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Special assignment: George Jackson funeral

July 27, 2014

by Billy X Jennings

This is the front page of The Black Panther newspaper that came out Aug. 28, 1971, the day of George Jackson’s funeral, alerting mourners to attend; 8,000 came.

This is the front page of The Black Panther newspaper that came out Aug. 28, 1971, the day of George Jackson’s funeral, alerting mourners to attend; 8,000 came.

I was working at Central Headquarters of the Black Panther Party (BPP) when George Jackson was murdered by guards in San Quentin Prison in 1971.

I had never met George personally, but I knew his mother and sister, who worked very closely with the Party. I had met his brother Jonathan once at Central Headquarters when he came by with Angela Davis. We spoke briefly.

Early in 1971, members of the BPP would go to court to show support for George, Fleeta Drumgo and John Cluchette during their trial for the alleged murder of a prison guard in Soledad – the Soledad Brothers trial.

I was working at Central Headquarters of the Black Panther Party (BPP) when George Jackson was murdered by guards in San Quentin Prison in 1971.

George Jackson was one of the leaders of the developing Prison Rights Movement at the time. He helped develop a new consciousness among prisoners based on political education, service to the community and the destruction of the evil capitalist system. George was field marshal of the Black Panther Party and had a fantastic gift for writing. He had a clear analysis of the evils of capitalism and how it affected our community.

George was loved by all Party members. When he was murdered, many Party members wanted to take up arms to avenge his death. I was one of them. We were ready – but were directed by the Central Committee to chill out and stay focused and the larger, protracted struggle.

George Jackson was one of the leaders of the developing Prison Rights Movement at the time.

The pallbearers line up outside St. Augustine Episcopal Church waiting for the hearse. – Photo: Stephen Shames

The pallbearers line up outside St. Augustine Episcopal Church waiting for the hearse. – Photo: Stephen Shames

One of my many duties at that time was security personnel for the Party. I had worked as security for Huey P. Newton and other members of the Central Committee. I was selected to be a pallbearer for George’s funeral. Other pallbearers included Sam Castle, Bobby Bowen, Alden, Tick and Darrell. I had also been a pallbearer a year earlier when George’s brother Jonathan was killed in Marin County.

On the day of the funeral, we arrived at St. Augustine’s Church around 9:30 a.m.

I was selected to be a pallbearer for George’s funeral. Other pallbearers included Sam Castle, Bobby Bowen, Alden, Tick and Darrell.

We were in full uniform, which we only wore on special occasions. It was a very busy morning. Party members lined up from 27th and West to the next block. We had traffic detour signs because West was a busy street which would soon be filled with people.

We had about 200 Party members in uniform, including the children. Our Party flag with the Panther on it was flying high over our heads out of the church window. The people in the community also loved George Jackson and over 8,000 people filled the streets outside the church.

The body of George Jackson, assassinated at San Quentin Prison on Aug. 21, 1971, is brought into St. Augustine Episcopal Church for his funeral on Aug. 28. By the time the funeral ended and the pallbearers carried the coffin back out, 8,000 people were waiting outside. – Photo: Stephen Shames

The body of George Jackson, assassinated at San Quentin Prison on Aug. 21, 1971, is brought into St. Augustine Episcopal Church for his funeral on Aug. 28. By the time the funeral ended and the pallbearers carried the coffin back out, 8,000 people were waiting outside. – Photo: Stephen Shames

Ray Masai Hewitt, our minister of education, was in charge of security. We had a number of people on security duty that day. One of the brothers was Santa Rita (Clark Bailey), who was in the window above us. I had faith in his abilities as we had worked together in the past. We had to be on guard for agent provocateurs who might want to start trouble and interfere with the services.

As I looked out at the crowd, I saw Georgia and Lester Jackson, George’s parents, his sister Penny and other members of the family. I looked at Huey, Bobby and Masai and they all had a pained expression. Huey, Bobby, Masai and Father Neil spoke and then Elaine Brown sang one of her songs.

Santa Rita (Clark Bailey), standing security in the church window, watched for trouble but saw only the growing crowd. – Photo: Stephen Shames

Santa Rita (Clark Bailey), standing security in the church window, watched for trouble but saw only the growing crowd. – Photo: Stephen Shames

 

The whole ceremony was very somber and I then made up my mind that I would always be a revolutionary until I die. I owe it to the brothers like George and Jonathan who we have buried and also those who went to prison.

Because the church only held about 200 people, there were speakers placed outside for the thousands of people to hear the service. There wasn’t a dry eye in the church, yet everyone also felt empowered by the spirit and strength of George.

We rose to pick up George’s body, and everyone raised their fist in the air as we filed passed them. When the doors opened, and we stepped outside with the body, I saw that the crowd had grown tremendously.

The messages delivered inside the church and broadcast outside were so inspiring that BJ (Billy X Jennings) wrote that he made up his mind then and there “that I would always be a revolutionary until I die.” The messages were transcribed and published in the Sept. 4, 1971, edition of The Black Panther newspaper. – Photo: Stephen Shames

The messages delivered inside the church and broadcast outside were so inspiring that BJ (Billy X Jennings) wrote that he made up his mind then and there “that I would always be a revolutionary until I die.” The messages were transcribed and published in the Sept. 4, 1971, edition of The Black Panther newspaper. – Photo: Stephen Shames

There were people on rooftops, hanging from telephone poles and filling the streets. Everyone raised their fists in the air and chanted, “Long live George Jackson.”

It was a sight that could set a fire in your heart.

We placed George’s body in the hearse and the Panthers outside cleared a way through the crowd. I was asked to ride with the family, and the rest of the pallbearers walked in front of the cars.

As we followed the limo in front of us, I looked out of the window and all I could see was a sea of fists – black, white and brown. It was a beautiful sight.

As we rounded the corner onto 27th Street, we could hear the people chanting as we drove off. We had a long caravan of cars following the body to the airport. Along the streets, people showed their support by giving the power sign.

This is a day I will never forget. I witnessed and participated in the first Black August event.

If We Must Die

People climbed telephone poles for a good view as 8,000 voices chanted, “Long live George Jackson!” – Photo: Stephen Shames

People climbed telephone poles for a good view as 8,000 voices chanted, “Long live George Jackson!” – Photo: Stephen Shames

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Claude McKay (1889-1948), Jamaican-born poet and key figure in the Harlem Renaissance

Black Panther historian Billy X Jennings administers the website, www.itsabouttimebpp.com, containing the archives – countless photos and stories – documenting the history of the Black Panther Party. He can be reached at itsabouttime3@juno.com. This story originally appeared on ItsAboutTimeBPP. Two 10-page spreads (here and here) headlined “Revolutionary Memorial Service for George Jackson, Field Marshall, Black Panther Party” from The Black Panther newspaper dated Sept. 4, 1971, include many more photos, transcripts of the powerful messages delivered at the funeral and messages from the people.

Hundreds more stood on rooftops to salute George Jackson – 8,000 black, white and brown fists in the air. This was the first Black August event. – Photo: Stephen Shames

Hundreds more stood on rooftops to salute George Jackson – 8,000 black, white and brown fists in the air. This was the first Black August event. – Photo: Stephen Shames

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