Before Troy Davis became known to the country and later the world, Mumia Abu-Jamal gained international support after he was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, and sentenced to death. Abu-Jamal was called the “world’s best-known death row inmate.”
1. MEANING BEHIND THE NAME
Abu-Jamal was born Wesley Cook. He was named “Mumia” by his high school teacher in 1968 after his African cultures class took on African class names. According to Abu-Jamal, Mumia means “Prince” and was the name of the anti-colonial African nationalists conducting warfare against the British in Kenya at the time of its independence movement. He adopted the surname Abu-Jamal (meaning “father of Jamal” in Arabic) after the birth of his son Jamal.
2. REVOLUTIONARY ACTIVIST
Abu-Jamal was an active member of the Black Panther Party. He dropped out of high school to work at the party’s Philadelphia headquarters. He worked as the organization’s “Lieutenant of Information,” handling news communications.
3. RENOWNED JOURNALIST
After getting his GED, Abu-Jamal pursued a career in journalism as a radio broadcast journalist, interviewing the likes of Alex Hailey and Bob Marley. He was also elected president of the Philadelphia National Association of Black Journalists.
4. HARD WORKER
In addition to working as a part-time journalist, Abu-Jamal was a taxi driver two nights a week to supplement his income.
5. WORK FROM THE INSIDE
While in prison, Abu-Jamal published an essay in the Yale Law Review on the death penalty and his experiences on death row. He was supposed to get a segment on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” where he would provide monthly three-minute commentaries on crime and punishment, but it was later canceled after criticism from the Fraternal Order of Police. His commentaries were later published in print in 1995. He became a regular commentator for an online broadcast sponsored by Prison Radio.
6. SUPPORT FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Due to his international appeal, Abu-Jamal was made an honorary citizen of about 25 cities around the world, including Paris, Montreal and Copenhagan.
7. HONORARY ROAD
In 2006, a new road in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis was named after Abu-Jamal, named “Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal.” The executive committee of the U.S. Republican Party filed two criminal complaints within the French legal system in opposition to the street naming.
8. SKETCHY EVIDENCE
In 2010, investigative journalists performed a series of test that concluded substantial inconsistencies with the evidence used against Abu-Jamal during trial. The Philadelphia Police Department and district attorney’s office were also accused of knowingly presenting false testimony.