Jomo was born Cleveland McKinley Davis in North Carolina, where he spent much of his childhood before moving to Virginia with his family. After being arrested in Virginia Beach in the 1960′s, he left jail before receiving his formal sentencing and moved to New York. In New York he changed his name to Eric Thompson; here he began his political involvement with the Black Panther Party. Soon after, Jomo found himself in prison again– he was charged with attempted robbery, though he suspects he was targeted for his outspoken radicalism. Due to his involvement coordinating a prison uprising in Auburn prison, he was moved to the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York. Once at Attica he played a significant role in inspiring political consciousness and the protest of the inmates there, ultimately leading to the Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971. After accepting a plea bargain in the trials that followed, Jomo’s double identity was discovered and he returned to Virginia to complete his sentence. Jomo was jailed twice more and suffered severe eye injuries in the process. Since being released, he lives in North Carolina, where he continues to educate himself and raise goats and chickens.
“Many of my comrades died. I always said I would. . .that’s why I’m still doing this, because I want to tell their story. I told them I would tell their story, because a lot of them didn’t make it out of there.” -Jomo
Elizabeth meet Jomo when she was a third year law student at Syracuse, while working as a legal assistant on the Auburn riots defense case. After attempting to gather testimony from inmates at Auburn and being told she needed written consent from Jomo Davis, she angrily went to confront the Black Panther Party Minister of Defense. Elizabeth’s spunk won over Jomo’s trust and they began a written correspondence; she was later appointed counsel in the Attica defense trial. In 1976, Elizabeth and Jomo married, and she continued to represent him in subsequent trials. She is now Executive Director of the Osborne Association, an organization committed to improving the criminal justice system.
“I kept trying to find witnesses for this case I was working on, and I was this very earnest third year law student. And so they kept telling me they wouldn’t talk to me unless I had something from Jomo. So I then had to figure out who was this Jomo person, and of course his name in New York State Prison was Eric Thompson not Cleveland Davis. So I get the name and I get the number, and the lawyer that I’m working for arranged for me to go visit this guy, and I went in armed for bear. I was so pissed off.”
Michael Tigar is a well-known criminal defense attorney, who has been very successful in his work on cases with activist clients related to civil rights throughout his career. He received both his B.A. and J.D. degrees from the University of California, Berkley, and is currently an emeritus professor of law at Duke University. In 2003, the Texas Civil Rights Project dedicated its new building in Austin, Texas for him, calling it “the Michael Tigar Human Rights Center.” Tigar was familiar with Jomo and his history, and became an instrumental part of Jomo’s eventual parole release from Virginia– which had made the decision to abolish the parole system years earlier.
“The reason you get involved in these types of cases is if Jomo gets out, that sends shock waves through the system, and then that gives other people that may not have the same sort of visibility some traction to try and influence the system.”
Agieb joined the Black Panther Party in Oakland in late 1966, soon after the party was formed. As a foot soldier he remembers selling the Panther’s newspaper on the corner, starting community programs and Huey Newton’s legal mind. He moved to Oregon in 1968 in an attempt to organize SNCC and the Black Panther Party. Agieb later became disillusioned by the Panther’s use of guns and left the Party for the Nation of Islam in 1969. He remains extremely interested in this time period and the evolution of the Black Power movement.
“They came up on campus and I knew some of the people from SNCC. So I just went in the office and I liked what they was doing, and I was really, you know. I spent time with Crutch, we did, at the time it was the paper, the newspaper. We distributed the paper.”
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