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Life Arts

BOOK REVIEW: The Black Panther is an African Cat--Poems of Exploration and Testimony

By       Message Michael Richardson     Permalink
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Autographed copies are not available.  Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa has penned his sixth book of poetry from the maximum security Nebraska State Penitentiary where he is serving a life sentence.   

Langa, formerly David Rice, has been behind bars for 37 years, convicted for the murder of an Omaha police officer.  Langa has steadfastly maintained his innocence in the bombing ambush of patrolman Larry Minard in August 1970 and post-trial revelations of contradictory police testimony and withheld evidence suggest the prison poet was indeed framed for the crime.

Mondo, a twenty-two year old writer at the time of his arrest, was Minister of Information of Omaha's Black Panther chapter called the National Committee to Combat Fascism.  Caught up in the then-secret COINTELPRO operation of the FBI against the Black Panthers, Langa and his co-defendant Ed Poindexter, also serving a life sentence, went to jail while the confessed bomber got off with a reduced charge. 

The years of confinement have not dulled Langa's sharp observations on life in America for the descendents of African slaves and the predations of the dominant culture.  The Black Panther is an African Cat is not an easy book to read, the angst is palpable and permeates the text while the wisdom goes deep.


"As David Rice, I was proud of being a Panther then and, as Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa I am proud now that I was a Panther….The poems and raps I selected for this book express what it means to me to be an African and how the meaning of this influences how I see and interpret things.  At the same time, though, I'm an African who was born and brought up in the U.S. and continues to be influenced by its institutions, and I'm an African who's been locked up."


The book is illustrated with several photo collages assembled by Langa that are visual poems, telling their own stories.


The opening words 'From the Ancestors' House', "What were we but strangers to the land where we were born" caught "in a maze of Europeanisms" sets the tone for the explorations and testimony to follow.


'Dressed in Black' is a requiem rap for the Black Panthers and notes the passage from "people needin defense and protection" to "communities of us that traded in black power for government jobs and mid-level-management window dressin positions under glass ceilins."

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'The White Sea' is a poem written in Langa's youth, before his arrest.  Langa explains its inclusion in the collection.  "It is included because I wrote it while I thought of us as "black" while I was in the Party, and while I was still on the street.  It's also included because it is a poem that wound up, for me, to be prophetic."


"and I was screaming and shaking

while the sky was corroding

tiny beads of blood rolling down my face

toward my neck down to purge me

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so many chairs set up for us

to sit around and stare at each other

and we recounting dreams in a nightmare showcase

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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.

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