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50 Illuminating Assata Shakur Quotes That Detail Her Struggles

These insightful Assata Shakur quotes and sayings illustrate her reality in her own words.

Assata Shakur is one of the most interesting activist cases I have ever read. Assata, whose birth name is Joanne Deborah Chesimard, is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list. She is living in Cuba, where she was granted asylum in 1984.  So who is she and just how did she get on that list?

Assata is an activist who was associated with both the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. In May 1973, she was arrested after a shootout at the New Jersey Turnpike, which resulted in the death of Trooper Werner Foerster.

Prior to this incident, she is rumored to be involved in other murders, robberies, and criminal activities. However, these Assata Shakur quotes, mostly from her biography, detail a different picture. They illustrate her reality in her own words.

Don’t forget to also check out these activism quotes that will inspire you to action.

Assata Shakur quotes about her court case and punishment

1. “People are tried and convicted in the newspapers and on television before they ever see a courtroom.” ― Assata Shakur

Everyday Application: One of the foundations of our justice system is the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty. However, we see things on the news and TV and form opinions without having all the facts. There isn’t a ton we can do on a daily basis as it relates to justice. However, we should remember to try and hold off judging others (coworkers, friends, and family members) until we know all the facts.

2. “One of the worst cases is that of ASSATA SHAKUR, who spent over twenty months in solitary confinement in two separate men’s prisons, subject to conditions totally unbefitting any prisoner.” ― Assata Shakur

Everyday Application: Most of us are not directly responsible for the treatment of prisoners. However, we can remember that even the people who have wronged us should be treated with basic human dignity. Instead of thinking of delivering justice, think about offering forgiveness.

3. “We found out later that a lone Black juror had refused to convict us. He had heard us.” ― Assata Shakur

Everyday Application: As it pertains to her case, this was about being heard by someone that looked like her. However, it is a vital reminder to us everyday that all it takes is one person to listen and hear what we are saying. That one person can make a difference in our lives.

4. “After ten days, I was discharged from the hospital over the objections of my doctor, brought to the Middlesex county jail for men, and kept in solitary confinement from February 1974 until May 1974.” ― Assata Shakur

5. “I also had monilia, a vaginal discharge, which worsened because the Montefiore Hospital doctors assigned to Rikers could not agree about how it should be treated. They refused to treat the condition at all until my culture was returned from Elmhurst Hospital. By the time they managed to get the culture back, the whole inside of my thigh was chapped raw from the discharge, and I could barely walk.” ― Assata Shakur

6. “They refused to let him examine me unless a white doctor, hired by the state, was present, and for the report to the judge, the white doctor had to examine me.” ― Assata Shakur

7. “The defense team’s headquarters, located in New Brunswick, was broken into, papers rummaged through and stolen, and the judge refused to investigate, calling the motion ‘frivolous’.” ― Assata Shakur

8. “Whenever a juror said something that revealed out-and-out prejudice, the judge would try to clean it up.” ― Assata Shakur

9. “Even though the National Jury Project had done a study of Middlesex County and had found that eighty-three percent of the people had heard about my case in the media and seventy percent had already formulated an opinion about my guilt, the court maintained that I could receive a fair trial.” ― Assata Shakur

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10. “He told the jury that I was hiding the fact that I had big fat arms like the woman who was shown robbing the bank, that I was concealing my arms because I had not worn a sleeveless dress in court (the trial was held in the middle of January). As he was talking, I politely rolled up my sleeves right there in the courtroom, exposing my very thin arms.” ― Assata Shakur

The saddest Assata Shakur quotes

11. “The rulers of this country have always considered their property more important than our lives.” ― Assata Shakur

Everyday Application: Human lives matter. They are more important than property, and the feelings of other people. No class or race of people should be living in suffering in this era of the world.

12. “Love is contraband in Hell, cause love is an acid that eats away bars.” ― Assata Shakur

Everyday Application: Learning to love yourself can set you free from the demons in your mind. The prison of your past is not meant to hold you back. You are worthy and you deserve love. Learning to love yourself can be a process, but it is essential to your well-being.

