Black August has become Alternative Black History Month – WSB-TV Channel 2


WASHINGTON — (AP) — For Jonathan Peter Jackson, a direct relative of two prominent members of the Black Panther Party, revolutionary thought and family history have always been intertwined, especially in August.

It was the month in 1971 when his uncle, the famous Panther George Jackson, was killed in an uprising at San Quentin State Prison in California. A revolutionary whose words resonated inside and outside the prison walls, he was a published author, activist and radical opinion leader.

For many, February is the month dedicated to celebrating the contributions of black Americans to a country where they were once enslaved. But Black History Month has an alternative: it’s called Black August.

First celebrated in 1979, Black August was created to commemorate Jackson’s fight for black liberation. Fifty-one years after his death, Black August is now a month-long awareness campaign and celebration dedicated to black freedom fighters, revolutionaries, radicals and political prisoners, living and deceased.

The annual commemorations have been embraced by activists of the global Black Lives Matter movement, many of whom draw inspiration from freedom fighters like Jackson and his contemporaries.

“It’s important to do this now because a lot of people who were on the radical scene at that time, parents and non-parents, who are like blood relatives, are entering their golden years,” Jonathan said. Jackson, 51, of Fair Hill, Maryland.

George Jackson was 18 when he was arrested for robbing a gas station in Los Angeles in 1960. He was convicted and sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of one year to life and spent the next decade in prison Californians of Soledad and San Quentin, largely in solitary confinement. confinement.

While incarcerated, Jackson began to study the words of revolutionary theorists such as Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, who advocated class consciousness, challenged institutions, and overthrew capitalism through revolution. The founding leaders of the Panthers, including Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, were also inspired by Marx, Lenin and Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung.

Jackson became a leader of the prisoners’ rights movement. His prison letters to loved ones and supporters were compiled into the bestselling books “Soledad Brother” and “Blood in My Eye.”

Inspired by his words and frustrated by his situation, George’s younger brother, Jonathan, initiated a takeover in Marin County Superior Court in California in 1970. He freed three inmates and held several staff members hostage. from the courthouse, in an effort to demand the release of his brother and two other inmates, known as the Soledad Brothers, who were charged with killing a corrections officer. Jonathan was killed trying to escape, although it is disputed whether he was killed in a courtroom shootout or shot as he walked away with hostages.

George was killed on August 21, 1971 during a prison uprising. Inmates at San Quentin Prison began to officially commemorate his death in 1979, and from there, Black August was born.

“I certainly wish more people knew of George’s writings (and) knew of my father’s sacrifice on that fateful day in August,” said Jonathan Jackson, who wrote the foreword to “Soledad Brother” at the early 90s shortly after graduating from college.

Monifa Bandele, leader of the Movement for Black Lives, a national coalition of BLM groups, says Black August is about learning the vast history of black revolutionary leaders. This includes figures such as Nat Turner, who is famous for leading a slave rebellion on a southern Virginia plantation in August 1831, and Marcus Garvey, the leader of the Pan-Africanist movement and born in August 1887. It includes events such as the Haitian Revolution in 1791 and March on Washington in 1963, both taking place in August.

“This idea that there was this one narrow path by which black people resisted oppression is really a myth that is dispelled by Black August,” said Bandele, who is also a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a group which raises awareness about political prisoners. .

“And what we saw happening after the 1970s was that it developed outside the (prison) walls because, as incarcerated people returned home to their families and communities, they have started organizing community Black August celebrations,” she added.

The ways to honor this month also come in various forms and have evolved over the years. Some participate in fasting, while others use this time to study the ways of their predecessors. Weekly series of events are also common during Black August, from book groups to open mic nights.

Sankofa, a black-owned cultural center and cafe in Washington that has served the DC community for nearly 25 years, wraps up a weekly open-mic night Friday in honor of Black August. The event drew local residents of all ages, many of whom shared stories, read poetry and performed rebellion-themed songs.

“This month is about resisting and celebrating our political prisoners and using all the faculties at our disposal to free people who are in prison, let me say, unjustly,” he said. emcee Ayinde Sekou to the crowd at a recent event in Sankofa.

Jonathan Jackson, George’s nephew, also believes there are largely systemic reasons why Black August, and his family history in particular, are not widely taught.

“It is sometimes difficult for radicals who have not been assassinated, per se, to enter popular discourse,” he said. “George and Jonathan were never victims. They did it, and they were killed doing it, and sometimes that’s very hard to understand for people who accept political assassination.

Jackson hopes to honor the legacy of his father and uncle by documenting the knowledge of elders from that era, as a way to continue the fight.

“We need to get these testimonies. … We need to understand what happened, so that we can improve what they did. I think now is as good a time as any to do it,” he said.


Associated Press writers Aaron Morrison and Terry Tang contributed to this report.


Almaz Abedje, a DC-area native, is a member of AP’s Video Newsgathering team. Follow her on Twitter at


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