Rep. Jamaal Bowman Featured Black Revolutionary Convicted of Murder on Middle School’s ‘Wall of Honor’
Daniel Marans, HuffPost, February 8, 2024
During Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s tenure as a middle school principal, a “Wall of Honor” he curated honoring historical Black and Latino figures included a notorious antisemite and two Black militants convicted of murder and armed robbery, respectively.
Bowman discussed the educational tool in a video, uploaded to YouTube in 2014, that depicts the addition of rapper Chuck D to the wall at Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School, or CASA. The goal of the project was to provide the Bronx school’s overwhelmingly Black and Latino student body with a version of history in which they could see themselves.
“Each and every member of the Wall of Honor has played a major role in moving our society from a bigoted, oppressive existence toward a world of freedom, justice and equality,” Bowman said in the video, reading the written description of the “Wall of Honor.”
In addition to hip-hop icons like Chuck D, CASA’s “Wall of Honor” featured an array of Black, Latino, and Asian politicians, activists and artists featured in curriculums around the country: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Sonia Sotomayor, Mahatma Gandhi, Langston Hughes.
But the wall also included former U.S. Rep Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), an antisemite and conspiracy theorist; the late Black militant Mutulu Shakur, who served a lengthy prison sentence for armed robbery; and Assata Shakur, a Black militant convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper, who broke out of prison and now lives in Cuba.
The “Wall of Honor” is likely to become an issue in Bowman’s contentious race for reelection on June 25. He faces a robust primary challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who has the backing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its deep-pocketed donors. The race in the safely Democratic district is seen as a bellwether for progressive standing within the Democratic coalition, following gains they’ve made in the House of Representatives over the past six years.
In a statement to HuffPost, Bowman’s campaign did not convey any regret about the decision, instead likening McKinney’s, Assata Shakur’s and Mutulu Shakur’s flaws to those of less controversial Black leaders like King and Malcolm X. Bowman has also distanced himself from McKinney’s antisemitic views in the past.
“It is correct that many leaders in the Black liberation movement, from Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to the names listed in this story, have complicated biographies,” campaign spokesperson Sarah Iddrissu said. “It is completely baseless, and a rhetorical tool of the far-right, to insinuate educating students on major figures of Black American history is serving to promote hateful or divisive rhetoric or actions.”
“In the very video this story is based on, Bowman praises peace and nonviolence,” Iddrissu added. “That is also what he has worked to advance in Congress, including by writing and passing a Congressional resolution condemning a violent antisemitic and anti-Black conspiracy theory. Suppressing the education of Black history only serves to enable violence against Black people.”
Although Bowman does not name every one of the people on the “Wall of Honor” in the 2014 video, he finds the time to mention the three controversial figures in the order that he sees them on the wall — checking them off as if their inclusion is unremarkable. In his narration, McKinney comes after neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Mutulu Shakur follows scientist Benjamin Banneker. And Assata Shakur — not a blood relation of Mutulu — is wedged between Booker T. Washington and Barack Obama.
Although they were not relatives, Assata and Mutulu Shakur were close friends and collaborators, with Assata serving as a godmother to Mutulu’s stepson, Tupac, the late hip-hop star also featured on Bowman’s “Wall of Honor.”
The Shakurs were fellow members of the Black Liberation Army, or BLA — a violent and radical offshoot of the Black Panther Party. The BLA, which financed its activities through armed robberies, had a deliberate policy of murdering police officers to bring about an ill-defined vision of justice for Black Americans. For example, the group claimed credit for the 1971 ambush murder of a pair of New York City cops — one white and one Black — by shooting them in the back.
In 1977, Assata Shakur was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges associated with the 1973 shooting death of a New Jersey state trooper and the wounding of another trooper during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. In 1979, she broke out of prison, eventually escaping to Cuba where she received asylum, and developed something of a cult following in select leftist and Black circles.
Assata Shakur’s extreme views are not in doubt, however. In her autobiography, Assata Shakur, the daughter of a schoolteacher, at once boasts of her granular knowledge of art history, and fantasizes about how armed Black people instill fear in white people.
“When Black people seriously organize and take up arms to fight for our liberation, there will be a lot of white people who drop dead for no other reason than their own guilt and fear,” she writes.