Shujaa Graham was born in Lake Providence, LA, where he grew up on a
plantation. His family worked as share-croppers, in the segregated South
of the 50s. In 1961, he moved to join his family who had moved to South
Central Los Angeles, to try to build a more stable life. As a teenager,
Shujaa lived through the Watts riot and experienced the police occupation
of his community. In and out of trouble, he spent much of his adolescent
life in juvenile institutions, until at age 18, he was sent to Soledad
Within the prison walls, Shujaa came of age, mentored by the leadership
of the Black Prison movement. Shujaa taught himself to read and write,
he studied history and world affairs, and became a leader of the growing
movement within the California prison system, as the Black Panther Party
expanded in the community.
In 1973, Shujaa was framed in the murder of a prison guard at the Deul
Vocational Institute, Stockton, California. As a recognized leader within
and without the prison, the community became involved in his defense,
and supported him through 4 trials. Shujaa and his co-defendant, Eugene
Allen, were sent to San Quentin's death row in 1976, after a second trial
in San Francisco. The DA systematically excluded all African American
jurors, and in 1979, the California Supreme Court overturned the death
After spending three years on death row, Shujaa and Eugene Allen, continued
to fight for their innocence. A third trial ended in a hung jury, and
after a fourth trial, they were found innocent. As Shujaa often says,
he won his freedom and affirmed his innocence in spite of the system.
Shujaa was released in March, 1981, and continued to organize in the Bay
area, building community support for the prison movement, as well as protest
in the neighborhoods against police brutality.
In the following years, Shujaa moved away from the Bay area. Shujaa learned
landscaping, and created his own business. He and his wife raised three
children, and became part of a progressive community in Maryland.
In 1999, Shujaa was invited to speak about his experiences on Death Row
at fund raiser for the Alabama Death Penalty project, sponsored by the
New York Legal Aid Foundation. This was a new beginning, and provided
Shujaa the opportunity to begin to tell his story, his experiences and
grow through work with other death penalty opponents.