by Kiilu Nyasha
It’s hard to believe that our beloved Comrade, George Lester Jackson, would be 70 years old on Sept. 23, 2011.
On reading his first book, a 1970 bestseller, “Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson,” I felt a kindred spirit with George’s rage and resistance but thought he contradicted himself on women. So I began a correspondence with him from New Haven, Connecticut, where I was a member of the Black Panther Party and working for the lawyers defending Chairman Bobby Seale, Ericka Huggins and Lonnie McLucas, as well as organizing community and national support for their freedom.
I remember sitting in the courtroom, where I had easy access through the same door the judge entered, and fantasizing that, since I was never searched, I could come through that door, climb up behind the judge, put a gun to his head and demand the release of Bobby and Ericka, who were being tried jointly. (The McLucas trial preceded theirs).
Then came the newspaper headlines that reverberated throughout the world of George’s teenage brother, Jonathan Jackson, armed to the teeth, commandeering the Marin court, liberating three prisoners, taking hostages, and attempting to call the world’s attention to the murderous prison conditions, and free the Soledad Brothers.
Wow! I thought. He did it! He actually did it!
It was Aug. 7, 1970, when Jonathan Jackson’s bravery taught us all that these pigs have no regard whatsoever for human life. They shot up the crowded van, instantly killing three brothers – Jonathan, William Christmas and James McClain – as well as the judge. Ruchell Magee and a prosecutor were critically wounded. One of three jurors suffered a minor wound.
Magee remains in prison – Corcoran – still fighting for release after 48 years in California gulags.
Shortly after Jonathan’s death, George wrote, “I loved Jonathan, but his death only sharpens my fighting spirit.”
When I returned to San Francisco in June ‘71, George asked me to obtain a press pass so I could visit him. My former employer, Panther attorney Charles Garry, connected me with the late Carlton Goodlett, publisher of the Sun Reporter newspaper, and I wound up with a job because Reggie Major was visiting the Cleavers in Algeria.
I was first a reporter – later promoted to news editor – covering the pretrial hearings for Angela Davis and Ruchell Cinque Magee stemming from the events of Aug. 7, 1970, and the Soledad Brothers, Fleeta Drumgo, John Clutchette and George Jackson, accused of killing a guard at Soledad State Prison in retaliation for the massacre of three Black militants – W.L. Nolen, Sweet Jugs Miller and Cleveland Edwards – by a tower guard in January ‘70.
Seeing George for the first time in the San Francisco courtroom, I was stunned. I had never seen an egghead martial artist before :). I managed to visit him in San Quentin’s holding cell in July, an unforgettable experience, one in which I tried to convince him that there was no “People’s Army” out here. Needless to say, I fell in love. Both of us were chain smokers at the time; we were smoking nearly the whole visit, an hour I’ll always treasure.
A month later, I was devastated by the news of his assassination at San Quentin, Aug. 21, which I heard on the radio. I freaked! Later on, a fellow reporter took me to San Quentin, where a press conference was being held – the first time I had rifles pointed directly at me/us. Furious at the madness and mendacity, I walked away from it and put out my last cigarette on the yard, vowing to follow his example of study, martial arts and action (“action makes the front”).
The administration had tried numerous times to eliminate Jackson; this time they succeeded in what we believe was a setup. What they failed to anticipate was that three guards and two inmate trustees were also killed that day. This time, the odds were different. Jackson’s comrade, Hugo Pinell (Yogi Bear) is still in solitary – currently in Pelican Bay’s SHU – after more than 40 years, 47 altogether. He’s the only one of six San Quentin prisoners tried in the aftermath to remain locked up.
According to attorney Steve Bingham, “It seems the armory was just over the outside wall … and the guards would lift handguns over the wall in little baskets. There were handguns all over the place.”
Hindsight being 20/20, George’s mistake was in trusting the wrong folks.
Known then as Pat Gallyot, I produced the Sun Reporter’s front-page spread on the events of Aug. 21 – including excerpts from some of George’s letters to me – and the grizzly aftermath, when 26 San Quentin prisoners were tortured, brutalized, even shot, and the entire California prison system was put on lock-down. Jailhouse lawyer Magee smuggled out an affidavit signed by all 26 alerting the public to the life-threatening atrocities being committed against them
These were life-changing experiences for me. George remains my mentor, my inspiration, my heart. His love for people was boundless; his political knowledge and analyses brilliant, prophetic.
