Black August originated in the California penal system to honor fallen Freedom Fighters, Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson, William Christmas, James McClain and Khatari Gaulden. Jonathan Jackson was gunned down outside the Marin County California courthouse on August 7, 1970 as he attempted to liberate three imprisoned Black Liberation Fighters: James McClain, William Christmas and Ruchell Magee. Ruchell Magee is the sole survivor of that armed liberation attempt. He is the former co-defendant of Angela Davis and has been locked down for 38 years, most of it in solitary confinement. George Jackson was assassinated by prison guards during a Black prison rebellion at San Quentin on August 21, 1971. Three prison guards were also killed during that rebellion and prison officials charged six Black and Latino prisoners with the death of those guards. These six brothers became known as the San Quentin Six.
Khatari Gaulden was a prominent leader of the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) after Comrade George was assassinated. Khatari was a leading force in the formation of Black August, particularly its historical and ideological foundations. Khatari, like many of the unnamed freedom fighters of the BGF and the revolutionary prison movement of the 1970’s, was murdered at San Quentin Prison in 1978 to eliminate his leadership and destroy the resistance movement.
The brothers who participated in the collective founding of Black August wore black armbands on their left arm and studied revolutionary works, focusing on the works of George Jackson. The brothers did not listen to the radio or watch television in August. Additionally, they didn’t eat or drink anything from sun-up to sundown; and loud and boastful behavior was not allowed. The brothers did not support the prison’s canteen. The use of drugs and alcoholic beverages was prohibited and the brothers held daily exercises, because during Black August, emphasis is placed on sacrifice, fortitude and discipline. Black August is a time to embrace the principles of unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical training and resistance.
In the late 1970’s the observance and practice of Black August left the prisons of California and began being practiced by Black/New Afrikan revolutionaries throughout the country. Members of the New Afrikan Independence Movement (NAIM) began practicing and spreading Black August during this period. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) inherited knowledge and practice of Black August from its parent organization, the New Afrikan People’s Organization (NAPO). MXGM through the Black August Collective (now defunct) began introducing the Hip-Hop community to Black August in the late 1990’s after being inspired by New Afrikan political exile Nehanda Abiodun.
Traditionally, Black August is a time to study history, particularly our history in the North American Empire. The first Afrikans were brought to Jamestown as slaves in August of 1619, so August is a month during which Blacks/New Afrikans can reflect on our current situation and our self-determining rights. Many have done that in their respective time periods. In 1843, Henry Highland Garnett called a general slave strike on August 22. The Underground Railroad was started on August 2, 1850. The March on Washington occurred in August of 1963, Gabriel Prosser’s 1800 slave rebellion occurred on August 30 and Nat Turner planned and executed a slave rebellion that commenced on August 21, 1831. The Watts rebellions were in August of 1965. On August 18, 1971 the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA) was raided by Mississippi police and FBI agents. The MOVE family was bombed by Philadelphia police on August 8, 1978. Further, August is a time of birth. Dr. Mutulu Shakur (political prisoner & prisoner of war), Pan-Africanist Black Nationalist Leader Marcus Garvey, Maroon Russell Shoatz (political prisoner) and Chicago BPP Chairman Fred Hampton were born in August. August is also a time of rebirth, W.E.B. Dubois died in Ghana on August 27, 1963.
The tradition of fasting during Black August teaches self-discipline. A conscious fast is in effect from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm. Some other personal sacrifice can be made as well. The sundown meal is traditionally shared whenever possible among comrades. On August 31, a People’s feast is held and the fast is broken. Black August fasting should serve as a constant reminder of the conditions our people have faced and still confront. Fasting is uncomfortable at times, but it is helpful to remember all those who have come and gone before us, Ni Nkan Mase, if we stand tall, it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors.
MXGM would like to thank the following for their contribution to this article: Kali Akuno, Kiilu Nyasha, Ayanna Mashama, David Giappa Johnson, Sundiata Tate, Louis Bato Talamantez of the San Quentin 6 and The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM).
BLACK AUGUST INTERNATIONAL (2003): A Story of African Freedom Fighters, by Kiilu Nyasha
Black August is a month of great significance for Africans throughout the diaspora, but particularly here in the U.S. where it originated. “August,” as Mumia Abu-Jamal noted, “is a month of meaning, of repression and radical resistance, of injustice and divine justice; of repression and righteous rebellion; of individual and collective efforts to free the slaves and break the chains that bind us.”
Black August International (2003) will not only honor our national freedom fighters in the “belly of the beast,” it will celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of Haiti’s Revolution, the first and only armed struggle whereby Africans liberated themselves from chattel slavery. It began in August of 1791 and ended in victory over Napolean’s crack troops in 1803 with the celebration of independence, January, 1804. Nat Turner’s slave rebellion began on August 21, 1831, and Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad started in August. As Mumia stated, “Their sacrifice, their despair, their determination and their blood has painted the month Black for all time.”
