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Black August Honors Black Political Prisoners and Freedom Fighters: Resources
Black August is not a well-known tradition. It began in the 1970s after the assassination of George Jackson‚ a member of the Black Panther Party to honor Black resistance and expose racism in California prisons.
To many, February is the month dedicated to celebrating Black Americans’ contributions to a country where they were once enslaved. But Black History Month has an alternative: It’s called Black August. First celebrated in 1979, Black August was created to commemorate George Jackson’s fight for Black liberation. Fifty-one years since his death, Black August is now a monthlong awareness campaign and celebration dedicated to Black freedom fighters, revolutionaries, radicals and political prisoners, both living and deceased. The annual commemorations have been embraced by activists in the global Black Lives Matter movement, many of whom draw inspiration from freedom fighters like Jackson and his contemporaries.
The San Francisco Bay View Black newspaper states, "The month of August bursts at the seams with histories of Black resistance – from the Haitian Revolution to the Nat Turner Rebellion, from the Fugitive Slave Law Convention and the foundation of the Underground Railroad to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, from the March on Washington to the Watts Uprising, from the births of Marcus Garvey, Russell Maroon Shoatz and Fred Hampton to the deaths of W.E.B. du Bois and George Jackson’s own younger brother Jonathan, killed while attempting to free the Soledad Brothers from prison. We celebrate Black August, commemorating the anniversary of George Jackson’s death while understanding his life as a revolutionary in a long and unbroken line of resistance and sacrifice of Black people throughout history."
In this, The Root’s final episode of Unpack That, we explore the revolutionary spirit of Black August and the fight for a future when all Black lives matter. This video offers historical context into the month of reflection. The video explains that, “George Jackson was imprisoned in California reportedly for stealing (approximately $70) and he got a term of one year-to-life. He died in 1971 inside that California prison...Freedom fighters, resistance organizations, Black liberation organizations have really been taking the month of August, not just to honor the memory of George Jackson’s life, but really to challenge the multiple systems that killed him—the systems that continue to criminalize Black bodies, the system that continues to imprison and enslave, the systems that continue to render our communities unhealthy and over policed.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution provides background on Black August explaining that "Black August is a tradition that began in the 1970s after the assassination of George Jackson‚ a member of the Black Panthers...The activist and author was gunned down on Aug. 21, 1971, while escaping prison as part of a prison rebellion in California."
The 2021 Guardian Opinion Piece stated that "While the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has increased the profile of holidays like Juneteenth and Black History Month, there is one important Black celebration that remains at the margins of American popular consciousness. Black August is a month-long commemoration dedicated to freedom fighters lost in the struggle for Black liberation, particularly those who were killed by US authorities or who perished behind bars." It added that "Since 1979, the Black August holiday has honored Black freedom fighters. Today, we can celebrate the occasion by demanding the release of prisoners."
Pssst! I heard everyone talking about Black August, but I really don’t know what it is, it’s August 31st, and I never got around to doing my Googles. It’s cool. We’ve got you covered.
Black Americans are still fighting to survive in a societal system deeply rooted in white supremacy and anti-Blackness nearly two centuries after the abolishment of slavery and five decades since the eradication of Jim Crow. It’s been 250 years and Black Americans are still impacted by their oppression in ways that impact our spiritual, physical and mental health. It’s exhausting. Not only for those of us in this country, but also for our brothers and sisters across the diaspora. Oftentimes, our fight to exist pulls us away from self-care and cultural preservation. It’s imperative we allow ourselves to have a moment of reflection and renewal in our journey forward. The month of August was specially designated for just that.
The New York Amsterdam News Black newspapers describes that Black August originated in California’s (prison) camps to honor fallen freedom fighters William Christmas, Khatari Gaulden, Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson, James McClain and lone survivor Ruchell Magee. It explains that San Quentin prison guards assassinated George Jackson during a Black prison rebellion Aug. 21, 1971. Three prison guards were also killed during that rebellion, and prison officials charged six Black and Latino prisoners with their deaths. By the late 1970s, the observance and practice of Black August had spread throughout the country. Those who participated in the collective founding of Black August wore black armbands on their left arm, studied revolutionary literature, focused on the works of George Jackson and shied away from entertainment during August. Additionally, they fasted from sun-up to sundown.
Black August is a month dedicated to paying homage to fallen Black revolutionaries, incarcerated freedom fighters, and Black resistance, historical and ongoing. This tradition feels especially auspicious to practice this year, as we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is disproportionately killing Black people, and worldwide protests against the racist, unjust killings of Black people by the state. There is so much power in elevating our histories and reflecting on the lessons learned from the lives of past radical ancestors whose legacies shape this time of Black uprising.
Black August is separate from Black History Month in February, which is a federally recognized celebration that calls on all Americans to reflect on how African-Americans have shaped US history. Carter G. Woodson, the son of former enslaved people, is largely credited with the February celebration. In 1976, Negro History Week expanded into Black History Month.
Black August, which also came about in the 1970's, specifically honors "political prisoners, freedom fighters, and martyrs of the Black freedom struggle," according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a progressive advocacy group. "Black August is a call for reflection, study, and action to promote Black liberation," Herzing told True Leap Press.
The Equal Justice Initiative's calendar, A History of Racial Injustice, is a great tool for learning more about people and events in American history that are critically important but not well known. This is the link to August.
Stanford Libraries' Media & Microtext Center has a copy of this DVD. Inmate activist George Lester Jackson's short life became a flashpoint for revolution, igniting the bloodiest riot in San Quentin's history. In a story ripped from history's headlines, this film traces Jackson's spiritual journey and violent fate, from being sent up on a one-year-to-life sentence for robbing a gas station of $71 to galvanizing the Black Guerrilla Family with his incendiary book of letters, "Soledad Brother, " to the fierce August day when his younger brother Jonathan shocked the world by taking a California courtroom hostage to protest Jackson's upcoming trial.
Black Power Afterlives : the Enduring Significance of the Black Panther Party
Chapter 12 of this e-book is "Black August: Organizing to Uplift the Fallen and Release the Captive." It also includes chapters on "The enduring significance of the Black Panther Party," and "Assata Shakur: The Political Life of Political Exile," as well as "Sankofa: pan-african internationalism."
Abolition Democracy : Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture
Angela Davis, one of America’s most remarkable political figures, discusses resistance and law, institutional sexual coercion, politics and prison. Davis talks about her own incarceration, as well as her experiences as "enemy of the state," and about having been put on the FBI’s "most wanted" list. She talks about the crucial role that international activism played in her case and the case of many other political prisoners. Davis critiques a democracy that has been compromised by its racist origins and institutions. Davis focuses on the underpinnings of prison regimes in the United States.
Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? by Mumia Abu-Jamal
"A must-read for anyone interested in social justice and inequalities, social movements, the criminal justice system, and African American history. An excellent companion to Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow and Ava DuVernay's documentary 13th."
"In December 1981, Mumia Abu-Jamal was shot and beaten into unconsciousness by Philadelphia police. He awoke to find himself shackled to a hospital bed, accused of killing a cop. He was convicted and sentenced to death in a trial that Amnesty International has denounced as failing to meet the minimum standards of judicial fairness. In Have Black Lives Ever Mattered?, Mumia gives voice to the many people of color who have fallen to police bullets or racist abuse, and offers the post-Ferguson generation advice on how to address police abuse in the United States...Applying a personal, historical, and political lens, Mumia provides a righteously angry and calmly principled radical Black perspective on how racist violence is tearing our country apart and what must be done to turn things around."--Cornel West
"He allows us to reflect upon the fact that transformational possibilities often emerge where we least expect them."--Angela Y. Davis