They Escaped The Largest Civilian Death Penalty Case In US History

Chokwe Lumumba Pontiac
Zain Murdock
October 5, 2021


On July 22, 1978, overcrowding, brutality, and unsanitary prison conditions boiled to a full-on rebellion at Illinois’ Pontiac Prison. Three white guards were killed and fires set by prison revolutionaries caused millions of dollars in damages.

In response, the courts sought to send 16 Black prisoners to life – or worse, death.

During the trial, they insisted on portraying the Pontiac 16 as “scarily” as possible. They even separated them from spectators with bulletproof glass, one newspaper saying the “only comparable courtroom situation” was Nazi Adolf Eichmann’s trial! 

But despite their efforts, the 16 had a firecracker on their side.

It was attorney and Republic of New Afrika’s Midwest leader Chokwe Lumumba. And even though the 16 men faced 200 charges, it was revealed that over $75,000 and an electric chair was spent bribing and intimidating witnesses!

“This case is the doorway to return to unmitigated acts of repression and we must stop it,” Lumumba declared at a rally for the Brothers. And he was right. 10 of the Brothers were acquitted, and charges were dropped for the other six that next month.

From rebellion to trial, Lumumba and the Pontiac Brothers refused to back down. Black liberation not only includes but necessitates Black incarcerated people – and we need to fight for them today just like they fought then!

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