Brown U. acquires treasure trove of prison papers from Mumia Abu-Jamal

PROVIDENCE, RI — Brown University has acquired a trove of documents, writings, and artwork from Mumia Abu-Jamal, a political activist and journalist who spent decades on death row for the shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer in the 1980s.

Ivy League University in Providence, Rhode Island, says the collection documents Abu-Jamal’s trial, prison, and death row experience, earning him worldwide recognition as the face of the movement against the death penalty.

Abu-Jamal is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole after Philadelphia prosecutors agreed to drop their death penalty case in 2011.

But the former Black Panther Party member for decades maintained his innocence in the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, who witnesses say was shot dead by Abu-Jamal while arresting his brother during a traffic check.

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Brown University says the collection was acquired through a trust and the purchase price is confidential. It includes over 60 boxes of materials covering the years 1981 to 2020.

Among his items is a pair of glasses that Abu-Jamal has worn for years; journals filled with his personal thoughts, poems and legal arguments; and part of the visitor list that Abu-Jamal has yet to maintain, the university said.

Brown also obtained related personal papers from Johanna Fernández, a Brown graduate and longtime Abu-Jamal lawyer whom he entrusted with the storage of his papers.

Together, the materials will anchor a new collecting focus at the university’s John Hay Library called “Voices of Mass Incarceration.”

The university says the effort will help researchers understand how “the expansion of the prison system has transformed American society” by giving them “unprecedented access” to first-person accounts of incarcerated people.

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“This collection will give researchers a rare chance to look inside prison walls and understand how incarcerated people live, think and defend themselves,” said Kenvi Phillips, Director of Diversity, Equity and of the inclusion of libraries at Brown.

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