Geronimo ji-Jaga (né Elmer Pratt), former Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party, died on the 2nd of June, 2011. He will be remembered as an upstanding revolutionary who never stopped fighting for justice and freedom.
Ji-Jaga was born on 13 September 1947, in a close-knit black community in Louisiana. He said of his early surroundings: “The situation was pretty racist, on the one hand; on the other, it was full of integrity and dignity and the pride of being a part of this community … the values, the work ethic, very respectful to everyone.”
Having graduated from high school, he was sent by the elders in his community to join the army, in order to learn military skills that could be used to protect the black community.
“There was a policy that some of us, when we got of age, would be sent to come back and help protect the Black community from racist attacks from the Ku Klux Klan. It had nothing – and listen to me carefully – nothing to do with being patriotic to America. It had everything to do with getting training and returning to protect the community from the Ku Klux Klan. Little did I know, I was going to end up in Vietnam, blown up, all this stuff, but that’s just the way things happen.”
Upon his return from Vietnam, ji-Jaga began to see how the police treated the black community in much the same way as the army treated the rebel Vietnamese forces. He proceeded to put his significant military experience at the service of the black liberation movement. By 1968, he was acting Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party, and a leader of its Los Angeles chapter. After leading the LA chapter’s defence against a six-hour onslaught by LAPD’s SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team, Geronimo was described in the Black Panther newspaper as “the very essence of a revolutionary”. In 1969, ji-Jaga was sent by Huey P Newton to go underground and develop a revolutionary infrastructure in the deep south.
The FBI targeted Geronimo ji-Jaga in their notorious Cointelpro operation, aiming to “neutralize Pratt as an effective BPP functionary.” In 1972, he was falsely accused and convicted of the murder of a woman. He spent a quarter of a century in prison, much of which was spent in solitary confinement. He was freed in 1997 when his legal team, backed by a number of civil rights groups, were able to prove that the main witness against Geronimo was an FBI informant.
Upon his release from prison, Geronimo worked hard in support of other political prisoners.
Geronimo always maintained a strong Afrocentric focus, and considered it very important that the African diaspora in the US and elsewhere reclaim the African roots that slavery and white supremacy had tried to cut off. He changed his surname from Pratt to ji-Jaga in 1968, reasoning:
Names are very important to our historical personality. By having these alienating names, we develop a certain kind of schizophrenia that we can regain by reclaiming our historical personality.
He spent many months a year in Tanzania. In one of his last interviews, he said: “I want to remind all Africans, please come to Africa. It’s right across the water. Come look at yourselves. Momma is waiting.”
Geronimo ji-Jaga is a particularly important name in the hip-hop community due to his being Tupac Shakur’s godfather. Ji-Jaga had a great insight on the attempts of the state and the corporations to subvert hip-hop:
“Hip-hop is indigenous and it’s powerful and it scares the hell out of these people, right? So, they have to get control and employ Cointelpro-like tactics. They work easily. I saw it with Pac. Before he was murdered I mentioned that to him. I believe to this day that they were involved in his death and they were involved in other deaths.”
On the legacy of Cointelpro and the rise of gangsterism since the decline of the black power movement, Geronimo said:
“After the leadership of the BPP was attacked at the end of the 60s and the early 70s, throughout the Black and other oppressed communities, the role models for up-coming generations became the pimps, the drug dealers, etc. This is what the government wanted to happen. The result was that the gangs were coming together with a gangster mentality, as opposed to the revolutionary progressive mentality we would have given them.”
Geronimo ji-Jaga died of a heart attack in his adopted country, Tanzania, on June 2. Rest in power always.