San Diego commemorates Black August 2019

The Black August Organizing Committee has sponsored a Black August program for the last three years at San Diego’s Malcolm X Library and Performing Arts Center. This year is of particular significance because this is the 400th year anniversary since the arrival of the first captive, enslaved, African laborers to the English colony of Jamestown, Va.   Jamestown is where “a society with slaves was transformed into a slave society,” as stated in an article in Struggle-La Lucha newspaper written by professor Matsemela Odom of the San Diego Community College District, Black Studies Department. Our theme for Black August 2019 was “Honoring our Ancestors Sustaining Resistance from 1619 to the Present.”

After welcoming everyone to the Malcolm X Library, the present reporter began the program with a slide presentation that chronicles the history of oppression, struggle and resistance for African Americans, highlighting events in August beginning with the assassination of George L. Jackson. Black August is directly linked to the memory of George Jackson and his teenaged brother, Jonathan Jackson. We emphasized that Black August was created by incarcerated Black people in order to commemorate the lives lost in the struggle for Black liberation.  

The Performance Annex was decorated with posters honoring Black freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for freedom and justice for future generations: George Jackson, political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, exiled political prisoner Assata Shakur, and photos of people killed by the police in San Diego. And books about Black liberation movements were also on display. Our intent was to spark the interest of all who came to the library and encourage people to read more to learn more about the history of our ongoing struggle, especially in this current racist climate.

The first presenter was Dr. Adisa A. Alkebulan of San Diego State University’s Department of African Studies. He spoke on 400 plus years of struggle from the first African to arrive in the Americas to the present. He began his talk asserting, “[The beginning] is not about 1619 or the Jamestown Colony.” Dr. Adisa asked if anyone had visited Ft. Mose, Fla. He explained that the first free African settlement to legally exist was at Ft. Mose. He pointed out that the first Africans who came to the New World did not come as slaves, as in Jamestown in 1619, but on ships with Spanish conquistadors and adelantados [governors] in the mid 1500s.  Dr. Adisa had this to say about the first Africans to arrive in Jamestown: “The first Africans in Jamestown arrived as captives and later became indentured servants.”

After a powerful poem presented by Sylvia Telafaro entitled “Reparations,” the next speaker was Dr. Mychal Odom, who spoke about honoring our ancestors’ sustaining struggle. Dr. Odom explained that many Africans gained freedom, land and status in the early years of the Virginia Colony. One prime example that has been cited by historians is the story of Anthony Johnson, a native of Angola, who had likely been previously enslaved in the Caribbean. His story exposed the contradictions of early colonial society.  Johnson was eventually manumitted, and he then acquired land, wealth and owned an indentured labor force of his own. Johnson struggled against white power, including efforts by a white neighbor to use the courts to steal his property. By the end of his years, Johnson and his family had their “relative equality” revoked. Deemed foreigners and not citizens in Virginia, they were exiled to Maryland. 

After Dr Odom’s presentation, there was a short break to allow for everyone to help themselves to a spread of homemade food donated by community members who support the programs at the Malcolm X Library as we transitioned to the subject of political prisoners and our next group of speakers from the many grassroots. First, there was a video clip of former political prisoner Sekou Odinga, who came to the Malcolm X Library in February of 2016 with a message: “Support political prisoners and free them all.” Next was a slide presentation on political prisoners, encouraging everyone to see the faces and names of those prisoners who have been in prison for 30, 40 or 50 years. The reader of this report can find out more about them by visiting thejerichomovement.com/prisoners.

The next set of presenters, all of whom work in local organizing, spoke on issues affecting our communities now. Laila Aziz, a community activist, spoke about “participatory defense,” prison advocacy and the amazing work her group is doing, supporting and advocating for families in crisis in San Diego. Aziz made references to many of the political prisoners in the slide presentation – echoing Odinga by saying we need to support political prisoners, many of them in solitary confinement. She spoke of the struggle of Ruchell Magee, co-defendant of Angela Davis, who has been in prison for 56 years.

Carl Muhammad ofthe Committee Against Police Brutality spoke about the Erasing Police Violence Forum that CAPB is organizing and the importance of establishing a community-elected police review board.  Author and community activist Curtis Howard spoke about life after incarceration and about breaking the myths associated with prison life.

The last speaker, not listed on the program, was Tasha Williamson, candidate for mayor of San Diego.  Williamson took the floor to remind people that they have a choice. She is calling for police accountability. Williamson said that one of the first things she will do when elected mayor is to fire the current police chief. Williamson is a people’s candidate who promises to open up this government and make sure everybody counts.

The program was lengthy and, unfortunately, there was no time left for questions, comments or discussion. But each attendee received a pamphlet containing several articles reprinted from an international socialist publication, Struggle-La Lucha, whose website can be found online. There was no charge for the pamphlet, only a request that people use it to help raise the political consciousness of family, friends and neighbors.

Black August 2019 was co-sponsored by The Black August Organizing Committee and the Committee Against Police Brutality. This program was supported by the Friends of the Malcolm X Library, who contributed to the delicious food and the Black August books, quotes and images in the display at the library’s entrance.