H. Rap Brown Was Raised in My Hometown: Ode to a Revolutionary on His Birthday

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Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a peculiar state capital. Depending on how you consider it, it is either a big town masquerading as a small city or a small city insulted by being referred to as a large town. With a current population of 216,701, Baton Rouge is the second largest city in Louisiana (just shy of New Orleans’ population) and the 105th largest city. It is home to the defending college football national champions (LSU Tigers) and the home base of the only historically Black college with its own multi-campus college system (Southern University).

It is also the place I spent my entire 40 years of living as of a few days ago. I am now a resident of Hyattsville, Maryland, but I will forever claim Baton Rouge. It is an American city rife with social inequity and layered systemic oppression, but it is also a city where underdogs bloom from seemingly insurmountable circumstances and make great impact in the world.

Baton Rouge was the site of the bus boycott that provided the blueprint for the famed Montgomery bus boycott. And when the eyes of the world were on us in the summer of 2016 after the horrendous police killing of Alton Sterling, it became a community of emerging organizers, activists and freedom fighters who took their advocacy from the streets to political office.

It is also the hometown of renown social justice warrior and freedom fighter Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown. Today is his 77th birthday.

Brown was born and raised in Baton Rouge, but left the city at the tender age of 17 to relocate Washington, D.C. in 1960. By the late 1960s, he would become a leader in the legendary Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), serving initially as its director of voter registration, and ultimately being the successor to Stokely Carmichael as its national chairman. By 1968, Brown became an honorary officer in the Black Panther Party with the given title of “minister of justice.”

Legal Woes

Shortly after being anointed as one of the forefront leaders of the Black power movement, Brown ran into a myriad of legal troubles. In July 1967, he encouraged a crowd at a civil rights rally in Cambridge, Maryland, to take an aggressive stance against the powers-that-be.

"Black folks built America, and if America don't come around, we're going to burn America down,” Brown reportedly told a crowd of 400 at the rally. He later was charged with inciting a riot that broke out. In 1968, he received a five-year sentence for the riot incident from a federal judge.

While awaiting an appeal for the 1968 riot charge, Brown went into hiding in 1970. He was added to the FBI’s "Most Wanted" list, and evaded federal law enforcement for 17 months before reappearing on October 16, 1971. Brown later found himself in a shootout with police after confronting a New York City bar that garnered a reputation for exploiting members in the Black community.

A Life Sentence

In 2002, Brown’s life was permanently altered when he was convicted of killing Fulton County sheriff's Deputy Ricky Kinchen and Kinchen’s partner, Deputy Aldranon English, in Georgia. The conviction came with a life sentence that was most recently declined for review by the Supreme Court. Brown’s case has been mired in prosecutorial inconsistencies, including the assailant being described as someone nearly a foot shorter in height.

According to various civil rights organizations lobbying for Brown’s case to be reopened, a man named Otis Jackson confessed to killing Kinchen during an unrelated trial. Jackson is imprisoned in Florida.

Civil Rights icon and former ambassadorAndrew Young has requested Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard revisit the case under the newly created Conviction Integrity Unit. There has been no immediate response from the district attorney’s office despite questionable evidence that could lead to an exoneration.

A 77-Year-Old has Lost Nearly 20 Years of Life

Today, the man currently known as Jamil Al-Amin is living out his sunset years in prison in the name of a crime allegedly committed by his former alias, H Rap Brown. Nearly 20 years has elapsed from the time of his conviction, but because he had a reputation of battling systems of white supremacy in his younger days, he is remaining confined to the state, indefinitely.

From one Baton Rouge native to another, I want to commemorate the legacy of a freedom fighter on his birthday. It is my sincere hope that he does not spend the remainder of his days in a cage under faulty circumstances.

About the Author

Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be.