On this 24th anniversary of Black August, first organized to honor our fallen freedom fighters, Jonathan and George Jackson, Khatari Gaulden, James McClain, William Christmas, and the sole survivor of the August 7, 1970 Courthouse Slave Rebellion, Ruchell Cinque Magee, it is still a time to embrace the principles of unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical fitness and/or training in martial arts, and resistance.
How did the concept of Black August originate?
The concept, Black August, grew out of the need to expose to the light of day the glorious and heroic deeds of those Afrikan women and men who recognized and struggled against the injustices heaped upon people of color on a daily basis in America. Black August represents the defining of socialist economics and ethics as applied to transforming the decadent social values of capitalist America and the people who suffer under and from the ill effects of these destructive values.
One cannot tell the story of Black August without first providing the reader with a brief glimpse of the “Black Movement” behind California prison walls in the Sixties, led by George Jackson, W. L. Nolen, Hugo Pinell, Kumasi, and many other conscious, standup brothers.
As Jackson wrote: “…when I was accused of robbing a gas station of $70, I accepted a deal…but when time came for sentencing, they tossed me into the penitentiary with one to life. That was 1960. I was 18 years old. I”ve been here ever since. I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me. For the first four years I studied nothing but economics and military ideas. I met black guerrillas, George “Big Jake” Lewis, and James Carr, W.L. Nolen, Bill Christmas, Tony Gibson, and many, many others. We attempted to transform the Black criminal mentality into a black revolutionary mentality. As a result, each of us has been subject to years of the most vicious reactionary violence by the state. Our mortality rate is almost what you would expect to find in a history of Dachau. Three of us [Nolen, Sweet Jugs Miller, and Cleve Edwards) were murdered several months ago [Jan. 13, 1969] by a pig shooting from thirty feet above their heads with a military rifle.”
In what has been described by witnesses as a setup, eight White prisoners and seven Blacks were sent to the yard in Soledad Prison whereupon the Whites attempted to take the basketball court from the brothers already on it. Nolen was known as the Marvin Haggler of the prison system, fearless and skilled, he was rarely challenged one on one. But on this day, one of the Whites attacked him and before Nolen could even hit back, he was shot. When Miller and Edwards tried to aid him, they were likewise shot by the lone White tower guard and left to bleed to death from wounds they could have survived.
The Black Movement prisoners demanded the guard be tried for murder but were met with resistance. Upon their continued insistence, the administration held a kangaroo court and three days later, the Monterey Grand Jury returned a verdict of “justifiable homicide.” Shortly after this was announced on the prison radio, a white guard was found beaten to death and thrown from a tier. Six days later, three prisoners were accused of murder, and became known as The Soledad Brothers.
“I am being tried in court right now with two other brothers. John Clutchette and Fleeta Drumgo, for the alleged slaying of a prison guard. This charge carries an automatic death penalty for me. I can’t get life. I already have it.”
On August 7, 1970, just a few days after George was transferred to San Quentin, his younger brother Jonathan Jackson, 17, invaded Marin County Courthouse single-handed, with a satchel full of handguns, an assault rifle and a shotgun hidden under his raincoat. (We have since learned he was not supposed to go it alone.) “Freeze!” Jonathan commanded as he tossed guns to William Christmas, James McClain, and Ruchell Magee, “We’re taking over.”
Magee was on the witness stand testifying for McClain, on trial for assaulting a guard in the wake of a guard’s murder of another Black prisoner, Fred Billingsley, beaten and teargassed to death. A jailhouse lawyer, Magee had deluged the courts for seven years with petitions contesting his illegal conviction in 1963. The courts had refused to listen, so Magee seized the hour and joined the guerrillas as they took the judge, prosecutor and three jurors hostage to a waiting van. To reporters gathering quickly outside the courthouse, Jonathan shouted, “You can take our pictures. We are the revolutionaries!” Operating with courage and calm even their enemies had to respect, the four Black freedom fighters commandeered their hostages out of the courthouse without a hitch. What they failed to anticipate was the State’s willingness to sacrifice its own people to stop the escape. Jackson’s plan was to use the hostages to take over a radio station and broadcast the virulent, racist, murderous prison conditions and demand the immediate release of The Soledad Brothers.
But before Jonathan could drive the van out of the parking lot, the San Quentin guards had arrived and opened fire. When the shooting stopped, Jonathan, Christmas, McClain and the judge lay dead. Magee and the prosecutor were critically wounded, and one juror suffered a minor arm wound. Magee survived his wounds and was tried originally with co-defendant Angela Davis. Their trials were later severed and Davis was eventually acquitted of all charges. Magee was convicted of simple kidnap and remains in Corcoran State Prison — 40 years with no physical assaults on his record. An incredible jailhouse lawyer, Magee has been responsible for countless prisoners being released — the main reason he was kept for nearly 20 years in one lockup after another, or until his own jailhouse lawyering won his release from Pelican Bay SHU (Security Housing Unit).
