Incarnation Nation

A Tribute to Ruchell “Cinque” Magee

March 16, 1939 — October 17, 2023

“My fight is to expose the entire system, judicial and prison system, a system of slavery. This will cause benefit not just to myself but to all those who at this time are being criminally oppressed or enslaved by this system.” —Ruchell Magee

Ruchell Magee was born March 16, 1939. He died at 84-years-old on October 17, this year. He was in prison for 67 years. He was a skilled Jailhouse Lawyer and according to the many legal documents he has filed in his defense, it is clear that he was innocent but framed of the first two convictions that landed him in prison, and most of the charges from his third conviction. He also wrote many appeals for other prisoners.

His first conviction was in 1956 for sexual assault, however, police and prosecutors produced no evidence other than the alleged victim, a white woman, identified Magee in a second round, raising the likelihood that the police had in the meantime coerced her to do so. This being Louisiana in 1956, after a day-long trial, an all-white jury convicted him in a matter of hours, and he spent the next six-plus years as the youngest prisoner at the infamous Angola prison plantation.

After being released in 1962, Magee moved to Los Angeles. In 1963, a $10 bag of weed and a trumped-up kidnapping charge again found Magee, who had been beaten so badly he was hospitalized, before the American “justice system.” For that “crime,” he was given an indeterminate sentence of five years to life in prison.

He spent many years at some of the harshest penitentiaries in California and spent a number of those years in solitary confinement.

On August 7, 1970, an action was taken against oppressors that wrongfully imprisoned black people and killed them at indiscriminate rates. Jonathan Jackson, the young brother of George Jackson, a member of the Black Panther Party, charged into the Marin County Courthouse and took the judge, an assistant attorney, and three jurors hostage with the goal of freeing the Soledad brothers, including George. The prisoners present in the courthouse to whom Jonathan distributed weapons were Ruchell “Cinque’’ Magee, William Christmas, and James McClain.

In the ensuing battle, Ruchell Magee was severely injured. He was the only survivor of the four freedom fighters, killed by the state, who were so eager to kill them that they sacrificed a judge and prosecutor after blindly firing upon the getaway van.

Is it any wonder, given Magee’s negative experience with the U.S. court system, that when Jonathan Jackson threw him a gun in that Marin courtroom, he decided spontaneously to make an attempt for his own freedom?

He was sentenced to life after being tortured in San Quentin. In prison, despite death threats from prison officials and numerous beatings, he continued to work on behalf of his fellow prisoners and their families, fighting for their rights while in the same conditions as they were. Teaching himself law in the prison library, he was able to become a jailhouse lawyer.

Ruchell Magee was released on July 21, 2023, after spending a total of 67 years in the U.S prison system. Out of the 84 years of his life, he was only free for 16 years and six months.

A funeral was held for Ruchell on October 31, 2023, in Covina California and a Memorial Tribute was held December 9, 2023, in Oakland, California. The Oakland Memorial was sponsored by the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and participants signed protest postcards that were sent to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner to demand that he stop prosecuting Mumia. Holiday cards were also sent to political prisoners still held behind bars.

An inspiring feature of the December 9th event was participation of three former political prisoners, including Claude Marks. Arthur League and Sundiata Tate who had been in San Quentin State Prison with Ruchell many, many years ago, and shared important information and admiration of him. Both these men had visited Ruchell when he was released from California Medical Facility prison in Vacaville, shortly before his death. Mark Kleiman, the lawyer who helped secure Ruchell’s prison release based on California’s new version of a Compassionate Release Law, also spoke. He was the only lawyer in Ruchell’s 67 years in prison, who shared mutual respect. A list of several other released former political prisoners were supporters of the memorial tribute, including David Gilbert, Luis Talamantez, and Minister King.

Ruchell Cinque Magee

Comments given at December 9, 2023 Memorial Tribute by Carole Seligman

Ruchell Cinque Magee took the name “Cinque” from a courageous slave who, in 1839, led a revolt on a slave ship—The Amistad—attempting to organize a return passage to West Africa, from where the Africans were kidnapped.

I was honored to have played a small part in Ruchell’s release from Vacaville state prison on July 28—just two-and-a-half months before he died, having spent 67 years—his total adult and part of his childhood life. I started getting to know him personally in visits at the prison where we laughed together, enjoyed watching the little kids who were visiting their dads, and talked about his childhood memories of, his mom, his friends, his dog, named Dog, who was his close friend who Ruchell said, thoroughly understood everything Ruchell said.

We are now witnessing the appalling crimes of the Israeli government and military, who are committing genocide on the Palestinian population of Gaza, enabled by the U.S. government who is supplying weapons of mass destruction—2000-pound bombs that destroy buildings and bring them down on the men, women, children, babies, the elderly—many who are still uncounted and buried in the rubble.

As we get further proof of the inhumanity of U.S. imperialism, we can further appreciate the courageous resistance of Ruchell Magee, who dared, on the spur of the moment to accept a weapon from Jonathan Jackson in order to effect his own escape from San Quentin prison for the second frame-up that, in the first frame-up, had already sent him to Angola prison when he was still a child, (a prison Ruchell said was “not fit for a dog,”) and the second frame-up that had sentenced him to seven years to life imprisonment for a fairly minor dispute involving $10 worth a marijuana.

Ruchell’s actions in the Marin County courthouse were similar to the man whose name he took—Cinque—in that they were a revolt against a violent, cruel, immoral system—slavery. Ruchell considered the prison system as a form of slavery and only recently, this view has been adopted by millions who see mass incarceration, sentences of life without parole, solitary confinement, and the death penalty as a direct offspring of chattel slavery—the brutal dehumanizing of whole nationalities, whole sectors of the working class, great portions of Black, Brown, and indigenous peoples.

Inspired by Cinque’s case against the owners of the Amistad ship that the slaves had commandeered, and represented by former U.S. President John Quincy Adams, the former president of the U.S., when the case went from New Haven, Connecticut to the U.S. Supreme Court. The judges ruled that the captive Mende people had “rebelled in self-defense!” And that was Ruchell’s lifelong position in his defense—he had rebelled in self-defense from an unjust conviction, an unjust life sentence, an unjust imprisonment!

Ruchell devoted decades to writing legal appeals for justice against judges and prosecutors for their part in violating any semblance of legal rights in the courts. He blasted the judges, and politicians for their corruption in continuing their unjust prosecution of him and so many others. And he represented other prisoners in their appeals as a jailhouse lawyer with some successes.

We remember and honor Ruchell “Cinque” Magee for his lifelong struggle for justice for himself and for others. Sixty-seven years imprisoned! And never conceding the struggle.

Message read at Ruchell Magee Memorial Tribute from Kevin Cooper

My Dear and Departed Brother Ruchell Cinque Magee,

While I did not know you personally, I knew you culturally.

While I never met you in this life, I have met you in our historical life.

While I never spoke to you in person, I did speak with you in spirit. While I do not know your story, I do know your story because your story is our story. The story of an oppressed people in the divided states of America.

The same types of things that have happened to you by these oppressors are the same types of things that are happening to me, and to Mumia Abu-Jamal and to so many other sisters and brothers in this country. You are not alone in this, not even while you rest eternally. It’s important for all of us to acknowledge that you lived, that you fought, and you struggled, and that you died as a man in a country where you were not wanted. You’re now at peace and with our ancestors who will protect you going forward. So, rest in peace and in power and know that you will not be forgotten.

You cannot be forgotten because you are us, and we are you!

In struggle and solidarity,

Your Brother Kevin Cooper