George Jackson (Black Panther)
Cover of Soledad Brother
September 23, 1941|
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Died||21 August 1971
San Quentin, California, United States
Cause of death
|Known for||Prison activist and cofounder of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang|
|Parents||Lester and Georgia Bea Jackson|
George Lester Jackson (September 23, 1941 – August 21, 1971) was an African-American left-wing activist, Marxist, author, a member of the Black Panther Party, and co-founder of the Black Guerrilla Family while incarcerated. Jackson achieved fame as one of the Soledad Brothers and was later shot to death by guards in San Quentin Prison during an alleged escape attempt.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Jackson was the second of Lester and Georgia Bea Jackson's five children. He spent time in the California Youth Authority Corrections facility in Paso Robles because of several juvenile convictions including armed robbery, assault, and burglary. In 1961 he was convicted of armed robbery, for robbing $70 from a gas station at gunpoint and at age 18 was sentenced to serve one year to life in prison.
During his first years at San Quentin State Prison, Jackson became involved in revolutionary activity, as well as assaults on guards and fellow inmates. Such behavior, in turn, was used to justify his continued incarceration on an indeterminate sentence. He was described by prison officials as egocentric and anti-social. In 1966, Jackson met and befriended W.L. Nolen who introduced him to Marxist and Maoist ideology. The two founded the Black Guerrilla Family in 1966 based on Marxist and Maoist political thought. In speaking of his ideological transformation, Jackson remarked "I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me."
As Jackson's disciplinary infractions grew he spent more time in solitary confinement, where he studied political economy and radical theory. He also wrote many letters to friends and supporters which would later be edited and compiled into the books "Soledad Brother" and "Blood in My Eye," bestsellers that brought him a great deal of attention from leftist organizers and intellectuals in the U.S. and Western Europe. Jackson's political transformation was seen as insincere by prison officials, with San Quentin associate warden commenting that Jackson "was a sociopath, a very personable hoodlum" who "didn’t give a shit about the revolution." He did, however, amass a following of inmates including whites and Hispanics although with less enthusiasm than his fellow black inmates.
In January 1969, Jackson and Nolen were transferred from San Quentin to Soledad prison. On January 13, 1970, Nolen and two other black inmates were shot to death by guard Opie G. Miller during a yard riot with members of the Aryan Brotherhood. Following the death of Nolen, Jackson became increasingly confrontational with corrections officials and spoke often about the need to protect fellow inmates and take revenge on guards for Nolen’s death in what Jackson referred to as “selective retaliatory violence.”
On January 17, 1970, Jackson was charged along with Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette for murdering guard John V. Mills, who was beaten and thrown from the third floor of Soledad’s Y wing This was a capital offense and a successful conviction could put Jackson in the gas chamber. Mills, an inexperienced rookie, was murdered, supposedly in retaliation for the shooting deaths of Nolen and the other two black inmates by officer Miller the year prior. Miller was not convicted of any crime, a grand jury ruling his actions to be justifiable homicide.
Marin County courthouse incident
On August 7, 1970, George Jackson's 17-year-old brother Jonathan Jackson burst into a Marin County courtroom with an automatic weapon, freed prisoners James McClain, William A. Christmas and Ruchell Magee, and took Judge Harold Haley, Deputy District Attorney Gary Thomas, and three jurors hostage to demand the release of the "Soledad Brothers." Haley, Jackson, Christmas and McClain were killed as they attempted to drive away from the courthouse. Eyewitness testimony suggests Haley was hit by fire discharged from a sawed-off shotgun that had been fastened to his neck with adhesive tape by the abductors. Thomas, Magee and one of the jurors were wounded. The case made national headlines.
Angela Davis, accused of buying the weapons, was later acquitted of conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder. A possible explanation for the gun connection is that Jonathan Jackson was her bodyguard. Magee, the sole survivor among the attackers, eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975. Magee is currently imprisoned in Corcoran State Prison and has lost numerous bids for parole.
