George Jackson was a unifying force who fought to transform the gangster mentality into a revolutionary one. KRON-4 aired a special program in October labeled “Day of the Gun.” The “day” was Aug. 21, 1971, when George Lester Jackson, three prison guards and two inmate trustees were killed.
As one of countless people who knew and loved George, I found the title itself offensive. How would you feel if your loved one had been murdered by gunshot and the day of his death symbolized by the weapon of destruction, not the human tragedy, the loss of life?
But it gets worse.
The narrator states: “The story of George Jackson is a story of the dark side of America.”
I can’t see how a Black woman could utter such a racist statement, even if she hadn’t written it.
In reality, the story of George Jackson is a story of the best of our kind. The story of a brother who rebelled against an unjust order, who had the courage and passion, disciplined study, an each-one-teach-one spirit, love of life and people, and the willingness to struggle for our liberation.
As the late great Walter Rodney noted: “The greatness of George Jackson is that he served as a dynamic spokesman for the most wretched among the oppressed, and he was in the vanguard of the most dangerous front of struggle.
“Jail is hardly an arena in which one would imagine that guerrilla warfare would take place. Yet, it is on this most disadvantaged of terrains that blacks have displayed the guts to wage a war for dignity and freedom.”
They (meaning those opportunists who know not) often make feeble attempts at trivializing our freedom fighters’ contributions. In “Day of the Gun,” the narrator goes on to say, “During his prison life, George Jackson was a polarizing figure, hated as much as he was loved.” Whoever did the film editing surely didn’t know George Jackson and no doubt had no experience of that Black Panther-inspired era of revolutionary activity.
Far from being a “polarizing figure,” George was an incredible organizer, a unifier. Sundi Tate recalls a prison strike at Tracy organized by George that resulted in 100 percent participation by everyone in the segregation unit in protest of the inhumane conditions.
Of course, Jackson was hated by his enemies – OUR enemies, the enemies of humanity – especially racist, red-neck guards who at that time were murdering and brutalizing Black prisoners at whim and with official impunity. Also hated were Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, among countless other freedom fighters.
On the other hand, George’s friends were legion – and hailed from all corners of the world. “Soledad Brother” was translated into several languages. The original paperback contained a forward by the famous playwright, Jean Genet. Loved, admired and respected not only by his readers, family and friends, George was also loved and respected by his fellow inmates. Even white prisoners who didn’t challenge the enforced segregation respected him.
“They wanted me to take out George Jackson,” said Allan Mancino, a white prisoner interviewed in the film as a witness to the events of Aug. 21. “I didn’t want to kill him. I had a grudging respect for the man … the way he conducted himself.” Mancino added, “Guards were the number one enemy.”
Then the film offers this ridiculous polemic: “When George Jackson emerged as the new god and leader of the left, those on the right saw him as the most powerful threat in the prison system.”
I was an activist on the “left” during that period, and I can assure you that George Jackson was not revered as “the new god and leader of the left.” Jackson’s leadership in prison resulted from his simply being one of the most knowledgeable, disciplined, revolutionary brothers on the scene, who commanded respect.
And it’s a bit of an exaggeration to have the “right” seeing Jackson as “the most powerful threat in the prison system.”
Although I’m quite sure the CDC (California Department of Corrections) did see him as a threat, upon information and belief, Jackson was set up for assassination due to his revolutionary influence on prisoners, the prison system and beyond. Author of the bestseller, “Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson,” and “Blood In My Eye,” published posthumously, Jackson had earned the respect of most prisoners and countless activists with his uncompromising politics and organizing activity.
What was most grievous about this so-called documentary, besides the obvious bias in reporting, was the failure to seriously address the issues that led up to Aug. 21, ‘71, and the Aug. 7, ‘70, Marin Courthouse Rebellion that took the lives of Jonathan Jackson, George’s 17-year-old brother, William Christmas, James McClain and Judge Harold Haley. The systematic racist torture, brutality and murder targeting Black prisoners that guards and administrators perpetrated were glossed over and, naturally, made to seem justified.
One has to wonder if the filmmakers even bothered to read Jackson’s books.
They also managed to ignore the current prison realities - the rise of a prison industrial complex, slave labor camps – that has virtually displaced outside manufacturing industries. California had only 12 prisons when Jackson was alive. There are now 33 with another being built. And even that number is deceptive because there are often several prisons within one complex - old Folsom and New Folsom, for example. In Pelican Bay there are several facilities including the infamous torture chamber known as SHU (Security Housing Unit), a concrete windowless tomb. San Quentin was built in 1852 to house 50 prisoners. There are now 5,700-plus stuffed into it, over 600 of them on death row. (All California’s death row prisoners except 12 women are housed at S.Q.) But then the filmmaker obviously wasn’t concerned about prisoners or prison conditions.
