Jamal Joseph, 2012

Jamal Joseph (formerly Eddie Joseph;[1] 1953) is an American writer, director, producer, poet, activist, and educator. Joseph was a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. He was prosecuted as one of the Panther 21.[1] He spent six years incarcerated at Leavenworth Penitentiary.[2]

Early life and Black Panthers

Jamal Joseph was born Edward L. Joseph in New York City. His parents, who never married, were both Afro-Cuban; his father, Alipio Zorilla, was a revolutionary comrade of Fidel Castro,[2] who later served as Cuba's ambassador to Tanzania and Zambia.[3] His mother placed him in foster care when he was 17 days old, and he was raised in Harlem by the housekeeper of his foster family and her husband.[2] He joined the ranks of the Black Panther Party in September 1968 at the age of 15. The Assassination of Martin Luther King had occurred that same year, leaving Joseph feeling outraged. He sought out the Panthers believing them to be the most militant Black group around. However, when he asked his local branch to arm him, instead of receiving a gun as he expected, the local chapter gave him a stack of books by African-American authors instead. He was informed that is how he would be "armed".[4]

Legal experiences

In 1969, Joseph was one of the defendants in the Panther 21 trial, which accused the Panthers of planning a series of deadly attacks across New York City. Joseph spent a year in prison pending the verdict before it was deemed he, as well as all other defendants, were ultimately not guilty.[5] During Joseph's time in the Black Panther Party, he befriended Afeni Shakur, who was later one of his fellow defendants in the Panther 21 trial, and would act as Godfather to her son Tupac Shakur.[6][7]

In 1973, Joseph, loyal to the New York faction led by Eldridge Cleaver, pleaded guilty to attempted manslaughter for his part in the 1971 murder of Samuel Napier, a Black Panther Party member who belonged to the California BPP faction loyal to Huey Newton.[8]

In 1981, he was convicted for harboring a fugitive, Mutulu Shakur (Afeni's husband), who had taken part in the robbery of a Brink’s armored car in Rockland County, New York as part of an operation by members of the Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground.[6][9][10][11] For this, Joseph served five and a half years in Leavenworth State Penitentiary in Kansas, where he earned two college degrees and wrote his first play.[12]


Upon his release from prison, he became a poet, an author, a playwright and director.[13] He earned his BA summa cum laude from the University of Kansas while at Leavenworth.[14] His first position after incarceration was at Touro College, in East Harlem. While there, he was instrumental in arranging historic graduation ceremonies at the Apollo Theatre, with a graduation address by Ossie Davis, preceded by a spectacular Graduation Procession down the middle of 125th Street. [15] He is a full professor and former chair of Columbia University's Graduate Film Division and the artistic director of the New Heritage Theatre Group in Harlem. He has been featured on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, BET's American Gangster and on Tupac Shakur's The Rose That Grew from Concrete Volumes 1 and 2.[citation needed] He is the author of the interactive biography on Tupac Shakur, Tupac Shakur Legacy.[16]

Joseph was nominated for a 2008 Academy Award in the Best Song category for his contributions to the song "Raise It Up", performed by IMPACT Repertory Theatre and Jamia Nash in the 2007 film August Rush.[17][18]

His memoir Panther Baby was published in February 2012 by Algonquin Books.[1] A television series based on the book is in development at Starz, to be directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.[19]

Joseph is a co-founder of the Harlem Film Company with producer Cheryl Hill, which released the 2016 feature Chapter & Verse, which Joseph co-wrote and directed.[20] The film was a New York Times Critics’ Pick.[21]

In 2023, Joseph was interviewed in the FX television documentary series Dear Mama.


  1. ^ a b c Sneak Peek: Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph, Algonquin Books blog, November 15, 2011. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Joseph, Jamal (2012). Panther Baby. Algonquin Books. ISBN 978-1565129504.
  3. ^ Directory of Personalities of the Cuban Government, Official Organizations, and Mass Organizations. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. 1973.
  4. ^ Joseph, Jamal (February 7, 2012). "I Was a Teenage Black Panther". theatlantic.com. The Atlantic. Retrieved June 15, 2019.
  5. ^ Deusner, Stephen M. (February 15, 2012). "A Revolutionary Life". Washington Post. Retrieved June 15, 2019. In April 1969, Joseph was arrested as one of the "Panther 21" on charges of conspiracy and spent a year in jail. Later, he was charged with harbouring fugitives and spent six years in prison at Leavenworth, Kan.
  6. ^ a b Varagur, Krithika (November 18, 2015). "Former Black Panther Uses 'Bonus Years' To Make Art". huffpost.com. Huffington Post. Retrieved June 15, 2019. In 1981, he was arrested for robbing an armored truck and spent five and a half years in federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas
  7. ^ Farquharson, Safiya (July 23, 2012). "PANTHER BABY:Jamal Joseph Talks Revolution". ebony.com. Ebony. Retrieved June 15, 2019.
  8. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (May 22, 1973). "4 Panthers Admit Guilt in Slaying". The New York Times.
  9. ^ O'Brian, Bridget (February 22, 2012). "Jamal Joseph's Path From Black Panther to Professor". news.columbia.edu. Retrieved June 15, 2019. In 1981 he was convicted for harboring a fugitive, someone who had taken part in the robbery of a Brink's armored car in Rockland County. Sentenced to 12 years in prison, he served 5½ years
  10. ^ Kalish, Jon (February 3, 2019). "Jamal Joseph:Chapter & Verse". wbgo.org. Retrieved June 15, 2019. Joseph spent several years behind bars himself after being convicted of a variety of crimes including the sheltering of members of the Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground involved in the infamous Brinks robbery and murders in 1981.
  11. ^ Lubasch, Arnold H. (October 3, 1987). "JUDGE REDUCES SENTENCE OF MAN IN BRINK'S CASE". The New York Times. Retrieved June 15, 2019. In the Federal trial of the Brink's case in 1983, Mr. Joseph was acquitted of participating in the armored-car robbery in which a guard and two police officers were killed. But he was convicted of being an accessory after the fact because he helped hide an associate, Mutulu Shakur, accused of carrying out the robbery.
  12. ^ Moynihan, Colin, "Oscar Nomination Caps Columbia Film Professor's Long Journey", The New York Times, February 21, 2008.
  13. ^ "'Panther Baby,' From Prisoner To Professor". npr.org. NPR. February 22, 2012. Retrieved June 15, 2019. Along the way, he became a poet, a playwright and director, and now he's the author of "Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention."
  14. ^ Jamal Joseph – Purpose Prize Winner 2015.
  15. ^ personal recollection
  16. ^ Anne Burt, FACULTY Q&A: Jamal Joseph on His New Biography of Tupac Shakur, Columbia News, September 8, 2006, modified November 14, 2007. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  17. ^ "Harlem's IMPACT Repertory Theatre members will sing 'Raise It Up' from film 'August Rush' at Academy Awards ceremony", New York Daily News, February 20, 2008. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  18. ^ "Additional reporting by Jessica Letkemann and Keith Caulfield," [1], Billboard, undated (February 1, 2008). Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  19. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (March 16, 2021). "'Everybody Hates Chris' Animated Reboot, 'Shtisel' & 'Panther Baby' Adaptations In Works As CBS Studios Enters New Stage Post-Merger". Deadline. Retrieved November 18, 2021.
  20. ^ "Chapter & Verse". IMDb. Retrieved November 18, 2021.
  21. ^ Kenny, Glenn (February 2, 2017). "Review: 'Chapter & Verse' Tells of Prison and Redemption". The New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2021.

Further reading