Tribute to Comrade George Lester Jackson

Prison scholar, prisoner mentor, prison-bred rebel

August 21, 2009
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 Six trial.

Aug. 21, 2009, marks the 38th 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 funeral
Thousands attended Jackson's funeral in
West Oakland.

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 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.

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

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 August 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.

On Aug. 7, 1970, George’s 17-year-old brother, Jonathan Jackson, burst into the Marin County court house 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 Super Max 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.

Following the August 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, Talamantez were acquitted of all charges.

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 Rockefller.

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 following tribute is by Luis "Bato" Talamantez, one of the San Quentin 6 trial defendants.

At the time of the 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 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,” etc.)

From the comrades, now and then. Still struggling, still learning
Still keeping on. A belated tribute 38 years ago. That the new upcoming revolutionaries, all learn what we learned, when we too were once young.
In solidarity during solitary years. Who read from your cell library until the day life ended. And Words lived on. RIP

- Bato / aka Luis Talamantez. SQ6 trial defendant (acquitted Aug. 12, 1976)

(Note: The last of the SQ6 trial prisoners, Hugo “Yogi” Pinell #A88401, presently at Pelican Bay Prison and now going on his 45th year of continuous imprisonment. Still a revolutionary. Still a prison comrade. La luta continua. Oheyo)

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