Armed with a knife in one pocket and the Little Red Book in the other, Michael Coston battled his way through the social hierarchies, racial strife, and burgeoning revolutionary movements that defined his adolescence in the sixties and seventies. Beginning from his earliest glimpses of racist violence as a middle-class black child in Philadelphia, his memoir provides an intimate lens into the transformation of Black American consciousness. Whether ‘liberating’ medical supplies for Black Panther social programs under their overcoats, or leading anti-war walkouts at predominantly black Germantown High, Coston and his comrades were at the vanguard of a militant spirit that is so desperately needed today.
While we know the story of the gangster-turned-Panther, Coston’s is an untold tale of a young black leftist and budding journalist who used his social network to build solidarity across the white anti-war movement, black militants, and cultural nationalists. In the tradition of the oldest abolitionist newspapers, Coston helped set the minds of his peers ablaze as a distributor of newspapers, from the progressive Philadelphia Free Press to the Black Panther Newspaper, Temple’s The Black Torch and eventually the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad Speaks. As the momentum for liberation crested around him, and then waned into the addiction and violence of the post-Vietnam era, Coston was left as “a revolutionary with no revolution to fight,” and was dangerously close to being a casualty of freedom. Forty years later, the same Germantown High that voted Coston ‘most militant’ for his yearbook is closing its doors forever, while a pro-war black president sits in the White House – Casualties of Freedom is a potent reminder of how much work is yet to be done, and where each one of us can start.