A provocative film called Black August about the life of the legendary Soledad Brother, George Jackson, is set to come out some time this year. If the film, starring Gary Dourdan, is as exciting as The YouTube clip from the film then I will definitely pay my money to see it.
One of the books in our house that most intrigued me as a child was Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. This book, along with James Baldwin’s, If Beale Street Could Talk, brought to my attention, early on, the very delicate nature of our existence as African-Americans in this country. These books describe quite brutally how easily we can be snatched away from our everyday lives and thrown away in prisons all over the country. Although Jackson’s book, a series of letters that he wrote from prison from 1964 to 1970, and Baldwin’s book (published in 1974) were penned decades ago, their message still rings true -— a black person is at the mercy of the legal system in this country and this is a dangerous situation to be in. For even those of us who are innocent of criminal activity (like Fonny, Baldwin’s character in Beale Street), are treated with little dignity and most often come out of the prison system more broken than we went in.
In Jackson’s case, what prison authorities didn’t count on was Jackson’s unusual growth in prison. His charisma and leadership qualities made him one of the most famous leaders of prisoners in history. After being put in Soledad Prison when he was 19 for robbing a gas station for 71 dollars, Jackson studied leftest political philosophies while in solitary confinement for two years, then started prison study groups and organized a prison branch of the Black Panther Party. By the time he published Soledad Brother, Jackson had become a nationally recognized figure and leader among inmates.
In 1970, Jackson, along with two others, was charged with the murder of a white guard. The three became known as the Soledad Brothers. On August 21, 1971 prison guards killed Jackson while he was, allegedly, attempting to escape jail. The uncertainty surrounding Jackson's killing helped set off the uprising at Attica state prison in New York three weeks later.
Excerpt from Soledad Brother:
This camp brings out the very best in brothers or destroys them entirely. But none are unaffected. None who leave here are normal. If I leave here alive, I'll leave nothing behind. They'll never count me among the broken men, but I can't say that I am normal either. I've been hungry too long. I've gotten angry too often. I've been lied to and insulted too many times. They've pushed me over the line from which there can be no retreat. I know that they will not be satisfied until they've pushed me out of this existence altogether.
Here’s the Black August YouTube clip.
Check out this 1971 George Jackson interview.