13. “My neighbors ask me what the U.S. is like, and they accuse me of lying when I tell them about the hunger and cold and people sleeping in the streets. They refuse to believe me. How can that be in such a rich country?” ― Assata Shakur

Everyday Application: According to Census.gov, “In 2020, there were 37.2 million people in poverty.” The Department of Health and Human Services places the poverty line at $12,490 and up to $43,430 for a family of 8, in the lower 48 states. Poverty is a real problem in this country, despite our wealth and resources.

14. “Won’t you at least call a gynecologist in to see me? You’re not a specialist in this area. “I don’t need you to tell me what my specialties are,” he said angrily. “It would be best for everybody concerned if you have an abortion, no matter which way you have it.” ― Assata Shakur

If you’re enjoying these quotes, make sure to read our collection of abortion quotes for those thinking about the big decision.

15. “I will never forget the haunting scream of that child as she watched her father being brutally beaten.” ― Assata Shakur

16. “When he returned at 6 P.M. that day, I still hadn’t seen the baby. He reminded them that I was supposed to breastfeed her. They told him he hadn’t ‘written a prescription’ for breastfeeding.” ― Assata Shakur

17. “They lock you in the hole and they don’t let you out until you consent to be searched internally.” ― Assata Shakur

18. “When the draft law was enacted, tens of thousands of white workers in New York City took to the streets and brutally beat and murdered every Black person they could find. It has been estimated that between four hundred and a thousand Blacks were killed as a result of the so-called New York draft law riots. Draft riots and the murder of Blacks also took place in other Northern cities.” ― Assata Shakur

19. “That was one of the things that always happened to me after long periods of solitary confinement: I would forget how to talk.” ― Assata Shakur

20. “Too many people in the U.S. support death and destruction without being aware of it. They indirectly support the killing of our people without ever having to look at the corpses.” ― Assata Shakur

Assata Shakur quotes about slavery, race, and freedom 

21. “People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.” ― Assata Shakur

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22. “I am about life. I’m gonna live as hard as I can and as full as I can until I die. And I’m not letting these parasites, these oppressors, these greedy racist swine make me kill my children in my mind before they are even born.” ― Assata Shakur

23. “If you are deaf, dumb, and blind to what’s happening in the world, you’re under no obligation to do anything. But if you know what’s happening and you don’t do anything but sit on your ass, then you’re nothing but a punk.” ― Assata Shakur

24. “Only the strong go crazy. The weak just go along.” ― Assata Shakur

Everyday Application: This quotes helps explain why some people seem so fired up and almost crazy about things. They are strong enough to fight the system and sacrifice their comfort and security. Those who can not do without those things will be complacent and go along.

25. “I had grown up believing the slaves hadn’t fought back. I remember feeling ashamed when they talked about slavery in school.” ― Assata Shakur

26. “Any community seriously concerned with its own freedom has to be concerned about other peoples’ freedom as well.” ― Assata Shakur

27. “I’m not quite sure what freedom is, but I know damn well what it ain’t. How have we gotten so silly, I wonder?” ― Assata Shakur

28. “But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.” ― Assata Shakur

Everyday Application: This is true about everything in life. To free ourselves from the shackles of poverty, addiction, and trauma we must be aware that there is a problem.

29. “They went up against white mobs, water hoses, vicious dogs, the Ku Klux Klan, trigger-happy nightstick-wielding police, armed only with their belief in justice and their desire for freedom.” ― Assata Shakur

Inspiring Assata Shakur quotes

30. “Before going back to college, I knew I didn’t want to be an intellectual, spending my life in books and libraries without knowing what the hell is going on in the streets. Theory without practice is just as incomplete as practice without theory. The two have to go together.” ― Assata Shakur

31. “Dreams and reality are opposites. Action synthesizes them.” ― Assata Shakur

Everyday Application: Simply, dreams differ from our reality by their very nature. They are our greatest hopes and ambitions. In order for them to become our reality, one must take actions. These do not have to be giant actions! Small daily actions that move the needle closer to where you want to be in life will transform your dreams into your new reality.

