Photo: On August 7, 1970, prisoners William Christmas (left) and Ruchell Magee took Judge Harold Haley hostage and broke out of the courthouse (Marin Independent Journal)
“Black August is a month that has shaped our liberation struggle unlike any other…a month of Action; repressive action and Revolutionary action. Action that has elevated and transformed our consciousness of ourselves as a self-determining people. Black August is a month of Freedom Fighters…Warriors who told no lies and claimed no easy victories!” — Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Black August exposes the ongoing system of brutality and racial oppression, bringing executions, assassinations, state repression and mass incarceration of Black radicals to the fore. It also brings to life the achievements and continuing legacy of Black dissidence and leadership that have ignited society and carried forward the liberation movements of oppressed people.* Left Voice participates in the commemoration of Black August and was invited to speak on a panel regarding current revolutionary struggles.
History and Continuing Resistance
In August 1619, the first Afrikans were brought to the English colony of Virginia as slaves stolen from a Spanish ship. This event marked the beginning of an era of capture, kidnapping, and enslavement that made possible the development of capitalism and amassing of wealth in the United States in particular.
On August 14, 1791, in the French colony of St. Domingue (Haiti) a siege was organized against white plantation owners, leaving over a thousand dead. This ambush led by Afrikan maroons and slaves evolved into a revolutionary movement for national liberation, making Republic of Haiti the first Afrikan Republic in the New World in 1804.
On August 21, 1831, Nat Turnerʼs Rebellion broke out in Virginia with just seven men and over 36-hours led to the murder of over 50 slave owners. It came to symbolize an “act of war” against the slave system that reverberates with Black resistance today.
On August 11, 1965, the beating and arrest of a Black motorist Marquette Frye, his brother Ronald and mother by white police officers led to a six-day uprising in Los Angeles called the Watts Rebellion. The Watts Rebellion was a turning point in Los Angeles and around the country for Black revolutionary struggles to break with pacifism and organize against racist police terror.
Trailer: Jackson Not Just A Name: Jonathan Jackson Educational Cadre (JJEC)
Perhaps the most significant founding event of Black August was the Marin County Courthouse Slave Rebellion in San Rafael, California. On August 7, 1970, 17-year-old Jonathan Jackson broke into the Marin Courtroom. He threw guns to prisoners William Christmas and James McClain, who in turn got jailhouse lawyer Ruchell Cinque Magee to join them. The four men took the judge, assistant district attorney and three jurors hostage. With shouts of “We are the revolutionaries!” they broke out the courthouse, planning to take over the radio station to demand freedom for the imprisoned Soledad Brothers (John Clutchette, Fleeta Drumgo, and George Jackson) and expose the brutally racist prison conditions. However, before they could escape through the garage, they were cornered by San Quentin guards. The guards opened fire; when the shooting stopped, the judge, Jonathan Jackson, Christmas, and McClain lay dead.
On August 21, George Jackson was murdered in prison within days of his trial. Ruchell Magee survived, but has since served over 50 years in the California state penitentiary system and remains locked up as a political prisoner. George Jackson, author of Soledad Brother and Blood in My Eye was a socialist revolutionary who built Black political organizations within the prison system. The legacy of George Jackson and the many other political prisoners has an influence inside and outside prisons today.
Black August Los Angeles at the Youth Justice Center on August 7
Far from forgotten, this history of revolutionary resistance provides inspiration and political grounding to Black activists and revolutionaries today. On August 7 in Los Angeles, numerous groups including the East Los Angeles Brown Berets, former members of the Black Panther Party, Left Voice, Black August Los Angeles and others came together for an event at Chuco’s Youth Justice Center to commemorate the legacy of Black freedom fighters. The evening featured the debut of the documentary film, Jackson: Not Just A Name, The Story Of The Jonathan Jackson Educational Cadre (JJEC). Filmmakers and Left Voice supporters Harold Welton (JJEC co-founder) and David Dang (organizer in the Vietnamese and Black community) introduced the film and shared the experience of bringing the little-known history of the JJEC to life.
Motivated by the assassinations of Jonathan and George Jackson, the JJEC organized youth in the Avalon Gardens Housing Projects (PROUDjects) of South Central Los Angeles during the 1970s. By organizing youth in a poor community and creating community programs, the JJEC continued the legacy of the Black Panthers. The film contains rare footage of Jonathan Jackson at the Marin County Courthouse, the JJEC youth practicing martial arts, and the LAPD’s repression of the JJEC. The film portrays the role of gangs in Black neighborhoods–particularly the CRIPS, which was beginning to grow during the same period. The film raised how the CRIPS gang was encouraged by the LAPD to flourish and even attack Black revolutionary organizations like the JJEC. This was carried out on top of the police’s overt campaign of State repression.
At the Black August LA screening of Jackson Not Just A Name
In addition to the film screening, Black August Los Angeles organized a panel, “Smashing Barriers Towards Unity: Where Do We Go,” which hosted a discussion on the organizing campaigns of oppressed people today as well as how their work relates to the struggles of Jonathan and George Jackson. Panelists included Edxie Betts (Strike Against Police Terror–StrAPT and LA Queer Resistance), Julia Wallace (Left Voice), Raysuli Williams “Beto” (East LA Brown Berets), Gen Menkhepe-ra Shakur Sunni-Ali (Republic of New Afrika), Tej Grewall (Stop LAPD Spying), William Campbell and Nani Okoye (BLAction 365), David Dang (filmmaker) and panel moderator/former political prisoner Jitui Sadiki (Black August Los Angeles).
During her presentation, Julia Wallace of Left Voice raised the issue of internationalism and the need for class solidarity against all forms of oppression by the State. Panelists called for unity against capitalism and the racist police in addition to an end to U.S. imperialism worldwide. The panel concluded with a joint solidarity announcement from StrAPT and Left Voice in support of the National Prisoner’s September 9th Strike on the anniversary of the Attica rebellion.
Black August Los Angeles will be having a Martyr’s Tour of Black Revolutionaries killed by the LAPD. There will also be tours of the Black Panther Party LA headquarters, which was raided by the LAPD and newly-formed SWAT units during a four-hour gun battle on December 9, 1969. In addition, there will be tours of the clinics and community programs created by the Panthers (Saturday, August 27, 11am at the AFIBA Center: 5730 Crenshaw Blvd, Los Angeles).
General Moose EL
Beto, East LA Brown Berets
*Historical information provided by the 2005 “Black August Resistance Educational Pamphlet,” by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.