Angela Davis & Jonathan Jackson Demonstrate to Free George Jackson, 1970
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By Norman (Otis) Richmond
George Jackson continued to make news even after his death. When Stanley "Tookie" Williams was executed on December 13, 2005, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger evoked his name as one of the reasons that the founder of the Crips should meet his maker. Governor Schwarzenegger, pointed out, "The dedication of Williams' book Life in Prison casts significant doubt on his personal redemption.
This book was published in 1998, several years after Williams' claimed redemptive experience. Specifically, the book is dedicated to 'Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt, Ramona Africa, John Africa, Leonard Peltier, Dhoruba Al-Mujahid, George Jackson, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the countless other men, women, and youths who have to endure the hellish oppression of living behind bars.' The mix of individuals on this list is curious. Most have violent pasts and some have been convicted of committing heinous murders, including the killing of law enforcement."
George and Jonathan Jackson and Khatari Gaulden are central to understanding Black August. Jackson (September 23, 1941-August 21, 1971) was an African born in America who became a Field Marshal of the Black Panther Party while in prison, where he spent the last 12 years of his life. He was one of the Soledad Brothers who achieved fame due to a book of published letters. Gaulden, the leader who took over after George was assassinated in 1978, was the spark that led to the Black August prairie fire.
On August 7, 1970, George’s 17-year-old brother Jonathan burst into a Marin County courtroom with automatic weapons, freed three San Quentin prisoners and took Judge Harold Haley as a hostage to demand freedom for the three "Soledad Brothers." However, Haley, prisoners William Christmas and James McClain, and Jonathan Jackson were killed as they attempted to drive away from the courthouse. The case made international headlines. The state claimed that Judge Haley was hit by fire discharged from a shotgun inside the vehicle during the incident, since he was being covered by a shotgun attached by wiring, tape, and/or a strap of some sort, and/or held beneath his chin. The shotgun was traced back to Angela Davis.
Gary Thomas, at that time a prosecutor (later a judge) who was also taken hostage and paralyzed by a police bullet during the incident, testified in a subsequent proceeding that "The sawed-off shotgun was being held under Judge Haley's chin by (Ruchell) Magee. The shotgun went off. It was as if it was in slow motion--all outward features of his face moving away." Some accounts of the incident report that Judge Haley's head was taken almost completely off his body as a result of the close-range shotgun blast.
Ruchell Magee, the sole survivor among the group who revolted at the court, was convicted for Haley's kidnapping and murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, which he is serving in Pelican Bay. Now 67 years old, he has lost numerous bids for parole.
One year later in August 1971, three days before he was to go on trial, George was gunned down in the prison yard at San Quentin in what officials described as an escape attempt. When Jackson was murdered 35 years ago at San Quentin prison, August 21, 1971, this writer saw grown, macho men break down and cry tears bigger than cantaloupes. Jackson influenced a larger number of African-Americans and progressive thinking whites than can be imagined.
The murder of Jackson sent Archie Shepp, Bob Dylan and Steel Pulse into the studio to record tributes to him. Jackson was eulogized in the jazz, pop and reggae idioms. “Jazz” man Shepp released “Blues for Brother George Jackson” on his Attica Blues album. Dylan did a single “George Jackson” and the British reggae band (who would later be invited to perform at President William Jefferson Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993) recorded two songs “George Jackson” (a cover of Dylan’s song) and “Uncle George” on their 1977 album Tribute To The Martyrs. The group actually re-recorded ”George Jackson” and “Uncle George” on the 2004 album African Holocaust.
Jackson’s impact was so great that Warner Bros. film attempted to cash in on his image by producing a film, Brothers starring Bernie Casey and Vonetta McGee. The soundtrack was performed by Taj Mahal.
Who was George Jackson and why eulogize a convict? When Jackson was eighteen, he was sentenced from one year to life for stealing $70 from a gas station. He spent the next eleven years in prison, eight and a half of them in solitary confinement.
When he was twenty-eight years old, he was charged with the murder of a guard in Soledad prison. Shortly after his indictment for this murder, his first book Soledad Brother, a book of his letters was published in England, Germany, Italy and Sweden. He was acclaimed throughout the world as the most powerful and eloquent black writers to emerge in years. He became a symbol for the struggle of all oppressed people.
Commenting on Jackson’s writing C.L.R. James pointed out, “The letters are in my opinion the most remarkable political documents that have appeared inside or outside the United States since the death of (Vladimir Ilyich) Lenin.” The late Walter Rodney used to talk about how it was amazing that Jackson could develop an international consciousness from a prison cell.
Jackson’s second book Blood In My Eye was completed only days before he was killed in an alleged escape attempt from San Quentin. Blood In My Eye clearly showed Jackson’s global outlook. He wrote, “The commitment to total revolution must involve an analysis of both the economic motives and the psychosocial motives which perpetuate the oppressive contract. For the black partisan, national structures are quite simply nonexistent. A people without a collective consciousness that transcends national boundaries—freaks, Afro-Amerikkkans, Negroes, even Amerikkkans, without the sense of a larger community than their own group—can have no effect on history. Ultimately they will simply be eliminated from the scene.”
Kumasi and Chaka of Los Angeles and Oakland, respectively, recently appeared on Saturday Morning Live in Toronto. Both knew George and served time in California dungeons. They represent the Black August Organizing Committee whose mission it is to attempt to help prisoners such as Hugo “Yogi” Pennell, Ruchell McGee and countless others still languishing behind California and other prison walls in the United States. For more information on this organization contact http://www.dragonspeaks.org Mumia Abu-Jamal has done several outstanding commentaries about Black August. To listen to these thought provoking messages go to the following URL: http://www.prisonradio.org
Norman (Otis) Richmond can be reached at Norman@ckln.fm
Richmond can be heard on three radio programs on CKLN-FM 88.1; Saturday Morning Live, Saturdays 10am to 1pm; From A Different Perspective, Sundays 6pm-6-30pm; and Diasporic Music, Thursdays 8pm to 10pm.