HOUSTON-On Sunday, January 21, 2018, I was informed by Maia Lake that her father, Richard Mafundi Lake had passed away that morning.
The guards had found him unresponsive in his Alabama prison cell of 31 years.
As of this writing, an “official” cause of death had not been determined, but the Mafundi Lake Support Committee in Birmingham, Alabama has been fighting the prison system for years, demanding adequate medical treatment for Mafundi and other inmates in Alabama.
Carolyn Weyni Njeri Lake, Mafundi’s wife and chair of the committee, wrote in one complaint published by the Support Committee in response to a third stroke Mafundi had suffered. She stated:
“My Husband, Richard Mafundi Lake was admitted to the infirmary at Donaldson Correction Facility where he is a prisoner. Unfortunately, there is no doctor at this facility on weekends (as a matter of fact, two prisoners recently died at Donaldson during a weekend where no doctor was present).
“Not only that, Mafundi had been without his regular medication for four weeks prior to this incident.”
So despite what an “official” determination might say, the fact is that Mafundi’s death is squarely on the state of Alabama and the entire colonial U.S. State that framed and put him there in the first place.
At the time of Mafundi’s death, he was serving a life sentence under the “three strikes, you’re out” law.
Mafundi was arrested on a trumped-up rape charge eight days following a successful, National African Liberation Day march, rally and conference in May of 1983 in Birmingham in which Mafundi was the primary organizer.
The African Liberation Day activities were not the usual Birmingham civil rights mobilization.
It was revolutionary activity and was contested by the state, from the FBI down to the local police.
From the denial of parade permits to acquiring venue space, the government opposed this action from start to finish. Mafundi paid the price.
Mafundi as a Freedom fighter and Political Prisoner
Born in 1940, Mafundi grew up in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1950s in what was a political hotbed of black protests─the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the stirring of the movement for Black Power and self-defense.
Mafundi, like so many young Africans at the time, was swept off the streets by the Birmingham police and Sheriffs Bull Connor’s deputies to do slave labor in the many agricultural prison camps throughout the state.
As a teenager he was framed for a $34 robbery and sentenced to 14 years hard labor. The police had taken a potential organizer/revolutionary from the streets and put him in prison.
It was at the Atmore-Holman prison facility where Mafundi came into full bloom as an organizer and black revolutionary.
Well aware of the oppression in the outside African community, the horrors of life inside the prison walls are a gruesome reality─no medical care, guards murdering and torturing inmates, gutter food, and absolutely no rights to speak of in the fields of the prison plantations.
In response to these conditions, Mafundi organized Inmates for Action (IFA), one of the first and most effective prison organizations to come out of the Black Revolution of the sixties.
In retaliation for his organizing efforts, Mafundi was to spend 12 consecutive years in solitary confinement.
Despite this, however, the state was not able to break his will.
To paraphrase Mafundi testimony in Brooklyn, New York before the African People’s Socialist Party organized the First World Tribunal on Reparations for Black People in the United States in 1982, he says:
“For 12 years in isolation I had no books to read. I learned to play chess without a board.
“It would get extremely cold with no heat or blankets in the cells. I slept on a concrete slab. And to make matters worse, the guards would throw water on the floor to make it colder.
“I would shadow box until I would get exhausted near the point of passing out in order to sleep. I would take the little piece of toilet tissue they gave us, which was 3 tiny squares, put on my chest and psych myself out that it was a blanket.”
This is the Mafundi I knew!
Upon his release from prison, Mafundi helped to organize the first prisoner support organizations in Alabama: the Committee for Prisoner Support in Birmingham, Families for Action, African People’s Survival Committee and the Atmore-Holman Brothers Defense Committee.
I first met Mafundi in the mid 1970s while doing work out of Atlanta, Georgia when the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) built National Committee to Defend Dessie Woods.
Dessie Woods was an African woman sentenced to prison for killing a white man who tried to rape her.
I was in and out of Birmingham on a regular basis doing organizing work with Mafundi and the prisoner support committee there.
While there, I lived with Mafundi and his wife Njeri (Carol) who is one of the most decent human beings I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
In the summer of 1978 following the March on Plains, Georgia (U.S. president Jimmy Carter’s hometown) to Free Dessie Woods, the APSP began the organized effort to build the African National Prison Organization (ANPO).
Mafundi was named National Coordinator of the organization, which he took on with the zealousness of the Freedom Fighter he was.
One of my most memorable moments with Mafundi was down in Gainesville, Florida, in November of 1979.
We were there attending a meeting to organize the ANPO.
While in Gainesville, the people of Iran seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran, accusing it of being a “nest of spies.”
Of course, as supporters of the Iranian revolution, we supported the bold move by the Iranian revolutionaries and called for and held a march and demonstration in unity with the Iranians.
Our march and demonstration called for the freedom of the “40 Million Black Hostages Held in the U.S.”
The demonstration was physically attacked by thousands of U.S. flag-waving white people, shouting “USA, USA” and “Sand Niggers Go Home.”
We had to fight our way back to the hood, as Mafundi used a confiscated skateboard as a weapon of convenience. We made it back. The demonstration made international news, especially in the Iranian press.
We completed this demonstration the following week when Chairman Omali Yeshitela came to Gainesville and led the marchers untouched, through these same thousands of foaming-at-the mouth white nationalists with the chant “Africa! Africa! Africa!.”
Mafundi and the African National Prison Organization
By the end of 1979, Mafundi and I were consistently on the road building the ANPO.
Mafundi was passionate about the terrible treatment of African prisoners throughout the U.S. and was adamant about dismantling the whole system.
We would fill the car up with literature and from Florida to Connecticut, we traveled based on the contact list we were working with, occasionally stopping off at places like Trenton State Prison in New Jersey where Sundiata Acoli was locked down.
These were truly life lessons, trapped in a car 12 to15 hours at a time with my Comrade and friend Mafundi Lake plotting revolution and how to get free.
The work we did in Birmingham and other places did not win Mafundi’s freedom but was successful nonetheless.
Having the occasion to work with Njeri and Makeda (Shirley) and watch their daughter Assata grow up reinforced every day the commitment ordinary Africans have to the revolutionary project.
Some of Mafundi’s last work included challenging the prison system for dismantling a Black History Program he had established at the unit in Bessemer, Alabama.
At 77 he was still standing tall for Africa and African people.
Here is an excerpt from a letter Mafundi sent me following the Zimmerman acquittal for murdering Trayvon Martin.
This is the sentiment that made the Inmates for Action a formidable organization that dealt with police violence inside the Atmore-Holman prison.
“We learn early in the Hood that respect is earned. Respect is demanded! Respect is not given voluntarily!
“We must stop crying and wringing our hands over such racist murders and verdicts!
“We stay in crisis mode! One crisis after another. When will it end? It will end when we end it!
“If we can’t protect each other, surely we can avenge each other. That is all I have to say about the Zimmerman case!”
Mafundi has surely won his place among the patriotic African martyrs.
Long Live Mafundi Lake!
Make donations to the Mafundi Lake Support Committee, P.O. Box!