On August 21, 1971, Jackson met with attorney Stephen Bingham on a civil lawsuit Jackson had filed against the California Department of Corrections. After the meeting, Jackson was escorted by officer Urbano Rubico back to his cell when Rubico noticed a metallic object in Jackson’s hair, later revealed to be a wig, and ordered him to remove it. Jackson then pulled a Spanish Astra 9 mm pistol from beneath the wig and said "Gentlemen, the dragon has come"—a reference to Ho Chi Minh. It isn't clear how Jackson attained the gun as authorities continually changed their story about the caliber of the gun and its origins.
Jackson then ordered Rubico to open all the cells and along with several other inmates they overpowered the remaining guards and took them, along with two inmates hostage. Six of the hostages were killed and found in Jackson’s cell, including guards Jere Graham, Frank DeLeon and Paul Krasnes and two white prisoners. Guards Kenneth McCray, Charles Breckenridge and Urbano Rubico had been shot and stabbed as well, but survived. After finding the keys for the Adjustment Center’s exit, Jackson along with fellow inmate and close friend Johnny Spain escaped to the yard where Jackson was shot dead and Spain surrendered. Jackson was killed just three days prior to the start of his murder trial for the 1970 slaying of guard John Mills. Three inmates were acquitted and three were convicted for the murders: David Johnson, Johnny Spain and Hugo Pinell. They became known as the San Quentin Six.
Supporters of Jackson believe that his death was the result of a setup in which Jackson was provided with the gun by Rubico so prison officials would have an excuse to kill him. Intellectuals such as Michel Foucault and Jean Genet argued that Jackson's death was a "political assassination." In his autobiography Revolutionary Suicide, Newton claimed that Jackson was "attempting to save [fellow inmates] from being massacred by guards". James Baldwin wrote: "No Black person will ever believe that George Jackson died the way they tell us he did."
There is some evidence, however, that Jackson and his supporters on the outside had planned the escape for several weeks. Three days before the escape attempt, Jackson rewrote his will leaving all royalties as well as control of his legal defense fund, which had become very well-funded with the donations of wealthy leftists, to the Black Panther Party. Also, many Black Guerrilla Family members became bitter and upset with Newton, believing Newton used his contacts within Soledad to hamper Jackson’s release as he did not want a potential rival for power to be freed.
In popular culture
Many notable artists and entertainers have dedicated their work to Jackson's memory or created works based on his life. A non-album single was released by Bob Dylan titled "George Jackson" about the life and death of Jackson. The song made the American charts peaking at #33 in January 1972. Ja Rule named his 2003 album after Jackson's book, Blood In My Eye.
Stephen Jay Gould wrote, in his 1981 book The Mismeasure of Man, of George Jackson's death in context of 'statistically supported' social Darwinism. Quoting Gould about the legacy of failed science which supported racial bigotry and physiognomy, "George Jackson... died under Lombroso's legacy, trying to escape after eleven years (eight and a half in solitary) of an indeterminate one-year-to-life sentence for stealing seventy dollars from a gas station.""
Jackson's life, beliefs and ultimate fate were the topic of one of the many audio tapes recorded at the Jonestown commune in Guyana during 1978. In the tape in question, commune leader Jim Jones furiously berates one of his followers for suggesting that he, the follower, wants to follow Jackson's example as regards active resistance to racism and oppression. Jones' tirade, remarkable in its profanity and ferocity even for Jones, touches on several issues relating to Jackson, most notably Jones' firm belief that Jackson's death was a racist assassination. Jones' admiration for the Black Panther activist on the tape is as clear as his disgust that the follower could think he was remotely in the same league as Jackson. Indeed, Jones states at least twice during the 45 minute recording that "people like [the follower] killed George Jackson."
Stanley Williams dedicated his 1998 book Life in Prison in part to George Jackson. In Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's response to Williams' appeal for clemency, the governor claimed that this dedication was "a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed and that he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems."
Amy Hempel's short story "The Harvest" mentions the Marin County Prison incident and three injured guards from the prison are treated at Marin General, where the protagonist is staying.
Sections of Jackson's letters are also included in the work "X" from An Atlas of the Difficult World of poet Adrienne Rich.
British reggae band Steel Pulse included two songs about George Jackson in their 2004 album African Holocaust: "George Jackson", and "Uncle George", which was previously released on Tribute to the Martyrs.
From the "Digable Planets" jazz rap album "Blowout Comb" (1994) a reference is made about George Lester Jackson by Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler in the song titled "Jettin'," in which he says "My heros died in prison: George Jackson," referring to the fact that George Lester Jackson was killed while incarcerated in prison.
