Althea Francois, a life-long activist for peace and social justice, passed away on December 25th at the age of 60.
Althea spent her life actively engaged in struggles for justice, starting with her involvement in the New Orleans chapter of the Black Panther Party, where she began her efforts to help political, economic and racial prisoners. She embodied the finest and most basic ideals of empathy and generosity and inspired all that had the privilege of coming in contact with her.
Althea has long been a leader in local organizing against the Prison Industrial Complex. In the late '90's, Althea worked to create a base for political prisoner work in New Orleans, and was one of the main organizers in the campaign to free the Angola Three; three Black Panthers held in solitary confinement for their political beliefs. When Angola Three member Robert King was released in February of 2001, he moved to the home of Althea and Marion Brown, another former panther.
Shortly before Katrina, Althea was able to purchase a home-base for her daughters and grandchildren in New Orleans' Gentilly neighborhood. In 2005, the flooding of New Orleans ripped apart the security she had at long last established. The years since then were a tense balancing act between work in Atlanta, work in New Orleans, her children and her grandchildren. Though Althea rarely complained, she was beset with a number of crippling maladies - asthma, high-blood pressure and the incessant pressure of keeping a family together in these difficult times with never enough support.
In the months after Katrina, she was one of those who came together to form a new organization, called Safe Streets / Strong Communities. Her dedication, vision, and commitment guided the organization through several intense years of struggle over the city's criminal justice policy. Her efforts brought real reforms, from the establishment of the city's Office of the Police Monitor to uncovering and exposing the role of New Orleans police in post-Katrina killings.
When told the news of her passing, former prisoner Robert King struggled to find words to express the depth of his sorrow. Invoking Matthew 25:35, he said "I was hungry and you fed me, was thirsty and you gave me drink, was in prison and you visited me. Althea fed us with hope. She had an enormously giving spirit that we will all deeply miss."
Althea loved her daughters with the ferocity of a lioness and was so proud of their accomplishments. They were the center of her being.
Sadly, Althea had no insurance and no savings, thus leaving her daughters not only with the grief of losing her, but with the challenge of raising funds for her funeral.If you can help with a donation to the family, donations to defray the funeral costs can be sent to:
Rhodes Funeral Home
3933 Washington Avenue
New Orleans, LA
c/o Todd Taylor
7704 Benjamin St.
New Orleans, LA70118
Althea's Service will be Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 1:00pm at Rhodes Funeral Home.
Thanks to the Campaign to Free The Angola Three for some of the information above.