All Things Censored was born in 1994, when National Public Radio’s acclaimed evening newsmagazine All Things Considered hired controversial civil rights activist, journalist and death-row inmate, Mumia Abu-Jamal (for more information, see www.freemumia.com), to write and produce a series of weekly commentaries, called “Live From Death Row.” Following a barrage of criticism, led mainly by conservative Senator Bob Dole and the Fraternal Order of Police, NPR fired Mumia and cancelled the series a few hours before the first essay was to air. All Things Censored, represents the culmination of efforts to bring Mumia’s stifled voice to the public. The CD includes 16 of the censored installments as well as commentary by a variety of notables, including Alice Walker, Howard Zinn, Cornel West, Manning Marable, Assata Shakur and Sister Helen Prejean.
Overall, these eloquent, and occasionally poetic, essays work toward complimentary purposes. The project as a whole is an important assertion of Mumia’s First Amendment rights—and by extension all prisoners’ constitutional rights. Mumia himself offers a scathing, mosaic-like critique of racial injustice within the American legal system. The celebrities mainly argue against the death penalty, generally, and for Mumia’s cause, in particular. Taken together, though, the essays on All Things Censored present a powerful and compassionate counterpoint to today’s dominant “law and order” politic. It is a message that deserves to be heard.
There is one critical flaw in this audio-project: Mumia is not a natural speaker. His voice lacks the fire and invective necessary to animate his political rhetoric. Instead, Mumia delivers his polemics in a deliberate, even-toned style that is reminiscent of a newscaster. This well-polished, but bland, broadcast-school approach makes the CD difficult to listen to straight through. Sadly, this sonic shortcoming ultimately undermines listeners’ ability to get at the numerous political gems within. One potential solution for those folks out there with a little more advanced audio components is to break up Mumia’s somnambulistic sound by placing All Things Censored into a five-CD changer with other politically oriented (but ear-pleasing) music or words and hit “Shuffle.” If that doesn’t do it, these important essays, and several others, are available in a print volume by the same name. In any case, strike a blow for democracy by picking up a copy of All Things Censored. You owe it to yourself and we all owe it to Mumia Abu-Jamal.