The late Eddie Conway was a young member of the Black Panther Party who was framed for the killing of a police officer and spent more than 40 years in jail. His experience as a political prisoner was not unique in a country where some BPP members and others still languish in jail after decades. After his release he rededicated himself to activism and to journalism. Eddie Conway presente!
I write to call attention to the life and death of Marshall “Eddie” Conway, activist, student, teacher, producer, journalist, and soldier of the Black Panther Party from Baltimore, Maryland. On February 13, 2023, he made his transition to ancestor. Brother Conway was a hero of Baltimore City and oppressed people everywhere.
During his time in the Black Panther Party, Eddie was also a United States Postal Worker. During his time in the USPS, Eddie was being surveilled by Black Panther members who were really undercover Baltimore Police (BPD), and USPS coworkers.
On April 21, 1970, at the age of 24, when Eddie was working for the USPS, the killing of two Baltimore Police Officers led to the arrest of two black men, both members of the Black Panther Party. Eddie, a third BPP member, was arrested for being involved. Like many trials and convictions of Freedom Fighters for Black liberation, multiple inconsistencies and irregularities occurred during the identification of his involvement in the incident, trial, and conviction. There are too many to write here and it would take space away from Eddie’s memory. Nevertheless, Brother Conway was convicted in 1970 and remained in jail until 2014 to the age of 67. He was released because of the constant struggle of those who loved and cared about him and honored his service to liberation.
During his time in incarceration, Brother Conway received three college degrees, started a literacy program, and started a prison library. After his release, he was a producer at The Real News Network and hosted his own show called, “Rattling the Bars,” and published his own memoir, “Marshall Law.”
As the articles written about Eddie in various local newspapers continue, we make room for the truth of who he was amidst the reprisal of the unjust circumstances that led to his incarceration. There remains a production of myths even after one’s death that refuse to recognize Black liberation soldiers as heroes and veterans.
To quote Kenyan poet and writer Keguro Macharia: “Look how far we have come. Who is comforted by these fictions?” Comfort does not exist in lies and state “neutralization.” Those left behind to mourn Brother Conway are not comforted by these fictions. They are reminded everyday of his commitment to liberation for all living things, and comforted by the spiritual and material vestiges he leaves behind.
Scholar of political incarceration and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at American University, Dr. Orisanmi Burton, comments: “The fact that warrior-scholars like Brother Conway have been targeted for “neutralization” by the racist state indicates that we who are struggling for liberation have much to learn from them, even after they cross the threshold of life and death.“
Eddie will be remembered as a wonderful partner, friend, and hugger. Despite the attempt to calcify Eddie’s life as forgotten and the fictions that contour his memory, his legacy lives on.
Mali Collins is an Assistant Professor in the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department at American University.