Army.[5] Assata Shakur, in her autobiography, asserts “… the Black Liberation Army was not a centralized, organized group with a common leadership and chain of command. Instead there were various organizations and collectives working together and simultaneously independent of each other.” [6]

The newly formed BLA believed that "the character of reformism is based on unprincipled class collaboration with our enemy"[7] and asserted the following principles:

  1. That we are anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist, and anti-sexist.
  2. That we must of necessity strive for the abolishment of these systems and for the institution of Socialistic relationships in which Black people have total and absolute control over their own destiny as a people.
  3. That in order to abolish our systems of oppression, we must utilize the science of class struggle, develop this science as it relates to our unique national condition.


According to a Justice Department report on BLA activity, the Black Liberation Army is suspected of involvement in over 70 incidents of violence between 1970 and 1976.[8] The Fraternal Order of Police blames the BLA for the murders of 13 police officers.[9]

On October 22, 1970, the BLA is believed to have planted a bomb in St. Brendan's Church in San Francisco while it was full of mourners attending the funeral of San Francisco police officer Harold Hamilton, who had been killed in the line of duty while responding to a bank robbery. The bomb was detonated, but no one in the church suffered serious injuries.[10]

On May 21, 1971, as many as five men participated in the shootings of two New York City police officers, Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones. Those arrested and brought to trial for the shootings include Anthony Bottom (aka Jalil Muntaqim), Albert Washington, Francisco Torres, Gabriel Torres, and Herman Bell.[citation needed]

On August 29, 1971, three armed men murdered 51-year-old San Francisco police sergeant John Victor Young while he was working at a desk in his police station, which was almost empty at the time due to a bombing attack on a bank that took place earlier - only one other officer and a civilian clerk were there. Two days later, the San Francisco Chronicle received a letter signed by the BLA claiming responsibility for the attack.[citation needed]

On January 27, 1972 the Black Liberation Army assassinated police officers Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie at the corner of 174 Avenue B in New York City. After the killings, a note sent to authorities portrayed the murders as a retaliation for the prisoner deaths during 1971 Attica prison riot. To date no arrests have been made.[citation needed]

In January 2007, eight men, labeled the San Francisco 8 were charged by a joint state and federal task force with Young's murder.[11] The defendants have been identified as former members of the Black Liberation Army.[12] A similar case was dismissed in 1975 when a judge ruled that police gathered evidence through the use of torture.[13] On June 29, 2009 Herman Bell pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Sgt. Young. In July 2009, charges were dropped against four of the accused: Ray Boudreaux, Henry W. Jones, Richard Brown and Harold Taylor. Also that month Jalil Muntaquim pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit voluntary manslaughter becoming the second person to be convicted in this case.[14]

It is also true that Jalil Muntaquim and Herman Bell decided to accept a guilty plea due to their being already incarcerated for almost 40 years. The case against the other San Francisco 8 defendants have been dismissed by the US Government with the exception of Francisco Torres who is free on bond and awaiting a court ruling.[citation needed]

On the 3 November 1971, Officer James R. Greene of the Atlanta Police Department was shot and killed in his patrol van at a gas station. His wallet, badge, and weapon were taken, and the evidence at the scene pointed to two suspects. The first was Twymon Meyers, who was killed in a police shootout in 1973, and the second was Freddie Hilton (aka Kamau Sadiki), who evaded capture until 2002, when he was arrested in New York on a separate charge, and was recognized as one of the men wanted in the Greene murder. Apparently, the two men had attacked the officer to gain standing with their compatriots within Black Liberation Army.[15]

On July 31, 1972, five armed individuals hijacked Delta Air Lines Flight 841 en route from Detroit to Miami, eventually collecting a ransom of $1 million and diverting the plane, after passengers were released, to Algeria. The authorities there seized the ransom but allowed the group to flee. Four were eventually caught by French authorities in Paris, where they were convicted of various crimes, but one—George Wright—remained a fugitive until September 26, 2011, when he was captured in Portugal.[16] Portuguese courts rejected the initial pledge for extradition. American authorities may still appeal from this decision.

In another high-profile incident, Assata Shakur, Zayd Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were said to have opened fire on state troopers in New Jersey after being pulled over for a broken taillight. Zayd Shakur and state trooper Werner Foerster were both killed during the exchange. Following her capture, Assata Shakur was tried in six different criminal trials. According to Shakur, she was beaten and tortured during her incarceration in a number of different federal and state prisons. The charges ranged from kidnapping to assault and battery to bank robbery. Assata Shakur was found guilty of the murder of both Foerster and her companion Zayd Shakur, but escaped prison in 1979 and eventually fled to Cuba and received political asylum. Acoli was convicted of killing Foerster and sentenced to life in prison.

