“If I leave here alive, I’ll leave nothing behind. They’ll never count me among the broken men, but I can’t say that I’m normal either. I’ve been hungry too long, I’ve gone angry too often, I’ve been lied to and insulted too many times. They’ve pushed me over the line from which there can be no retreat. I know that they will not be satisfied until they’ve pushed me out of existence altogether. I’ve been the victim of so many racist attacks that I could never relax again. … I can still smile now, after ten years of blocking knife thrusts, and the pick handles of faceless sadistic pigs, of anticipating and reacting for ten years, seven of them in Solitary. I can still smile sometimes, but by the time this thing is over I may not be a nice person. And I just lit my seventy-seventh cigarette of this 21-hour day. I’m going to lay down for two or three hours, perhaps I’ll sleep.”
George Jackson – “Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters” April 1970
August 21, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of revolutionary George Jackson.
In 1960, 18-year-old Jackson was accused of stealing $70 from a gas station in Los Angeles. His court-appointed lawyer advised him to plead guilty in exchange for a light sentence in the county jail. Jackson accepted the deal and agreed to confess and was thrown into the penitentiary, sentenced to one year to life. He would spend eleven years in jail; ten at Soledad Prison, seven in solitary confinement, aka Max Row.
Jackson writes about his prison experience in “Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters.” In a letter to the editor he wrote, “I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me.”
The introduction to “Soledad Brother” states: “Instead of succumbing to the dehumanization of prison existence, he transformed himself into the leading theoretician of the prison movement and a brilliant writer.”
Jackson was murdered by a tower guard inside San Quentin Prison during an alleged escape attempt. “No Black person will ever believe that George Jackson died the way they tell us he did,” wrote James Baldwin.
Jackson was a legendary figure throughout the prison system. He was a member of the Black Panther Party-People’s Revolutionary Army, in charge of prison recruiting. And he was doing the most important thing that one can ever do, that is, “live life as a revolutionary example,” because that cannot be killed.
Huey P. Newton said, “George Jackson was my hero. He set a standard for prisoners, political prisoners, for people. He was a strong man, without fear, determined, full of love, strength, and dedication to the people’s cause. He lived a life that we must praise.”
The first Black August event
A large and passionate following had grown around Jackson’s prison writings. On the day of his Revolutionary Memorial Service, 200 Black Panthers in full uniform were inside St. Augustine’s Church in West Oakland, Calif., while 8,000 people listened outside. They were perched on rooftops, hanging from telephone poles and filling the streets. When George Jackson’s body was brought out, the people raised their fists in the air, chanting, “Long Live George Jackson.” This was the first Black August event.
Mumia Abu-Jamal wrote in August 2010: “The real deal is that the name George Jackson is not known to millions of young people in this country. His thoughts, his passions, his brilliance, his insights, his martyrdom in the struggle for Black people. All of this is largely unknown. This in spite of the fact that his books ‘Blood In My Eye’ and ‘Soledad Brother’ have sold more than half a million copies.
“The French writer and playwright Jean Genet called Jackson’s books ‘weapons in combat in the Black Freedom Struggle’ and that they remain. For why else, after 40 years after their publication are they banned from joints from coast to coast because it speaks to their continuing power to awaken, to inspire, to educate and to light a fire. So young people, my message is read George Jackson learn and pass it on. Don’t let his life, light, and sacrifice be forgotten.”
Black August 2021
Today, August 2021, young people are organizing Black August readings, learning about our fallen Heroes and Sheroes and studying history from an African perspective. They are embracing socialism, and other alternatives to capitalism while facing much resistance from the State. They are well aware of the consequences of following the path of truth and justice, but they are determined to move forward.
Huey P. Newton, George and Jonathan Jackson, James Baldwin and a host of Black Revolutionaries will be proud to learn of the resurgence in the fight to free all prisoners, Political Prisoners, and Prisoners of Conscience; to abolish the prison-industrial complex; to abolish the police. This movement goes beyond August, February, or June. This is a continuing struggle to educate ourselves throughout the year to better understand what we are fighting for.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers are using virtual platforms to discuss where we are and what strategies we can use to win our freedom. These recorded discussions address the issues that are relevant to oppressed people around the world and are set up to reach millions.
“Soledad Brother” was released in the fall of 1970, and was dedicated to George Jackson’s younger brother, Jonathan Peter Jackson. “Blood in My Eye” was completed in August 1971, about a week before Jackson was murdered by San Quentin prison guards. The most recent edition of “Soledad Brother” came out in 1994, with a forward by Jonathan Jackson, Jr., who is George Jackson’s nephew and Jonathan Jackson’s son.