Geronimo Pratt, also known as Geronimo Ji-Gaga, was a high-ranking leader in the Black Panther Party who served 27 years in prison on a wrongful conviction. Pratt was born on this day in 1947, ironically the day that his godson, Tupac Shakur, died in a Las Vegas hospital.
“Geronimo was a symbol of steadfast resistance against all that is considered wrong and improper,” his friend Pete O’Neal told NPR. “His whole life was dedicated to standing in opposition to oppression and exploitation. … He gave all that he had and his life, I believe, struggling, trying to help people lift themselves up.”
Pratt born in Morgan City, Louisiana, and was a star quarterback at Sumpter Williams High School. Pratt then entered the U.S. Army and served two tours in the Vietnam War earning several medals and achieving the rank of sergeant. After leaving the service, he relocated to Los Angeles and entered UCLA to study political science. It was then when Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John Huggins of the Panthers recruited him.
COINTELPRO also aimed their sights at Pratt and in 1968, he wa arrested for the murder of 27-year-old elementary school teacher Caroline Olsen. Although Pratt’s attorney, the late Johnnie Cochran, said his client was hundreds of miles away during the crime, investigators took the testimony of police informant Julius Butler at face value.
Read more: Tupac’s family
He was a young black man from Morgan City, Louisiana who had served two tours in the Vietnam War and upon his return, sought to live an ordinary life after having experienced prior years of war and destruction. When he returned home, he decided to move to California so that he could attend U.C.L.A. and obtain a degree in political science. Shortly after moving to California, he met a woman named Saundra whom would soon come to be his wife.
While there, Pratt became increasingly familiar with the Black Panther Party and undoubtedly agreed with their policies of peace, education and discipline; consequently, after being approached by Bunchy Carter and John Huggins, Pratt negotiated his acceptance into the party with the two and was inducted with open arms. Eventually, after their love for one another augmented, Pratt and Saundra had aspirations of conceiving a child and it was not before long that Saundra was pregnant with a soon to be baby boy.
In 1971, on what seemed to be as normal a day as any other, Pratt saw his wife – who was eight months pregnant at the time – off as he left the house to dabble in his vocational duties. Little did he know, the government had already set into motion a series of events that would undermine his entire campaign. While he was away, his wife was murdered by members of the C.I.A. and her body was left only to be discovered in a ditch a few days later.
Since the government had undoubtedly covered their tracks meticulously, no trace of a murderer was found and even more was that the murder was blamed on a schism in the Black Panther Party. Though this is true, since he was greatly educated, he soon learned that this was a plot by the C.I.A. and didn’t allow this to kill his ties to the organization. When their attempt failed, a more drastic approach was taken and Pratt’s life would be ruined for many years to come.
Before his incarceration, Pratt was a close confidant of New York Black Panther member Afeni Shakur. He would become godfather to her son, Tupac Shakur, who was born in 1971 days before Afeni’s acquittal of plotting terrorist acts as part of the “Panther 21” trial.
Through an exclusive interview with Geronimo at San Quentin prison, archival footage of the Black Panthers, family photos, and scenes from demonstrations for his release, a warm and vivid portrait of Geronimo is sketched. This film was produced in 1988 as part of a campaign for Geronimo’s freedom. It would be almost ten more years, after he had spent 27 years in prison, and had been denied parole 16 times before his sentence was vacated and he was freed.
The prosecution had not disclosed the extent to which a key witness against Pratt, Julius Butler, provided information to the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department. An appeals court ruled this fact to be “‘favorable’ to the defendant, ‘suppressed’ by a law enforcement agency, and ‘material’ to the jury’s decision to convict” in 1999 and upheld the decision, freeing him.
After years of studying law and filing for appeals, Pratt was finally delivered justice on June 10, 1997 when his conviction was vacated due to concealed evidence that could have influenced the trial. After leaving prison on July 24 that year, Pratt returned to his hometown to be near his elderly mother.
In 1998, Cochran filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI and the LAPD for the wrongful conviction, which was settled for $4.5 million. Pratt took up the cause of speaking on behalf of the wrongfully imprisoned including supporting figures such as imprisoned Philadelphia Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. A federal judge approved the settlement of the civil suit: the City of Los Angeles paid $2.75 million of the settlement and the US Department of Justice paid the remaining $1.75 million.
Pratt was living in Tanzania at the time of his death from heart attack (June 02, 2011). He is survived by a daughter, three sons, two sisters and two brothers.
GERONIMO PRATT & THA OUTLAWZ “IN THE EVENT OF MY DEMISE”
Tupac mentions Geronimo in several songs:
Letter To The President – ”In case you don’t know, I let my pump go Get ride for Mutulu like I ride for Geronimo, Down to die, for everything I represent, Meant every word, in my letter to the President”
Hold Ya Head – ”My homeboys in Clinton and Rikers Island
All the penitentiaries Mumia, Mutulu, Geronimo, Sekon
All the political prisoners, San Quentin (who can save you).. all the jailhouses
Ballad Of A Dead Soulja – ‘‘To Geronimo.. all the down ass riders
All the niggaz that put it down, all the soldiers”
Rest In Peace, Godfather,