“International capitalism cannot be destroyed without the extremes of struggle. The entire colonial world is watching the blacks inside the U.S., wondering and waiting for us to come to our senses. Their problems and struggles with the Amerikan monster are much more difficult than they would be if we actively aided them. We are on the inside. We are the only ones (besides the very small white minority left) who can get at the monsterÃ*s heart without subjecting the world to nuclear fire. We have a momentous historical role to act out if we will. The whole world for all time in the future will love us and remember us as the righteous people who made it possible for the world to live on. If we fail through fear and lack of aggressive imagination, then the slave of the future will curse us, as we sometimes curse those of yesterday. I donÃ*t want to die and leave a few sad songs and a hump in the ground as my only monument. I want to leave a world that is liberated from trash, pollution, racism, nation-states, nation-state wars and armies, from pomp, bigotry, parochialism, a thousand different brands of untruth, and licentious, usurious economics.” (Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson).:
In the latest edition of the 1970 best-seller, Jonathan Jackson, Jr. wrote in its Forward: “…Failure to understand the radical, encompassing viewpoint in the sixties led to reformism. In effect, the majority of the left completely deserted any attempt at the radical balance required of the politically conscious, leaving only liberalism and its narrow vision to flourish.
Nobody comprehended the radical dilemma more fully than George Jackson….He writes in Blood In My Eye:
“Reformism is an old story in Amerika. There have been depressions and socio-economic political crises throughout the period that marked the formation of the present upper-class ruling circle, and their controlling elites. But the parties of the left were too committed to reformism to exploit their revolutionary potential.”
We witnessed the so-called health-care reform of the first Clinton Administration. In a nutshell, there were approximately 37 million people without health insurance in 1992; there are currently well over 44 million and climbing as the insurance industry continues to profiteer from our most basic need for medical care, while Medicare and Medicaid are threatened with privitization and prescription drugs are out of control. “Welfare Reform” has resulted in “Welfare DEform” as the social safety net is unraveled and homelessness is insitituionalized. While our taxes are spent lavishly for a bloated military ($400 billion plus!), health care, housing, child care, food stamps, and jobs disappear; and factories and plants are located behind prison walls. California spends about $49,000 per year to incarcerate one prisoner. It spends about $7000 to educate one student.
“It all falls into place. I see the whole thing much clearer now, how fascism has taken possession of this country, the interlocking dictatorships from county level on up to the Grand Dragon in Washington, D.C. …Fascism has temporarily succeeded under the guise of reform.” (George Jackson)
And so we have it today, more obvious, much more blatant in the ghettoes and barrios — a form of fascism that has replaced gas ovens and concentration camps with death rows and control-unit torture chambers; plantations with prison industrial complexes deployed in rural white communities to perpetuate white supremacy and Black/Brown exploitation. An obscene concentration of wealth at the top with one percent owning more wealth than 95% of the U.S. population; individuals so superrich their wealth exceeds the total combined budgets of scores of nations — as they plunder the globe in the quest for more.
“The fascist must expand to live. Consequently he has pushed his frontiers to the farthest lands and peoples. This is an aspect of his being, an ungovernable compulsion. This perverted mechanical monster suffers from a disease that forces him to build ugly things and destroy beauty wherever he finds it. I just read in a legal newspaper that 50 percent of all the people ever executed in this country by the state were black and 100 percent were lower-class poor. I’m going to bust my heart trying to stop these smug, degenerate, primitive, omnivorous, incivil . . . and anyone who would aid me, I embrace you.” (George Jackson)
At the time Jackson wrote those words (1970), he was facing a mandatory death sentence even if only convicted of assaulting a guard (Ca. Statute 4500), and was already in solitary confinement where he spent most of the 11 years of his incarceration. Although that particular law and the indeterminate sentence are no longer on the books, the spirit of the law is being implemented through the no-parole policies of Republicrat Gov. Grey Davis and a death row that now totals over 600 human beings slated for state murder. Nationwide, the figures are about 3600.
On August 21, 1971, in what was described by prison officials as an escape attempt, George Jackson allegedly smuggled a gun into San Quentin in a wig. That feat was proven impossible, and evidence subsequently suggested a setup designed by prison officials to eliminate Jackson once and for all as they had tried numerous times. However, they didn’t count on losing any of their own in the process. On that fateful day, three notoriously racist prison guards and two inmate turnkeys were also killed. Jackson was shot and killed by guards as he drew fire away from the other prisoners in the Adjustment Center of San Quentin.
Six Black prisoners were put on trial — wearing 30 lbs of chains — in Marin County Courthouse charged with murder and assault. Fleeta Drumgo, David Johnson, Hugo L.A. Pinell (Yogi), Luis Talamantez, Johnny Spain, and Willie Sundiata Tate. Only one was convicted of murder, Johnny Spain. The others were either acquitted or convicted of assault. Pinell is the only one remaining in prison; all the others were released years ago. But Yogi has suffered prolonged torture in lockups since 1969, and is currently enduring his 13th year in Pelican BayÃ*s SHU. He remains amazingly strong and revolutionary.
Let us continue to build uncompromising unity and resistance through spiritual renewal and revolutionary inspiration this Black August as we honor all those who have fought and died for our freedom and self-determination.
In George JacksonÃ*s words: “Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are already dying who could be saved, that generations more will live poor butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love in revolution.”
Free all political prisoners! Long live the guerrillas! Venceremos!