January 17, 2024

Tip of the Spear: Black Radicalism, Prison Repression, and the Long Attica Revolt

This event is part of the MCF Book Club: Reading for a Liberated Future series. The MCF Book Club shares the ideas of leaders who encourage us to imagine how we can radically transform our democracy, economy, and society.

Tip of the Spear: Black Radicalism, Prison Repression, and the Long Attica Revolt, written by MCF Freedom Scholar Orisanmi Burton, is a powerful book that challenges readers to think better, more precisely, and more historically about how incarcerated people draw on the Black radical tradition for strength, inspiration, and strategy in the ongoing struggle for autonomy, liberation, and revolution.

Tip of the Spear delves into the Long Attica Revolt, exposing prisons as battlegrounds of hidden warfare within the U.S. It explores a criminalized tradition of Black radicalism in the 1970s that led to rebellions in New York prisons, and reveals the coordinated tactics of violence, isolation, sexual terror, propaganda, reform, and white supremacist science and technology used by state actors for prison pacification and the elimination of Black resistance.

In researching the book, Dr. Burton conversed with current and former political prisoners who led the Long Attica Revolt, as well as their loved ones and family members, including Emani Davis, the daughter of freedom fighter Jomo Omowale who was imprisoned for more than three decades. Dr. Burton describes the book as an intergenerational mandate to excavate the intentionally suppressed history of struggle by imprisoned Black organizers and narrate it in a way that forces us to reckon with the brilliance of the Black radical analysis that’s always been present but hidden. 

About the Speakers and Moderator

Dr. Orisanmi Burton 

Dr. Orisanmi Burton is an assistant professor at American University in Washington, D.C. As a social anthropologist, he explores the collision of Black-led movements for social, political, and economic transformation with the state infrastructures of militarized policing, surveillance, and imprisonment. His book, Tip of the Spear, was published in October 2023 by the University of California Press. Dr. Burton is a 2021 Marguerite Casey Freedom Scholar.

Emani Davis 

Emani Davis is the founder and executive director of The Omowale Project and was born into the racial justice movement as a child directly impacted by the incarceration of her father, freedom fighter Jomo Omowale. An activist in her own right, Emani came of age at protests and policy debates. In the summer of 2020, in response to the acute suffering and ongoing retraumatization of her community, she established The Omowale Project—an offering in response to an unprecedented outcry carrying both immense opportunity and pressing demand for transformation.

Carmen Rojas

Dr. Carmen Rojas is the president and CEO of Marguerite Casey Foundation. Under her leadership, the foundation launched the prestigious Freedom Scholar award, committed to ensuring that a majority of MCF’s endowment is overseen by diverse managers, and since starting in 2020 granted more than $142M in funding to dozens of organizations doing the hard work of shifting power to those people who have long been excluded from having it. Prior to MCF, Dr. Rojas was the co-founder and CEO of The Workers Lab, an innovation lab that partners with workers to develop new ideas that help them succeed and flourish.

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