In “Soledad Brother,” George wrote: “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 monster’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 slaves of the future will curse us, as we sometimes curse those of yesterday.”
“The Black bourgeoisie (pseudo-bourgeoisie), the right reverends, the militant opportunists, have left us in a quandary, rendered us impotent. … The blanket indictment of the white race is silly and indicative of a lazy mind (to be generous, since it could be a fascist plot). It doesn’t explain the Black pig; there were six on the Hampton Clark kill. It doesn’t explain … the pseudo-bourgeois who can be found almost everywhere in the halls of government working for white supremacy, fascism and capitalism.”
In letters to me, George had written, “My life is moving myself and other people into action. … And ‘Action makes the front.’”
“I am a Marxist Fanonist, i.e., a realist. There is no such thing as a spontaneous revolution. … History has been one long authoritarian process; the result has been the accretion of a very pronounced leader-follower syndrome … The throwing off of the need for leadership and the creation of communist man [woman] is a goal; it isn’t the situation of today and must not be confused as such … In the throes of combat, unitarian conduct will almost flow naturally; it will not have to be contrived or strained; the pressure from without, from the enemy of all will force us to tolerate each other’s humanity.”
In “Blood in My Eye,” completed just before his death and published posthumously, George wrote: “The men who placed themselves above the rest of society through guile … and sheer brutality have developed two principal institutions to deal with any and all serious disobedience, the prison and institutionalized racism. … Most people realize that crime is simply the result of a grossly disproportionate distribution of wealth and privilege … an aspect of class struggle from the outset. Throughout its history, the United States has used its prisons to suppress any organized efforts to challenge its legitimacy. … The hypocrisy of Amerikan fascism forces it to conceal its attack on political offenders by the legal fiction of conspiracy laws and highly sophisticated frame-ups.
“Most people realize that crime is simply the result of a grossly disproportionate distribution of wealth and privilege.” – from George Jackson’s “Blood in My Eye”
“We must educate the people … to realize that even crimes of passion are the psychosocial effects of an economic order that was decadent a hundred years ago.”
San Quentin was built in 1852 to house 50 convicts. Today, it has over 5,000 prisoners jammed together in the same space and, on death row, over 700! Nationwide, there are well over 2 million captives and climbing.
As the war on terror (read: war on freedom fighters) escalates and human rights are trampled – witness Guantanamo and the proliferation of tortuous control units – George’s declaration becomes crystal clear: “The police state isn’t coming – it’s here, glaring and threatening.”
“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. Pass on the torch. Join us; give up your life for the people.”
“The police state isn’t coming – it’s here, glaring and threatening.” – George Jackson
I wonder if we would be in the same mess today had we heeded George’s call 40 years ago. I ask you, how many tens of thousands must die in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, Haiti, Palestine, Latin America and right here in the USA before we take action? How many millions more have to be hungry, homeless, locked up, tortured, executed and slaughtered? How many elections bought and/or stolen before we recognize fascism and organize a truly revolutionary party on which the people can ride to freedom?
Jonathan Jackson, only 17 when he was martyred, noted, “The picture of the U.S. as a Paper Tiger is quite accurate, but there is a great deal of work to be done on its destruction, and I’m of the opinion that if there is a big job of growing to do, the sooner begun the sooner done.”
George and Jonathan Jackson’s revolutionary actions painted the month of August Black forever, Black meaning revolutionary. Mumia Abu-Jamal described Black August as “a month of meaning … of righteous rebellion; of individual and collective efforts to free the slaves and break the chains that bind us.”
Let us work toward establishing George Jackson’s birthday, like that of Malcolm X, as one we remember and honor annually. He certainly deserves a special place in our history of struggle.
Long live the spirit of George Lester Jackson!
Power to the people!
Kiilu Nyasha, Black Panther veteran, revolutionary journalist and Bay View columnist, blogs at The Official Website of Kiilu Nyasha, http://kiilunyasha.blogspot.com/, where episodes of her TV talk show, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, along with her essays are posted. She can be reached at Kiilu2@sbcglobal.net.