Abolition for the People

From One Struggle to Another: Lessons From the First Abolition Movement

When people came together in the 19th century to oppose the expanding slave system, they were considered an aberration — but the course they charted continues to this day

Mumia Abu-Jamal
Published in
7 min readOct 26, 2020


This article is part of Abolition for the People, a series brought to you by a partnership between Kaepernick Publishing and LEVEL, a Medium publication for and about the lives of Black and Brown men.

In 1981, Black Panther Party member Mumia Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death by a “hanging judge” for the killing of a white police officer in Philadelphia. In 2000, Amnesty International found that the case “was irredeemably tainted by politics and race and failed to meet international fair trial standards.” Mumia forms part of the generation of Black radicals on whom the state tested law-and- order propaganda and lockdown in the ’60s — a prelude to the carceral repression it would deploy against poor Black and Brown urban communities in the 1980s and 1990s. On death row, Mumia became a writer of great literary power, and we are pleased to present this piece as part of Abolition for the People.

— The Editors, Kaepernick Publishing

When one thinks of the term abolition, there is a tendency to see it as a threat emerging from the left. Another perspective understands, however, that abolition is a natural response to a situation that has become untenable.

What condition lay before the nation in its founding days? Slavery: human bondage, which sat like an incubus upon the new nation’s foundation, and transformed its stated aims and ideals into lies. After some reflection, perhaps, we will see that the notion of abolition has deep historical roots. Consider summer, 1776, when delegates from the Continental Congress gathered in a sweltering room in Philadelphia. These men, some of the country’s intellectual elite, were scientists, writers, doctors, and thinkers, yet their claims of the new nation’s ideals were thick with contradiction. They wrote and adopted a document that said, among other things, the following:

We hold these Truths to be…