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  • Who Was Afeni Shakur?
  • Quick Facts
  • Early Life
  • Black Panther Affiliation
  • Family Life
  • Relationship with Tupac
  • Later Years and Death

Who Was Afeni Shakur?

Although some might only recognize Afeni Shakur as Tupac’s mother and the subject of his 1995 track “Dear Mama,” she was also a political activist and philanthropist. While her son rose to fame and is still heralded as one of the most influential rappers in history, Shakur was famous in her own right as a Black Panther who famously rejected outside counsel and defended herself in court against a stack of hefty charges and seemingly insurmountable odds. Following Tupac’s death, Shakur started and ran the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Afeni Shakur (nee Alice Faye Williams)
BORN: January 10, 1947
DIED: May 2, 2016
BIRTHPLACE: Lumberton, North Carolina
SPOUSES: Lumumba Shakur (1968-1971), Mutulu Shakur (1975-1982), and Gust D. Davis Jr. (2004-2016)
CHILDREN: Tupac Shakur and Sekyiwa

Early Life

Afeni Shakur was born Alice Faye Williams on January 10, 1947, in Lumberton, North Carolina. Born to Rosa Belle and Walter Williams Jr., Alice was no stranger to violence, even from an early age. She grew up watching her father beat her mother until, eventually, Rosa Belle moved Alice and her older sister, Gloria “Glo” Jean, from Norfolk, Virginia, back to Lumberton before ultimately ending up in New York.

Once settled in the Bronx, Alice, who was a student at Benjamin Franklin Junior High School and subsequently Manhattan’s High School of Performing Arts, would often get into fights at school that she believed stemmed from a sense of never feeling like she was safe.

Although Alice did well academically, she soon became more interested in politics and activism and joined the Black Panthers after hearing a speech by party cofounder Bobby Seale in 1968. Once she was a member of the Black Panthers, Alice Faye Williams met her soon-to-be husband Lumumba Shakur, converted to Islam, and legally changed her name to Afeni Shakur.

Black Panther Affiliation

afeni shakur looks to her left off camera in this black and white photo, she is holding a film camera and wears glasses on her head and a turtle neck and vest
Afeni Shakur joined the Black Panthers around age 21.
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Shakur was involved in several facets of the Black Panther party during her time with the group. She participated in volunteer work, became a leader of the Black Panther Harlem and Bronx chapters, and wrote articles for the party newsletter. But trouble was brewing as the Black Panthers repeatedly clashed with authorities who increasingly saw the political party as a threat to traditional American values.

Where the Panthers considered themselves revolutionaries who advocated against police brutality and for armed self-defense, authorities saw them as radicals who needed to be stopped. Now that the Black Panthers were officially on authorities’ radar, members became the targets of raids, and chapters were infiltrated by undercover police officers in an effort to annihilate the party’s existence.

Where Shakur had once seemed to find solace, she now found violence, death, and betrayal. Things for Shakur individually began to unravel when multiple undercover New York City police officers successfully infiltrated the Black Panthers. According to Jacobin magazine, Shakur tried warning her then-husband, Lumumba, that something about officer Ralph White (who was going by Yedwa Sudan) was off, but Lumumba continually dismissed her concerns.

The pair were arrested in April 2, 1969, and indicted, along with several other Black Panthers, on more than 150 charges that included plans to bomb a railroad, the New York Botanical Garden, and other public spaces like department stores. Shakur and the 20 other people who were charged became known as the “Panther 21.”

afeni shakur stands with her hands in her pockets as a man near her speaks into a microphone, several other men can be seen in the background
Afeni Shakur, left, attends a rally in support of the Panther 21 on April 4, 1970.
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Facing a decades-long sentence that would have amounted to life behind bars, Shakur took matters of her defense into her own hands and chose to represent herself in court. After eight months of pleading with a jury and intense cross-examinations, the verdict was in: Shakur and the rest of the Panther 21 were not guilty of the charges leveled against them. Shakur was a free woman and gave birth to a son, Lesane Parish Crooks, on June 16, 1971.

Family Life

Also in 1971, Shakur and Lumumba divorced, partly because Lumumba discovered that he was not Crooks’ biological father. That title belonged to fellow Black Panther Billy Garland, whom Shakur had a brief affair with while out on bail.

In 1975, Afeni married Mutulu Shakur, the adopted brother of her first husband, Lumumba. Then, on October 3 of the same year, Shakur gave birth to her second child, a daughter named Sekyiwa.

Relationship with Tupac

tupac shakur in 1993
Rapper Tupac Shakur in July 1993
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Shakur’s relationship with her son, whose name she officially changed to Tupac Amaru Shakur when he was 1, could be fraught at times, but at its core, it was built on love. Still, that wasn’t enough to keep Shakur away from substance abuse, an issue she struggled with since she started using cocaine as a teenager, and she relapsed after the family had resettled in Baltimore in 1984.

Shakur’s drug use deteriorated her relationship with Tupac and his younger sister who were eventually sent out west to live in California with a family friend as their mother continued to battle her addictions.

Some time passed before Tupac felt ready to reconnect with his mother, but the two would eventually become close. The rapper, who was making a name for himself and quickly rising to fame, released a track dedicated to Shakur titled “Dear Mama” in 1995. The lyrics forgive Shakur for her missteps while acknowledging the difficulties Shakur faced as a single mother raising two kids in poverty.

Tragedy would strike for Shakur once again in 1996 when news of Tupac’s shooting made headlines all over the country. After six days in critical condition, Tupac died on September 13, 1996, from multiple gunshot wounds sustained in a drive-by shooting. Shakur was named executor of Tupac’s estate and started the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation (TASF) in her son’s honor.

Later Years and Death

afeni shakur stands on a stand and holds an oversize check in front of her for the tupac amaru shakur foundation, she is also holding a microphone and talking into it, she is wearing black glasses, hoop earrings, and a black outfit
In 2003, Afeni Shakur accepts a check from Jay-Z on behalf of the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, which she created and ran.
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Shakur continued her philanthropic efforts and used the foundation to fund several scholarships and programs for young people interested in the arts. She also oversaw several projects including films and other productions that covered the life and death of her son. Billboard reported that Shakur vowed to release Tupac’s “entire body of work” using “blueprints” the rap icon left behind. And Shakur delivered on that promise, releasing several new Tupac albums posthumously.

In 2004, Shakur married her third husband, Gust D. Davis Jr. According to one report, they separated around 2015 and were in the process of getting divorced when Shakur died.

Shakur died on May 2, 2016, in Sausalito, California, after going into cardiac arrest at the age of 69. TASF continues to operate and focuses on supporting mental health and wellness while still utilizing the arts to help people express themselves, heal, and grow.

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