Pssst! I heard everyone talking about Black August, but I really don’t know what it is, it’s August 31st, and I never got around to doing my Googles. It’s cool. We’ve got you covered.
Black Americans are still fighting to survive in a societal system deeply rooted in white supremacy and anti-blackness nearly two centuries after the abolishment of slavery and five decades since the eradication of Jim Crow. It’s been 250 years and Black Americans are still impacted by their oppression in ways that impact our spiritual, physical and mental health. It’s exhausting. Not only for those of us in this country, but also for our brothers and sisters across the diaspora. Oftentimes, our fight to exist pulls us away from self-care and cultural preservation. It’s imperative we allow ourselves to have a moment of reflection and renewal in our journey forward. The month of August was specially designated for just that.
Delivered from the confines of the California penitentiary system, Black August is, at its simplest, a month of remembrance and resistance that began in in 1979. During the month, we are encouraged to honor our great revolutionaries who have fallen victim to this nation’s brutality and to educate ourselves about the history of black resistance.
It all began in 1960 when 18-year- old George Jackson received a one-year to life sentenced to after being convicted of robbery. He had been accused of stealing $70 from a Los Angeles gas station. Although he maintained his innocence, Jackson was encouraged by his court-appointed lawyer to plead guilty in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence. Jackson spent the next decade between San Quentin and Soledad State Prison, seven and a half of those years spent in solitary confinement.
Jackson used this time to educate himself. Meant to disenfranchise, solitary created a space for Jackson to transform himself into a writer and resilient political leader, particularly for his fellow incarcerated black brothers. He, along with other inmates, founded the Black Guerilla Family. Together, BGF co-founders Jackson, W.L. Nolen, Khatari Golden and others fought against the racial and state violence that fermented in the walls of Californian prisons.
They met brutal circumstances with pride and violent resistance. Rather than having allowed themselves to be suppressed, they resisted through direct combat with prison guards, officials and incarcerated white supremacist leaders. In the summer of 1969, Nolen petitioned against the officials of Soledad State Prison, insisting they’d purposely put the lives of the black inmates in jeopardy. A little less than a year later, on January 13, Nolen, Alvin Miller and Cleveland Edwards were all assassinated by Soledad prison guards after a racially-charged altercation erupted between inmates on the yard.
On August 7, 1970, George’s younger brother Jonathan Jackson was assassinated outside the Marin County California courthouse after attempting to free three Black Liberation Fighters. The only surviving Liberation Fighter of that incident, Ruchell Magee, is still incarcerated today.
Comrade George Jackson was assassinated August 21, 1971 by San Quentin prison guards, in an attempt to destroy the black revolutionary inside California’s prison resistance movements. However, six Black and Latino inmates retaliated by killing three prison guards. They would become known as the San Quentin Six. The final blow came with the murder of another powerful BGF leader, Khatari Gaulden, August 1, 1978, after he was purposely denied medical treatment following a mysterious accident on the yard of San Quentin.
August 1979 marked the official beginning of Black August. It was recognized as a time for the diasporic family to join together and honor the lives of our fallen soldiers, practice self-care and promote community and economic building. To observe Black August, individuals are encouraged to fast, exercise, patron black-owned businesses, abstain from alcohol and drug usage (unless medically required), and much more. As a community, we are encouraged to educate ourselves and each other about black resistance movements that occurred in August such as Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion, the Haitian Revolution, the March on Washington, the Watts Rebellion and the Philadelphia MOVE Bombing. It is also a time to honor the lives of some of our greatest Freedom Fighters who were born in the month of August, like Marcus Garvey and the Jackson brothers.
Black resistance is far from a thing of the past. The current climate of racial, social and political unrest can attest to that. From the streets of Ferguson to the campuses of Charlottesville, black resistance and survival are as important as ever. Now you’re ready for next August … or September.