The BLA was active in the US until at least 1981 when a Brinks truck robbery, conducted with support from former Weather Underground members Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, left a guard and two police officers dead. Boudin and Gilbert, along with several BLA members, were subsequently arrested.[17]

Anarchist turn

Following the collapse of the BLA, some members - including Ashanti Alston, Donald Weems (aka Kuwasi Balagoon) and Ojore N. Lutalo- became outspoken proponents of anarchism. Weems died in prison of an AIDS-related disease in 1986. Alston remains active in prison support and other activist circles. Lutalo was released from prison in 2009 after serving 28 years on charges related to a shootout with a drug dealer in 1981 (and parole violation stemming from his conviction for a 1975 bank robbery), during which time he was punished with solitary confinement for receiving anarchist literature. While incarcerated, the Anarchist Black Cross Federation gave him support.[18] On January 26, 2010, he was arrested for endangering public transportation while on the Amtrak train to New Jersey after attending the Anarchist Book Fair in LA, being mistakenly identified as making terrorist threats on his cell phone. The charge was swiftly dropped for lack of evidence, and Lutalo settled a suit against the city of La Junta, Colorado, where his arrest was made, for an undisclosed amount.[19]

Today's organization

An organization exists today claiming to be a recreated Black Liberation Army. The group is called the New Black Liberation Militia, a black nationalist paramilitary group with Fred Hampton, Jr. as a member. [20]

Members and associates

BLA members in prison as of January 2006, include the following:

Other high-profile BLA members and associates:

  • Arthur Lee Washington, Jr., FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitive #427, wanted for 1989 attempted murder of a New Jersey state trooper. {Removed from list in December 2000 as no longer meeting criteria}
  • Assata Shakur (Joanne Deborah Chesimard), named a Most Wanted Terrorist by the FBI—the first woman ever to make the list. Shakur is a fugitive and the FBI is offering a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to her apprehension. She is believed to be living in Cuba under political asylum. Additionally, the state of New Jersey is offering an independent reward of up to $1 million, bringing the total maximum reward to $2 million. She escaped custody after the May 2, 1973 murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. Shakur has been cited as an inspiration to Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza.[23] [24]
  • Dhoruba bin Wahad, former political prisoner, co-founder of the BLA, and established the Campaign to Free Black and New African Political Prisoners.
  • George Wright, murderer, escaped convict and 1972 Hijacker-captured September 28, 2011 in Portugal
  • David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin
  • John Leo Thomas, Leader of the Atlanta, GA cell.[25]
  • Ronald Anderson, member of the Atlanta cell.[26]
  • Avon White, member of the Atlanta cell.[27]
  • Robert Brown, member of the Atlanta cell.[28]
  • Jamal Joseph[29]

See Also


  1. Terrorist Organization Profile by University of Maryland's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START)
  2. ODMP, NYPD: John G. Scarangella, Undated. [1]
  3. Le Monde diplomatique, Caged panthers, 2005. [2]
  4. Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party, 2001.
  5. Umoja, Akinyele Omowale. “Repression Breeds Resistance: The Black Liberation Army and the Radical Legacy of the Black Panther Party.” New Political Science 21.2 (1999): 131-154.
  6. Umoja, Akinyele Omowale. "Repression Breeds Resistance: The Black Liberation Army and the Radical Legacy of the Black Panther Party." New Political Science 21.2 (1999): 131-154.
  7. The BLA Coordinating Committee, Message to the Black Movement: A Political Statement from the Black Underground. [3]
  8. Blast from the Past, 1979
  9. New York State FOP, New York State Fraternal Order of Police Criticizes Judge's Decision on the release of Kathy Boudin. [4]
  10. Van Derbeken and Lagos. Ex-militants charged in S.F. police officer's '71 slaying at station, San Francisco Chronicle (January 23, 2007)
  11. Ex-militants charged in S.F. police officer's '71 slaying at station (via SFGate)
  12. Black Liberation Army tied to 1971 slaying (via USA Today)
  13. 8 arrested in 1971 cop-killing tied to Black Panthers (via Los Angeles Times)
  14. 2nd guilty plea in 1971 killing of S.F. officer (via SFGate)
  15. Fulton Co. District Attorney Report
  16. "Man who escaped from N.J. prison 41 years ago is captured in Portugal". 2011-09-26. Retrieved 2011-09-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. CourtTV Crime Library, Ambush: The Brinks Robbery of 1981
  22. A&E Cold Case Files (2004)
  23. US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Most Wanted". FBI Most Wanted Terrorists. US Department of Justice. Retrieved 28 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Garza, Alicia. "A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement". The Feminist Wire. The Feminist Wire. Retrieved 28 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. A&E Cold Case Files (2004)
  26. A&E Cold Case Files (2004)
  27. A&E Cold Case Files (2004)
  28. A&E Cold Case Files (2004)
  29. Joseph, Jamal. Panther Baby. New York: Algonquin Books, 2012.

External links