Even more troubling were the film’s final dispositions - you know, what happened to whom. It was duly noted that Luis Talamantez, Willie Sundiata Tate, and Fleeta Drumgo were all acquitted. Fleeta was killed after his release. Johnny Spain, the only one of the six defendants to be convicted of murder, was released in ‘88 and is now teaching. David Johnson was convicted of assault and later released. But no mention was made of the facts that Ruchell Cinque Magee, sole survivor, though wounded, of the 1970 courthouse rebellion, is doing his 32nd year in Corcoran (added to his illegal incarceration for seven years prior); and Hugo L.A. Pinell (Yogi) has been in solitary for 33 years of his 38, the last 12-plus in Pelican Bay’s SHU. I ’ve been in correspondence with both of these brothers for decades and I can testify that they are a testament to strength of character, spirit and dedication to the liberation of all peoples. They have inspired me no end.
This final statement of the film’s narrative is sheer nonsense:
“In the end when George Jackson’s cause had been lost, and the cult of hero worship contaminated his heart and soul, Jackson sought comfort in a few loyal friends ... Marx ... Lenin ... and Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese revolutionary, who predicted ...’When the prison gates fly open, the dragons will emerge.’
“On a hot August day with gun in hand Jackson would tell the world just that.”
First of all, “George Jackson’s cause” has not been lost. Not by a long shot. A luta continua. In fact, this one Black woman put her last cigarette out on the yard of San Quentin on Aug. 21, ‘71, and resolved to BE George. I ’m still playing “catch-up” intellectually, and never reached my goal of martial artist. But George’s spirit and writings still motivate and inspire me and a myriad of revolutionaries throughout the world.
The second part of this sentence is just bullshit, and the third part had it bassackwards, with Ho Chi Minh misquoted.
“I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me,” Jackson says in “Soledad Brother” - when he “entered prison” in 1968, not “in the end.” And the quote referred to is as follows:
“People who come out of prison can build up a country.Misfortune is a test of people’s fidelity. Those who protest at injustice are people of true merit. When the prison doors are opened, the real dragon will fly out.” – Ho Chi Minh
It didn’t surprise me that the film spotlighted the two wardens of San Quentin describing George as a “thug” and a “punk convict,” “a predator” etc.
“George was not a thug. He was a thinker, a quiet, composed brother,” says Sundiata Tate.
His other comrade and co-defendant, David Johnson, states: “George was a human being, a man. He wasn’t a thug or a punk. That was the same rhetoric used to justify the abuse and maltreatment used to commit genocide against the Indians.
“George advocated that his fellow prisoners arm themselves with knowledge, skills, education to be able to go out into society and make a positive contribution, be productive. They cannot validate uprisings and rebellions because it would encourage and inspire the new generation to follow suit.
“George was a cerebral brother; he had a lot of knowledge and martial arts skills. He was teaching prisoners how to defend themselves against attacks because part of being in that environment meant you always had to be ready for self-defense. Long before the incident at Soledad, George was counseling brothers to become better human beings, to stop being predators, to become productive members of their communities once they left prison.”
George Jackson was a leader because he was so far ahead of most of us. When I first began a correspondence with him after reading his book, I was amazed by his intellect. He sent me a book list in one letter, hoping I would catch up, I’m sure.
“(T)hen read Gerassi, The Coming of the New International, The War of the Flea, Tabor, The Myth of Black Capitalism - Earl Ofari, Guerrilla Warfare - Che, The Enemy - Felix Green, Axioms of Kwame Nkrumah. I have 200 such books in here …”
In another letter, George wrote:
“(T)he contradictions that disunite, that make unitarian conduct seem impossible, remote, distant, WILL, as Mao predicted from his observations of the oppressed mentality, become less apparent and then disappear altogether with revolutionizing practice. In the throes of combat, unitarian conduct will almost flow naturally; it will not have to be contrived or strained; the pressure from without, from the enemy of all will force us to tolerate each other’s humanity.”
It’s more than troublesome to continue to see our heroic history of revolutionary struggle and sacrifice diminished, distorted and diluted by our oppressors and their lackeys, the opportunists who will jump on any bandwagon that might give them the limelight or an extra buck. It’s even sadder to see our own Black people bowing to such historic mendacity and deliberate deception.
Why don’t they allow a camera and a mic into Pelican Bay to interview Yogi? Or into Corcoran to get the truth from Ruchell?
Clearly, they don’t want to hear the truth and they don’t want this young generation to know about their true heroes and sheroes.
George Jackson was a unifying force who fought to transform the gangster mentality into a revolutionary one. He opposed racial segregation and racism. “Our inability to work with other peoples, other slaves, who have the same master, is a consequence of the inferiority complex we have been conditioned into … We need allies, we have a powerful enemy who cannot be defeated without an allied effort. The enemy at present is the capitalist system and its supporters … Anyone else with this same interest must be embraced, we must work with, beside, through, over, under anyone, regardless of external features, whose aim is the same as ours,” he wrote in “Soledad Brother.”
Of course, his internationalist views were exactly what made him such a threat, not only to the prison system but also to the society at large.
“My life is moving myself and other people into action.” And George did just that. He taught other prisoners to read and write, politicized them, helped them learn how to study and develop their minds and bodies, organized them to resist repression and dehumanization, and was known to share whatever he had.
In the months before his death, he wrote: “I’m very tired of the phony bastards selling themselves as badmen, reflex killers, super-trained and ready to rip off an old slave at random. You can’t imagine how tired I am of them. If you could crawl off into my head you’d be amazed. If it happens again, there’ll be dying.”
And dying there was. But this time, the odds were different.