32. “My energy just couldn’t stop dancing. I was caught up in the music of struggle, and I wanted to dance.” ― Assata Shakur

33. “The world, in spite of oppression, is a beautiful place.” ― Assata Shakur

Everyday Application: This is a reminder to be grateful for the beauty around us. The world can be full of dark and traumatic things. However, everyday that you wake up is a chance to create change in your life.

34. “I decided on Assata Olugbala Shakur. Assata means ‘She who struggles,’ Olugbala means ‘Love for the people,’ and I took the name Shakur out of respect for Zayd and Zayd’s family. Shakur means ‘the thankful’.” ― Assata Shakur

35. “But I never could make much sense out of war.” ― Assata Shakur

36. “A wall is just a wall and nothing more at all. It can be broken down.” ― Assata Shakur

37. “We were alive, and we were excited, and we believed that we were going to be free someday.” ― Assata Shakur

Revolutionary thinking Assata Shakur quotes 

38. “No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.” ― Assata Shakur

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39. “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” ― Assata Shakur

40. “A revolutionary woman can’t have no reactionary man.” ― Assata Shakur

41. “Schools in America are interested in brainwashing people with Americanism, giving them a little bit of education, and training them in skills needed to fill the positions the capitalist system requires. As long as we expect America’s schools to educate us, we will remain ignorant.” ― Assata Shakur

42. “We’re taught at such an early age to be against the communists, yet most of us don’t have the faintest idea what communism is. Only a fool lets somebody else tell him who his enemy is.” ― Assata Shakur

43. “Constructive criticism and self-criticism are extremely important for any revolutionary organization. Without them, people tend to drown in their mistakes, not learn from them.” ― Assata Shakur

44. “In the long run, the people are our only appeal. The only ones who can free us are ourselves.” ― Assata Shakur

45. “Revolution is about change, and the first place the change begins is in yourself.” ― Assata Shakur

46. “I thought about it all the way home. Of all the things I had wanted to be when I was a little girl, a revolutionary certainly wasn’t one of them.” ― Assata Shakur

47. “That’s why political work and organizing are so important. Unless you are addressing the issues people are concerned about and contributing positive direction, they’ll never support you. The first thing the enemy tries to do is isolate revolutionaries from the masses of people, making us horrible and hideous monsters so that our people will hate us.” ― Assata Shakur

48. “When someone asked me what communism was, I opened my mouth to answer, then realized I didn’t have the faintest idea. My image of a communist came from a cartoon. It was a spy with a black trench coat and a black hat pulled down over his face, slinking around corners. In school, we were taught that communists worked in salt mines, that they weren’t free, that everybody wore the same clothes, and that no one owned anything.” ― Assata Shakur

49. “I had heard ‘communist bloc’ and ‘behind the iron curtain’ so much in the media, that I had naturally formed the impression that these countries were all the same. Although they are all socialist, East Germany, Bulgaria, Cuba, and North Korea are as different as night and day.” ― Assata Shakur

50. “To win we have got to wear down our oppressors, little by little, and at the same time, strengthen our forces, slowly but surely.” ― Assata Shakur

Which of these Assata Shakur quotes resonated with you best?

There was next to no evidence in any of these cases that should have held up in court. Her trial was never a fair one, as was her right as a US citizen.

The things she suffered in men’s prisons were atrocities that should never have happened to anyone. I have experienced nothing like this, and I think her words speak better for herself than I ever could.

I also understand that the family members of the Trooper would like answers and some sense of justice, but I am not sure how to get that for them.

There was testimony from multiple medical experts that Assata’s arms were raised when she was shot, and there is no way she could have been firing, as the witnesses stated. It is a complex situation for sure, but her words are still eye-opening, impactful, and distressing.

Which of these Assata Shakur quotes and sayings resonated with you best? Do you have any other favorite quotes to add? Let us know in the comment section below.

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor
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