By Catherine Pugh,
Special to the AFRO
Marshall “Eddie” Conway, a former Black Panther Party member and prison reform advocate whose murder conviction was overturned after he spent 44 years in jail, died Feb. 13 in Long Beach, Calif. after a short illness.
Services for him are to be held Feb. 25 at Homewood Friends Meeting House, located at 3107 North Charles Street. A viewing will take place from noon to 1 p.m., followed by a service from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Conway, 76, left the U.S. Army as a sergeant to become a community organizer in Baltimore. He moved from the NAACP to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to the Black Panther Party, where he helped launch a community food distribution program on Greenmount Avenue in 1970.
While a member of Black Panther Party, he was convicted for the 1971 death of Baltimore police officer Donald Sager and sentenced to life, plus thirty years. The conviction was overturned by Maryland’s highest court for improper jury instructions.
Conway maintained his innocence in the incident in which Sager was killed and another BPD officer injured. He contended that he was framed by the FBI in a Justice Department campaign to destroy the Black Panther Party and not guilty of the crime until his release in 2014.
He described himself as a political prisoner and, along with Baltimore’s Black Classic Press founder Paul Coates, covered his politics and life in the book, “The Brother You Choose,” written by Susie Day.
Coates, father of famed writer Ta-Nahisi Coates, remained close friends with Conway for decades, rushing from Baltimore to Long Beach in the final stages of Conway’s illness. He arrived at the hospital less than an hour after he died.
“I know that I am the person I am because of Eddie Conway. Black Classic Press would not exist. I started it to support the George Jackson
[slain political activist
] prison movement and
] a way to get books to Eddie and so many incarcerated individuals.
“When I came out of the Black Panther Party I did not know how I would support them. I believed in Eddie’s innocence. If Eddie had not been in prison I don’t know that there would be a Black Classic Press…the Paul Coates that everyone knows does not exist without Eddie Conway,” he said.
“So many men in the prison system have been changed by his actions,” Conway’s wife, Dominique, told the AFRO in an exclusive interview. “Eddie has left a legacy that will keep growing. It’s like an eternal fire that never goes out. He taught them inside to do things for the community, so that others can grow from their experience.”
Coates said Dominique first heard of Eddie on one of her trips to South Africa and came to the prison to meet him.
“I fell in love with him when I first met him–but almost anyone who met him did. I wanted to see him out of there,” she said. “Later, it became about work. We worked together to build a program for people inside to come out whole. We were always doing that kind of work.
The couple were married in New Orleans by actor Danny Glover.
After prison he joined Real News Network as executive producer, host and reporter and advocate for prison reform.
“I remember standing at an elevator at Morgan State University, and a young man turned around and said ‘Eddie Conway…you saved my life.’ Sometimes I feel like I loved him in another lifetime. He touched so many lives,” she said.
“We moved to Las Vegas because I am enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Las Vegas, Eddie liked the idea of having a doctor in the family,” she said. “They could not treat him in Las Vegas and recommended the VA hospital. It’s painful to know that he is not around,” she said. “But he was able to help so many others, I know his spirit lives on.”
CORRECTION: This article originally stated that services for Marshall “Eddie” Conway will take place at Homewood Funeral Home in error. A viewing will take place at Homewood Friends Meeting House on Feb. 25 from noon to 1 p.m., immediately followed by a funeral service from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.