Marshall “Eddie” Conway was released from prison last week after serving 44 years for a crime he did not commit. Convicted in 1971, Conway was a high-ranking officer in the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panther Party.
In April 1970, Mr.Conway was charged with the murder of a police officer. The evidence (or lack thereof) was murky at best; his conviction relied on the testimony of a police officer and informant.
As part of the covert operation COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program), the FBI infiltrated many Black Panther Party chapters across the United States. Considered a dangerous enemy to US interests, the FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, spied on BPP members and thwarted their efforts to promote minority rights. The Baltimore chapter, to which Mr. Conway served as Minister of Defense, was created by an infiltrator.
While in prison, Mr. Conway founded the Friend of a Friend program, a mentoring initiative for imprisoned youth. Despite an enormous miscarriage of justice, Mr. Conway will continue to operate the program.
Founded in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, the Black Panther Party was a Black rights organization that sought to provide protection, health care, and education to Black people. The armed self-defense component characterized their national image, thus provoking fear in the white community. Their militancy was in response to the brutality they faced in the hands of corrupt police forces and civilian racist aggression.
The Black Panthers disbanded in 1982 due to declining membership and FBI-sanctioned crackdowns. Their legacy is controversial; some praise their resiliency and dedication to ensuring the safety of the Black community, while others believe their views were discriminatory and their actions were illegal.
Regardless, the Blank Panther Party is an indelible mark in history. Their grassroots campaigns and organizing abilities gave solace to the marginalized Black community in Oakland and beyond.
The Party helped craft the leadership skills seen in Mr. Conway. A political prisoner, Mr. Conway is a symbol for the lengths at which the American government would go to detain those persons daring enough to not only challenge the status quo, but to dismantle the racist and prejudicial notions that define it.
May he continue to serve as a mentor, icon, and legend for those of us who are similarly tired of the discriminatory society in which we live.