The origins of BLACK AUGUST
If the name George Jackson doesn’t ring a bell, then you’ve probably never heard of or celebrated Black August. George Jackson, one of the founding members of the Black Guerrilla Family, was also a member of the Black Panther Party. Jackson, born in 1941 in Chicago, was raised in California, placed in juvenile detention centers from 12, and was eventually imprisoned for a trumped-up armed robbery charge at 18. His original sentence landed him up to one year in prison, but he ended up serving eleven. George would never live as a free man again. During his first year in San Quinton State Prison, which was, at the time, notorious for housing many members of the Aryan Brotherhood, George learned quickly that he needed to defend himself against inmates and guards alike. Also, during this time, he began to be involved with what was considered “revolutionary” activities for fighting back against white supremacy. It was those revolutionary activities that caused him to have an indefinite sentence. After being in prison for five years, he met and befriended a man named W.L. Nolen. The latter introduced him to the teachings of Mao Zedong, Karl Marx, and other socialist and communist ideologies.
In 1966, both started the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF). Through letters to friends and supporters laced with political teachings, his words were soon edited into two books, Blood In My Eye and Soledad Brothers. Both books became bestsellers and gained Jackson fame and notoriety within and outside prison. 1970, both George Jackson and W.L. Nolen were transferred to the Soledad Prison (hence the name of his book, Soledad Brothers). A year later, Nolan was killed by a corrections officer and three other Black inmates during a fight and subsequent riot between members of BGF and the Aryan Brotherhood. The death of Nolen intensified Jackson’s angst and activity against the prison system and caused him to vow revenge on correction officers for his comrade’s death. Jackson and three others were charged with the end of a correctional officer who was beaten and thrown from the third floor of one of the prison’s wings. Facing the death penalty, Jackson’s 17-year-old brother Jonathan Jackson and others sieged the Marion County Courthouse armed with automatic weapons owned by Angela Davis, demanding that the Soledad Brothers be released.
They took Judge Harold Haley, the D.A., and three jury members hostage. During their escape Jonathan and his accomplices were killed, but not before they were able to kill Judge Haley. Due to the weapons belonging to Angela Davis, she was fired from her post as a professor at UCLA and soon landed on the FBI Most Wanted list. She was charged with conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder. Davis was later acquitted. Before this, Angela became a massive supporter of George Jackson; in fact, they began to date while Jackson was still imprisoned and considered each other husband and wife. Jonathan served as Angela’s bodyguard and may be the reason why the guns used in the siege of the courthouse were registered under her name. In 1971, a year after the death of his brother, George and six others engaged in an escape from San Quentin, taking a guard hostage and ordering him to open all the cells. George and others overpowered the remaining correctional officers. During their flight leaving out of the prison, George Jackson was shot to death by a tower guard.
The observation of Black August began when prisoners started wearing black armbands in solidarity after learning about the life of George Jackson, the Soledad Brothers, events in the Marin County incident, and all who had been unjustly incarcerated or killed in prison. They also began fasting for the entire month between sun up and sundown to recognize the sacrifice of the fallen BGF and Black Panther Party members.
The Black activist community has since adopted black August to honor and stand in solidarity with all Black political prisoners, those we’ve lost to racial violence, systematic racism, and extrajudicial murders. The purpose is for Black people to peacefully come together to educate themselves about our history and to work together to achieve true freedom from oppression. The principles of Black August also insist that we buy from and support Black businesses throughout the month.