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Tribute to Comrade George Lester Jackson, prison scholar, prisoner mentor, prison-bred rebel

August 21, 2012

George Jackson – 41 year commemoration from Freedom Archives on Vimeo.

This video is based on an edited portion of the film “Prisons on Fire” by the Freedom Archives (2001) with video editing by Oriana Bolden.

The text below is a brief account of George Jackson’s life and influence followed by a tribute written by Luis “Bato” Talamantez, one of the defendants in the San Quentin 6 trial.

Aug. 21, 2012, marks the 41st anniversary of the rebellion at San Quentin prison that ended in the assassination of Comrade George Jackson (Sept. 23, 1941-Aug. 21, 1971). Three guards and two inmates also died in the course of the rebellion – which came to be known as Black August – inside the Adjustment Center at the prison, about 15 miles north of San Francisco.

George Jackson, whose funeral on Aug. 28, 1971, drew 8,000 mourners, was world famous then and still so terrifies prison authorities that they condemn Black prisoners who possess anything related to Comrade George to solitary confinement. – Photo: Stephen Shames
At the time of his death at age 29, George Jackson was the best known prison revolutionary in the United States and field marshal of the Black Panther Party.

Inside and outside the prison system, Jackson was known for his great personal courage, revolutionary writing and teaching, and a truly remarkable ability to unite prisoners of all nationalities. His message of unity – and the fact that it was taking root among prisoners in California and elsewhere – was viewed as a grave threat by the wardens and guards. While down to the present, prison authorities wring their hands in public about antagonisms between African American, Latino and white inmates, they have long relied upon and relentlessly promoted such conflict as a means of social control.

At the time of his death at age 29, George Jackson was the best known prison revolutionary in the United States and field marshal of the Black Panther Party.

At age 17, Jackson was arrested and charged with stealing $70 in a Southern California gas station holdup. On the advice of his public defender, he accepted a plea deal that resulted in a one-year-to-life “indeterminate” sentence. He never got out.

Inside and outside the prison system, Jackson was known for his great personal courage, revolutionary writing and teaching, and a truly remarkable ability to unite prisoners of all nationalities.

In the mid-1960s, Jackson began organizing inside the prisons. He educated himself and over the next several years politicized countless fellow prisoners. Among the 99 books found in his cell after his death were such titles as the following:

“Capital, Vols. I and II,” by Karl Marx; “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. Dubois; “Class Struggle in Africa” by Kwame Nkrumah; “Prison Diary of Ho Chi Minh”; “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”; “Zapata and the Mexican Revolution” by John Womack; “Fanshen – A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village” by William Hinton; “Revolutionary Priest” by Camilo Torres; “Enemy of the Sun” by Naseer Aruri and Edomn Gharaeb; “Some Changes” by June Jordan; “Historical Materialism” by Maurice Cornforth; “The Myth of Black Capitalism” by Earl Ofari; “Fidel Castro Speaks”; “Reader in Marxist Philosophy” by Marx, Engels and Lenin; and several volumes of the “History of the American Labor Movement” by Philip Foner. (Click here for the complete list.)

Jackson frequently lent out his books and discussed them with other inmates.

A posthumously published poem by Jackson, “Enemy of the Sun,” expressed his revolutionary spirit:

You may take the last strip of my land

feed my youth to prison cells

you may plunder my heritage

you may burn my books, my poems

or feed my flesh to the dogs

you may spread a web of terror

on the roofs of my village

– O enemy of the sun –

But, I shall not compromise

and to the last pulse in my veins

I shall resist

Angela Davis and Jonathan Jackson march to free George Jackson and the Soledad Brothers in 1970.
In 1970, Jackson and two other Soledad prison inmates, Fleeta Drumgo and John Cluchette, were charged with killing a white guard following the fatal shooting from a prison tower of three African American prisoners by another white guard. The trial of Drumgo, Cluchette and Jackson – known as the “Soledad Brothers” – was scheduled to begin in San Francisco on Aug. 23, 1971. Jackson was to be transported to court by helicopter under top security.

Jackson’s first book, “Soledad Brother,” became a best-seller and made him internationally known. The activist Angela Davis, who was a supporter of the Soledad struggle, was charged with murder in connection with the killing of the guard. She went underground and was captured in 1971. A worldwide defense campaign was a decisive factor in her acquittal.

Jackson’s first book, “Soledad Brother,” became a best-seller and made him internationally known.

On Aug. 7, 1970, George’s 17-year-old brother, Jonathan Jackson, burst into the Marin County courthouse as the trial of a San Quentin prisoner, James McClain, was taking place. Jonathan Jackson took Judge Harold Haley and two jurors hostage, demanding that the Soledad Brothers be freed.