A group adopted the name; The Jonathan Jackson Educational Cadre,(inspired by George and Jonathan Jackson). The group was active in the Avalon Gardens Project of Los Angeles from 1971 to 1973. In 2011,the founders of the organization made a Documentary called Jackson Not Just A Name;The story of the Jonathan Jackson Educational Cadre in the Avalon Gardens Project 1972-1973.
- Murrin, John; Paul E. Johnson; James M. McPherson (2008). Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People, Compact. Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth. p. 1136. ISBN 978-0-495-50243-2.
- Cummins, Eric. The Rise and Fall of California’s Radical Prison Movement. Stanford University Press. p. 155. ISBN 978-0804722322.
- "America’s fortress of blood: The death of George Jackson and the birth of the prison-industrial complex". Salon. Retrieved September 7, 2014.
- Cummins, pg 156
- James, Joy. Imprisoned Intellectuals: America's Political Prisoners Write on Life, Liberation, and Rebellion. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 85. ISBN 978-0742520271.
- Jackson, George (1994). Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. Chicago Review Press. p. 16. ISBN 1613742894.
- Cummins, pg 157
- Horowitz, Davis (November 10, 2006). "The Political Is Personal". Front Page Magazine. Retrieved February 11, 2011.
- James, pg 85
- Cummins, pg 164
- Cummins, pg 165
- "Day of the Gun: George Jackson".
- "Justice: A Bad Week for the Good Guys". TIME. August 17, 1970.
- Associated Press (January 23, 1975). "Magee Gets Life Term". The Milwaukee Journal.
- Andrews, Lori. Black Power, White Blood: The Life and Times of Johnny Spain. Temple University Press. p. 158. ISBN 978-1566397506.
- Cummings, pg 209
- Andrews, pg 162
- "Attempted Escape At San Quentin Leaves Six Dead". Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine). UPI. August 23, 1971. pp. 1, 3. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
- Milwaukee Journal. Costly San Quentin 6 Trial Ends With 3 Convictions. August 13, 1976
- The Assassination of George Jackson (Intolerable 3: L'Assassinat de George Jackson) Partially retrievable at: Warfare in the American Homeland
- Newton, Huey (2009) . Revolutionary Suicide. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780143105329.
- Bernstein, Lee (2010). "The Age of Jackson: George Jackson and the Radical Critique of Incarceration". America is the Prison: Arts and Politics in Prison in the 1970s. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. p. 66. ISBN 9780807871171. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
- Cummings, pg 158
- Pearson, Hugh. The Shadow of the Panther. Da Capo Press. p. 254. ISBN 978-0201483413.
- Pearson, pg 307
- "Casey Kesem American Top 40 – 1/8/72". August 17, 1970.
- Gould, Stephen Jay (1981). The Mismeasure of Man: The definitive refutation to the argument of the Bell Curve, revised and expanded. p. 172. ISBN 0-393-31425-1.
- Finkelman, Paul. Encyclopedia of African American History: 5-Volume Set. Oxford University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0195167795.
- "African Holocaust (album)".
- Phillips, Caryl. "Cargo Rap" Higher Ground. New York. Vintage Books, 1989.
- Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson (1970) ISBN 1-55652-230-4
- Blood In My Eye (1971) ISBN 0-933121-23-7
- Min S Yee. The Melancholy History of Soledad Prison; In Which a Utopian Scheme Turns Bedlam (1973) ISBN 0-06-129800-X
- Eric Mann. Comrade George; An Investigation into the Life, Political Thought, and Assassination of George Jackson. (1974) ISBN 978-0-06-080318-6
- P. Collier and D. Horowitz; Destructive Generation, (1996) ISBN 978-0-684-82641-7
- Jo Durden - Smith Who Killed George Jackson? (1976) ISBN 394-48291-3
Jackson's writings, interview, advocacy of his views
- Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson – online text of Jackson's 1970 book
- Remembering the Real Dragon: An Interview with George Jackson – by Karen Wald, May and June 1971
- George Jackson: Black Revolutionary – pro-Jackson article by Walter Rodney, November 1971
- A collection of George Jackson quotes