Kakuya Amala Olugbala Shakur is the daughter of revolutionary activist Assata Shakur, formerly JoAnne Deborah Chesimard, and Fred Hilton. She was born on September 11, 1974, in New York. Kakuya was born during a difficult period for her mother. Assata Shakur was embroiled in a legal battle over her conviction for the murder of a New Jersey state trooper and had been in and out of jail. Upon learning of Kakuya’s birth, Assata’s supporters held a “Baby Shower for Assata” celebration to demonstrate their solidarity with her. Kakuya was just five years old when her mother escaped from prison and fled to Cuba in 1979. Assata was granted political asylum, and Kakuya was eventually able to join her in 1987.
Her Mother, Assata Shakur
Joanne Deborah Byron was born in 1947 in Flushing, Queens. After her parents divorced, she moved to North Carolina with her grandparents and later returned to Queens. During her teenage years, she often ran away, working short-term jobs and staying with strangers before living with her mother’s sister, a civil rights activist. She converted to Catholicism, attended high school and then BMCC and CCNY, where she became involved in political and civil rights activities. She earned a GED and married Louis Chesimard in 1967 before divorcing him in 1970.
In 1974, after graduating from City College of New York, Shakur moved to Oakland, California and joined the Black Panther Party. She eventually returned to New York City and led the BPP chapter in Harlem, coordinating the Free Breakfast Program, free clinics, and community outreach. After leaving the Black Panther Party, Shakur joined the Black Liberation Army and engaged in guerilla activities against the US government, and adopted the name Assata Olugbala Shakur in place of her birth name Joanne Chesimard.
From 1971 to 1973, she was charged with several crimes and was the subject of a multi-state manhunt. In May 1973, she was arrested after being wounded in a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike. From 1973 to 1977, she was charged with murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, bank robbery, and kidnapping in relation to the shootout and six other incidents. In 1977, she was convicted of the murder of State Trooper Foerster and of seven other felonies related to the 1973 shootout. In 1979, she escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township, NJ, with assistance from the BLA and members of the May 19 Communist Organization. In 1984, she surfaced in Cuba, where she was granted political asylum. In 2013, she was added to the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list as Joanne Deborah Chesimard, making her the first woman to be added to this list.
Assata Shakur’s legacy has been celebrated in numerous songs, films, and academic contexts. Her biopic Assata aka Joanne Chesimard and the documentary Eyes of the Rainbow both explore her life and struggle. Common, Nas, Paris, Public Enemy, 2Pac, Digital Underground, The Roots, Piebald, Asian Dub Foundation, Saul Williams, Rebel Diaz, Lowkey, Murs, and Jay Z have all composed songs in her honor. Additionally, Hands Off Assata, a campaign organized by Dream Hampton, and Assata’s Daughters, a Chicago-based activist group, have been established in her name. Despite criticism from right-wing media, she remains a powerful symbol of the Black Liberation Movement.