Remembering Geronimo Pratt’s Love of Justice and Freedom

The former Black Panther Party leader spent 27 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder. We pay homage to his strength and legacy.

By Julianne Hing, Stokely Baksh Jun 03, 2011

The former Black Panther Party leader Geronimo Pratt has passed away. Pratt became a political prisoner after he was convicted in in 1972 for a murder he did not commit, and his life came to symbolize bitter racial injustice and the state-organized oppression of black resistance after he spent 27 years in prison for that crime. His conviction was overturned in 1997.

"Geronimo was a symbol of steadfast resistance against all that is considered wrong and improper," his friend Pete O’Neal told NPR. "His whole life was dedicated to standing in opposition to oppression and exploitation. … He gave all that he had and his life, I believe, struggling, trying to help people lift themselves up."

After his release, Pratt had moved to Tanzania, where his friends and family say he devoted his life to the local community and the United African Alliance Community Center, and lived with his wife and family. He was 63.

Here now, a quick look back at the turmoil of Pratt’s life in images. For more history, check out this Los Angeles Times account from 2008 of the 1968 murder of Caroline Olsen all the way up to Pratt’s eventual exoneration.

Pratt was a decorated Vietnam War Veteran and war hero with two purple hearts. After two tours, he enrolled at the UCLA.

Still/60 Minutes. 1984.

Pratt later joined the Black Panthers because of the racial violence he saw. He would rise the ranks of the organization and soon became a target of the FBI.

Still/60 Minutes. 1984.

Pratt was convicted in 1972 of the 1968 murder of a 27-year-old schoolteacher on a Santa Monica tennis court and wounding her husband in a mugging. Pratt maintained his innocence especially since he was in Oakland when the crime took place. Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. along with Stuart Hanlon became the two key attorneys on his case.

Video/60 Minutes. 1984.

Pratt served 27 years for a murder he did not commit at the San Quentin State Prison. He would become a symbol for racial injustices.

Still/60 Minutes. 1984.

Pratt was granted a new trial in 1997 after a Orange County Superior Court Judge ruled that prosecutors had concealed evidence that could have led to an acquittal. The Court of Appeal panel affirmed that judge’s decision in 1999.

Still/Evening News with Dan Rather. 1999.

In 2000, Pratt was granted a $4.5 million settlement in his false-imprisonment and civil rights suit against the FBI and the city of Los Angeles.

Video/CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. 1999.

Investigative reporter Jack Olsen documented Pratt’s story and false imprisonment in "Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt."

"Years would pass before it finally came to light that he’d been targeted by J. Edgar Hoover and a systematic FBI counter-intelligence program whose admitted goal was to undermine black solidarity and "neutralize" Panther leaders."

Pratt continued to work on behalf of men and women believed to be wrongfully incarcerated, and later went on to help communities in Tanzania, where he lived for nearly 10 years.

Photo/Getty Images