Tupac Shakur’s Mother Faced Harsh Treatment in Jail

Tupac Shakur was an icon of hip-hop who was known for being real in his lyrics and shining a light on issues plaguing the world. The rapper‘s consciousness can be credited in part to his parents, both of whom were active in the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and ’70s.

Tupac Shakur Live In Concert
Tupac Shakur | Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Tupac Shakur’s mother, Afeni Shakur, was a Black Panther

Afeni Shakur, along with Tupac’s stepfather Mutulu, instilled a sense of right and wrong in Tupac. Their political leanings were informed by their real-life experiences: when Afeni was eight months pregnant with Tupac, she was indicted in the infamous Panther 21 criminal trial, where 21 Black Panthers were accused of planning attacks on police stations around New York City. She and everyone else involved was acquitted of over 150 charges. 

Tupac experienced firsthand his family’s political activism. Mutulu Shakur spent four years among the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. Tupac’s godfather, Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, was a high-ranking Black Panther and was convicted of murdering a school teacher during a 1968 robbery, though his sentence was overturned when it was revealed that the prosecution had hidden evidence that he was in a meeting 400 miles away at the time of the murders.

Tupac Shakur
Tupac Shakur at Club USA | Steve Eichner/Getty Images

Afeni Shakur was sexually abused in jail

In her 1987 autobiography Assata, Shakur’s godmother, Assata Shakur, spoke candidly about her experiences with the US government throughout the ’60s and ’70s. In one part of the book, she recounted her conversations with her fellow Black activists after they experienced sexual abuse in jail.

“Joan Bird and Afeni Shakur [members of the Black Panther Party] had told me about it after they had been bailed out in the Panther 21 trial. When they had told me, I was horrified,” she recalled.

“‘You mean they really put their hands inside you, to search you?’ I had asked. ‘Uh-huh,’ they answered,” she continued. “Every woman who has ever been on the rock, or in the old house of detention, can tell you about it. The women call it “getting the finger” or, more vulgarly, “getting finger-f—-d.”

“‘What happens if you refuse?’ I had asked Afeni,” she said. “‘They lock you in the hole and they don’t let you out until you consent to be searched internally.'”

Political & social activist and Black Panther member Afeni Shakur holds a camera as she attends a session of the Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, between September 4 and 7, 1970
Political & social activist and Black Panther member Afeni Shakur holds a camera as she attends a session of the Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, between September 4 and 7, 1970 | David Fenton/Getty Images

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Assata Shakur was Tupac Shakur’s godmother

Throughout the 1970s, Assata Shakur was indicted nearly a dozen times for several violent incidents, including murder. In 1984, she finally sought political asylum in Cuba, and has lived there ever since.

A 1987 article in Newsday detailed Shakur’s new life in Cuba and her revolutionary politics that infuriated so many in the United States. In the decades since then, the US government has attempted to have her extradited from Cuba to the US, most recently with President Donald Trump calling for her extradition. 

“In reality, armed struggle historically has been used by people to liberate themselves… But the question lies in when do people use armed struggle,” she said. “There were people [in the Black Liberation Army] who absolutely took the position that it was just time to resist, and if Black people didn’t start to fight back against police brutality and didn’t start to wage armed resistance, we would be annihilated.”