Two other San Quentin prisoners, William Christmas and Ruchell Magee, who were in the courtroom as witnesses, joined Jonathan Jackson as did McClain. As they drove out of the courthouse parking lot, police and San Quentin guards opened fire on their van killing Christmas, McClain, Haley and Jonathan Jackson.

The Adjustment Center at San Quentin was a forerunner of the infamous supermax prisons and security housing units (SHUs) that are now everywhere. The prisoners sent to the AC were subjected to isolation, sensory deprivation and other forms of abuse.

At Occupy San Quentin on Feb. 20, 2012, when hundreds of prisoner supporters were surveilled by hundreds of police and shadowed by police helicopters, Jabari Shaw, a student activist and former prisoner dressed in prison garb, spoke of the enduring power of George Jackson while holding his photo. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
Following the Aug. 21, 1971, rebellion, the surviving prisoners were subjected to beatings and other extremely abusive treatment. Six of them, Fleeta Drumgo, David Johnson, Hugo Pinell, Johnny Spain, Sundiata Tate and Luis (Bato) Talamantez, were charged with murder, conspiracy and attempted escape in a 94-count indictment.

Their trial, the longest in California history, ended in 1976. Spain was found guilty of murder (later overturned), and Johnson and Pinell were convicted of assault. Drumgo, Tate and Talamantez were acquitted of all charges.

The Adjustment Center at San Quentin was a forerunner of the infamous supermax prisons and security housing units (SHUs) that are now everywhere. The prisoners sent to the AC were subjected to isolation, sensory deprivation and other forms of abuse.

Not coincidentally, just 19 days after the San Quentin uprising came the rebellion at Attica State Prison in western New York state, the biggest prison rebellion in U.S. history. More than 1,000 highly organized prisoners held the prison from Sept. 9 to Sept. 13, 1971, before New York State Police and prison guards carried out a bloody massacre, killing 33 prisoners and 12 guards and wounding more than 400 prisoners. The massacre was ordered by New York’s billionaire governor, Nelson Rockefeller.

The funeral of George Jackson was attended by more than 8,000 people in West Oakland. In his eulogy, Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton said:

“George Jackson was my hero. He set a standard for prisoners, political prisoners, for people. He showed the love, the strength, the revolutionary fervor that’s characteristic of any soldier for the people. He inspired prisoners, whom I later encountered, to put his ideas into practice. And so his spirit became a living thing.”

The funeral of George Jackson was attended by more than 8,000 people in West Oakland.

This story first appeared Aug. 21, 2009, in LiberationNews.org. Dates have been updated.

RIP, Comrade George Jackson

by Luis “Bato” Talamantez

Luis “Bato” Talamantez, acquitted on Aug. 17, 1976, still organizes and advocates passionately for the prisoners he left behind. It was through his participation in a rally June 17, 2011, on the steps of the San Francisco City Hall that the world learned a major hunger strike was set to begin July 1, 2011. At the height of the strike, 12,000 California prisoners were refusing meals. – Photo: United for Drug Policy Reform
At the time of the San Quentin prison rebellion, most of the books on the tier – serious reading and revolutionary material – were Comrade’s. He lent them out to us. Just as many more books than those listed here were in the cells of other prisoners the day Comrade was killed outside A/C (Adjustment Center), Aug. 21, 1971.

I learnt a lot from reading and from talking with Comrade G over the years. I’d been tier-sweeper, first floor, chapel-side at the time.

All the defendants in the San Quentin 6 trial, 1971-76, had had property reports written up. The state prosecutors were seeing what sort of incriminating evidence they could derive from what we had in our cells. Later they would tell the jury we were all violent “revolutionaries” because of the inflammatory literature we possessed.

Ho Chi Minh’s book was entered as state evidence against us at trial. It had a poem in it about “dragons flying out of prison.”

From the comrades, now and then, who are still struggling, still learning, still keeping on, this is a belated tribute 38 years later, so that the new upcoming revolutionaries all learn what we learned when we too were once young.

In solidarity during solitary years, this tribute comes from one who read from your cell library until the day life ended – and your words lived on. RIP.

The last of the San Quentin 6 trial prisoners, Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, A-88401, PBSP SHU D3-221, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95531, at Pelican Bay Prison and now going on his 47th year of continuous imprisonment, is still a revolutionary, still a prison comrade. La luta continua. Oheyo.

Luis “Bato” Talamantez, a San Quentin 6 trial defendant, was acquitted Aug. 12, 1976. He can be reached at batowato@gmail.com.

 

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