The Ancestors Take Home Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, Former Black Panther Leader

This broke late last night from Los Angeles.  The former political prisoner Elmer Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt, himself a human rights activist working on behalf of political prisoners considered wrongfully accused and incarcerated, had been living peacefully in Tanzania, Africa, with his wife and child since his release.  He is survived by three sons, a daughter, and two brothers and two sisters, one of whom, Virginia, announced his death here in the States.

Geronimo Pratt was godfather to the late Tupac Shakur, the rapper and the son (and stepson) of Black Panthers.

This is one good guy Johnnie Cochran did get off. Nothing yet about a cause of death or whether he was fighting a long-standing disease that killed him, although some sources suggest that it may have been malaria.  Others say a heart attack, as Pratt did suffer from high blook pressure.  It’s been 13 years since he was released. Too short a time to enjoy freedom in my view, but I hope that he did enjoy it and was happy in The Motherland. From the L.A. Times:

Elmer G. “Geronimo” Pratt, a former Los Angeles Black Panther Party leader who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit and whose case became a symbol of racial injustice during the turbulent 1960s, has died. He was 63.

Pratt died at his home in a small village in Tanzania, where he had been living with his wife and child, according to Stuart Hanlon, a San Francisco attorney who helped overturn Pratt’s murder conviction. Hanlon said he was informed of the death by Pratt’s sister.

Pratt’s case became a cause celebre for elected officials, Amnesty International, clergy and celebrities who believed he was framed by the government because he was African American and a member of the Black Panthers.

“Geronimo was a powerful leader,” Hanlon told The Times. “For that reason he was targeted.”

Pratt was convicted in 1972 and sentenced to life in prison for the 1968 fatal shooting of Caroline Olsen and the serious wounding of her husband, Kenneth, in a robbery that netted $18. The case was overturned in 1997 by an Orange County Superior Court judge who ruled that prosecutors at Pratt’s murder trial had concealed evidence that could have led to his acquittal.

Pratt maintained that the FBI knew he was innocent because the agency had him under surveillance in Oakland when the murder was committed in Santa Monica.

There will be more information forthcoming regarding this death, the second of a significant black public figure of the Sixties-Seventies era in a week. So far, I’ve been able to find the following:

Pratt was later awarded a $4.5 million dollar settlement by the authorities, but he did not settle with them, according to this 2003 interview with All Hip

[…]t was a suit I filed after getting the FBI’s documents years ago. They were clearly engaged in criminal activity against us yet we were held as criminal. To me, something is wrong with that, so I filed a suit. The FBI and the Los Angeles [police] admitting their wrongdoing and they gave us $4.5 million. I didn’t settle that. I wanted to go to trial because I got comrades in jail. I got Assata Shakur [Tupac’s aunt] in Cuba. I got Peter O’Neil (really, Peter O’Neal, exiled former Kansas City Panther chairman) in Tanzania. We wanted to use [the trial] as a platform as absolve them of any crimes that they were being charged with. So Mutulu, Set’s daddy [Tupac’s sister]; these freedom fighters, can come home. The lawyers didn’t understand that. I’m broke, I need money, right? But, f**k that, I need my comrades out of jail.

And yet malaria is a disease connected with poverty. If Pratt did die from the effects of malaria, it means he also died broke for the sake of his comrades and for a higher ideal.

~ by blksista on June 2, 2011.

2 Responses to “The Ancestors Take Home Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, Former Black Panther Leader”

  1. Malaria is a disease carried by mosquitos and, while poor people can and do suffer and die from malaria, anyone who is bitten by a mosquito runs the same risk, regardless of economic status.

    Some people in Africa contract malaria several times in their lifetime, sometimes a few times a year, much like people in the West contract flu (I’ve had it at least 10 times, despite a comfortable standard of living). Like flu, while it can be fatal, it doesn’t always end up so, and so is doubly sad when it does.

    Jumping to the conclusion of economic hardship is just ill informed speculation adding to an already sad story.


    • I understand that mosquitoes don’t discriminate when they bite. However, it is thoroughly reasonable to assume that if Pratt did not accept the $4 million settlement, as he maintained in 2003, he did it for a higher ideal of living in The Motherland and working for prisoners’ rights and releases. It’s the kind of work that does not necessarily garner a lot of money, and there are times when there is no money at all coming in. So I am not necessarily lambasting Pratt for his style of living, either. I am saying that he was not interested in money. However, some of that money might have helped regulate his high blood pressure and help any heart problems, plus any malaria attacks (there is no vaccine for this disease yet), and so forth. And getting well and keeping well takes money, especially in a rural, tropical community where even in the largest city there may not be all the amenities we enjoy in the States.

      I do not think that he will be buried in the United States. While the news reports say nothing about this, I would not be surprised if he is already buried in Tanzania.


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