The death of Geronimo Pratt has shocked leaders in the black community who have quietly looked up to this revolutionary since his time with the original Black Panthers. As a prominent Panther leader, Pratt fell victim to what many believe was an FBI plot to destroy this political group when he was convicted of murder in 1972. While in prison, Pratt became an inspiration for many blacks seeking to break free of the shackling systems of corrupted justice that are manipulated to hold us down. The late Johnnie Cochran himself, drawn to the symbolism of Pratt’s cause, helped to get his conviction overturned, calling this 1997 accomplishment “the happiest day of my life practicing law.”
What an amazing man. Geronimo Pratt’s untimely death at the too-young age of 63 gives us pause, and a cause for listing some of the many highlights of this hero’s life. Here are the top five reasons Geronimo Pratt’s life and legacy matter today:
1. The former Minister of Defense for the Black Panther Party, Geronimo Pratt was also the godfather of Tupac Shakur, one of the most important figures in hip-hop history.
2. During his 27 years of imprisonment for a wrongful murder conviction, Geronimo Pratt served as an emblem of injustice who spurred political activists in this country to action in a similar way that Nelson Mandela did in South Africa.
3. Despite being wrongly jailed for a crime he did not commit, upon his release Pratt refused to devolve into bitterness. He exemplified inspiring spirituality in the manner of Dr. Martin Luther King by stating: “I don’t think bitterness has a place. I’m more understanding… Understanding doesn’t leave any room for bitterness or anger.”
4. After being freed from prison, Pratt dedicated his life to serving the African community he joined when he moved to Tanzania. As a further expression of his dedication to others, Pratt worked with the country’s United African Alliance Community Center in Arusha to empower African Youth. Pratt transformed what could have been bitterness into community-building action.
5. Pratt also served two tours of duty in Vietnam, serving his country in such a manner that even the most conservative American would be proud. Ultimately, Geronimo Pratt was a patriot, working to make our country the best it could be, using whatever means necessary — as both a “real” soldier, and a soldier-revolutionary.
As an icon of liberation and a worker for human liberty, Geronimo Pratt will always be remembered. A former Black Panther colleague, Pete O’Neal, had this to say about his friend:
“He’s my hero. He was and will continue to be… Geronimo was a symbol of steadfast resistance against all that is considered wrong and improper. 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.”
May this hero rest in peace.