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Martin Sostre: Legal Advocate, Prisoner, Revolutionary


When I mention the name Martin Sostre, what comes to mind? For many, his name will conjure no images or words. Yet he was a man who made a real impact in terms of prisoner rights in the United States.

Martin Sostre was the owner of the Afro-Asian Bookstore in Buffalo, New York. On July 14, 1967, the police raided his store and arrested Sostre on “narcotics, riot, arson, and assault charges.” After the riot and arson charges were dropped, Sostre was tried by an all-white jury and convicted of selling $15 worth of heroin. He was given a sentence of 31 to 41 years in prison.

This short summary does not of course do justice to Martin Sostre nor to his legacy. Prior to the 1967 police raid, Sostre had already spent a dozen years between 1952 and 1964 locked inside Attica prison on a narcotics conviction. He was known to the police in Buffalo and suspicion surrounded him because he had converted to Islam (in the 50s while he was incarcerated) and was also outspoken against the injustices of racial and class oppression.

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