George Jackson (activist)
Cover of Soledad Brother
|Born||George Lester Jackson
September 23, 1941
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||August 21, 1971
San Quentin, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Shooting|
|Known for||Prison activist and cofounder of the Black Guerrilla Family|
|Parent(s)||Lester and Georgia Bea Jackson|
|Relatives||Jonathan Jackson (brother)|
George Lester Jackson (September 23, 1941 – August 21, 1971) was an African-American 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 dead by guards in San Quentin Prison following an unsuccessful escape attempt.
Born in Chicago, Jackson was the second son of Lester and Georgia Bea Jackson's five children. He spent time in the California Youth Authority Corrections facility in Paso Robles due to several juvenile convictions including armed robbery, assault, and burglary.
During his first years at San Quentin State Prison, Jackson became involved in revolutionary activity, where he allegedly assaulted guards and 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 amassed a following of inmates, including some whites and Hispanics, but most enthusiastically with other 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 corrections officer Opie G. Miller during a yard riot with members of the Aryan Brotherhood. Following Nolen's death, 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, Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette were charged with murdering a corrections officer, 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 was purportedly killed in retaliation for the shooting deaths of three inmates by Miller, the previous year. 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 obtained the gun. Bingham, who lived for 13 years as a fugitive before returning to the United States to face trial, was acquitted of charges that he smuggled a gun to Jackson.
Jackson ordered Rubico to open all the cells and along with several other inmates he overpowered the remaining guards and took them, along with two inmates, hostage. Five other hostages, guards Jere Graham, Frank DeLeon and Paul Krasnes, along with two white prisoners, were killed and found in Jackson's cell. Three other guards, Rubico, Kenneth McCray, and Charles Breckenridge, were also shot and stabbed, 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.
There is some evidence 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 to the Black Panther Party.
In popular culture
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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, "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. Saxophone player Archie Shepp dedicated most of his album Attica Blues (1972) to the story of George Jackson ("Blues for Brother George Jackson") and the Attica prison riots that followed. 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, Jones' tirade, touches on several issues relating to Jackson, most notably Jones' firm belief that Jackson's death was a racist assassination. His 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. 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."
- 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. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
- News footage from August 15, 1970, featuring an interview with George Jackson in which he reflects on the death of his brother Jonathan: https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/sfbatv/bundles/228228
- Associated Press (January 23, 1975). "Magee Gets Life Term". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved August 11, 2010.
- Andrews, Lori. Black Power, White Blood: The Life and Times of Johnny Spain. Temple University Press. p. 158. ISBN 978-1566397506.
- San Quentin profile, latimes.com, June 28, 1986.
- 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.
- "Costly San Quentin 6 Trial Ends With 3 Convictions", Milwaukee Journal, August 13, 1976.
- 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
- Newton, Huey (2009) . Revolutionary Suicide. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780143105329.
- "Casey Kesem American Top 40". January 8, 1972. Retrieved August 23, 2010.
- 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.
- 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 0-394-48291-3
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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