George Lester Jackson (September 23, 1941 – August 21, 1971) was an African-American left-wing 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 to death by prison guards in San Quentin Prison during an escape attempt.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Jackson was the second of Lester and Georgia Bea Jackson’s five children. He spent time in the California Youth Authority Corrections facility in Paso Robles because of several juvenile convictions including armed robbery, assault, and burglary.[2] In 1961 he was convicted of armed robbery, for robbing a gas station at gunpoint and at age 18 was sentenced to serve one year to life in prison.[nb 1]

During his first years at San Quentin State Prison, Jackson became involved in gang activity as well as assaults on guards and fellow inmates, which was used to justify his continued incarceration on an indeterminate sentence. He was described by prison officials as egocentric and anti-social.[4] 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.[5] As Jackson’s disciplinary infractions grew he spent more and 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,” which became bestsellers and 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 did, however, amass a following of inmates including whites and Hispanics although with less enthusiasm than his fellow black inmates.[6]

According to David Horowitz, Jackson joined the Black Panther Party after meeting Huey P. Newton in jail.[3]

In January 1969, Jackson and Nolen were transferred from San Quentin to Soledad prison.[7] In January 1970, Nolen along with two other black inmates were shot to death by guard O.G. Miller during a yard riot with members of the Aryan Brotherhood. Following the death of Nolen, 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”.[8]

On January 16, 1970 Jackson was charged along with Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette for murdering guard John V. Mills, who was beaten and thrown from the third floor of Soeldad’s Y wing[9] This was a capital offense and a successful conviction could put Jackson in the gas chamber. Mills, an inexperienced rookie, was murdered, supposedly in retaliation for the shooting deaths of Nolen and the other two black inmates by officer Miller the year prior. Miller was not convicted of any crime, a grand jury ruling his actions to be justifiable homicide. [10]

Marin County courthouse incident

Main article: 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.[11] 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.[12] Magee is currently imprisoned in Corcoran State Prison and has lost numerous bids for parole.

Death

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 9mm pistol from beneath the wig and said “Gentlemen, the dragon has come”, a reference to Ho Chi Minh[13] Jackson then ordered Rubico to open all the cells and along with several other inmates they overpowered the remaining guards and took them, along with two inmates hostage. Six of the hostages were killed and found in Jackson’s cell, including guards Jere Graham, Frank DeLeon and Paul Krasnes and two white prisoners. Guards Kenneth McCray, Charles Breckenridge and Urbano Rubiaco had been shot and stabbed as well, but survived.[14] 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.[15] Jackson was killed just three days prior to the start of his murder trial for the 1970 slaying of guard John Mills.[16] Three inmates were acquitted and three were convicted for the murders: David Johnson, Johnny Spain and Hugo Pinell.[17]‎ They became known as the San Quentin Six.

Supporters of Jackson believe that his death was the result of a setup in which Jackson was provided with the gun by Rubico so prison officials would have an excuse to kill him. Intellectuals such as Michel Foucault and Jean Genet argued that Jackson’s death was a “political assassination.”[18] In his autobiography Revolutionary Suicide, Newton claimed that Jackson was “attempting to save [fellow inmates] from being massacred by guards”.[19] James Baldwin wrote: “No Black person will ever believe that George Jackson died the way they tell us he did.”[20]

There is some evidence, however, that Jackson and his supporters on the outside had planned the escape several weeks in advance. Three days before the escape attempt, Jackson rewrote his will leaving all royalties as well as control of his legal defense fund, which had become very well-funded with the donations of wealthy leftists, to the Black Panther Party.[21] Also, many Black Guerilla Family members became bitter and upset with Newton, believing Newton used his contacts within Soledad to hamper Jackson’s release as he did not want a potential rival for power to be freed.[22][23]

Jackson’s funeral was held at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Oakland on August 28, 1971.[19]

References

  1. ^ Murrin, John; Paul E. Johnson, James M. McPherson (2008). Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People, Compact. Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth. pp. 1136. ISBN 978-0-495-50243-2. http://books.google.com/books?id=4aNIeXqWz9YC&pg=PA1136&lpg=PA1136&dq=%22activist+George+Jackson+%22+-wikipedia#v=onepage&q=%22activist%20George%20Jackson%20%22%20-wikipedia&f=false.
  2. ^ Eric Cummins. The Rise and Fall of California radical prison movement. pg 155
  3. ^ a b Horowitz, David (Friday, November 10, 2006). “The Political Is Personal”. Front Page Magazine. http://archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=1608. Retrieved February 11, 2011.
  4. ^ Cummins, pg 156
  5. ^ Joy James. Imprisoned Intellectuals. pg 85
  6. ^ Cummins, pg 157
  7. ^ James, pg 85
  8. ^ Cummins, pg 164
  9. ^ Cummins, pg 165
  10. ^ “Day of the Gun: George Jackson”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5RUi_uWIys.
  11. ^ “Justice: A Bad Week for the Good Guys”. TIME. August 17, 1970. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,909547-1,00.html.
  12. ^ Associated Press (January 23, 1975). “Magee Gets Life Term”. The Milwaukee Journal. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=s9wjAAAAIBAJ&sjid=DCkEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6378,1130057&dq=ruchell+magee&hl=en.
  13. ^ Lori Andrews. Black Power, White Blood: The Life and Times of Johnny Spain, pg 158
  14. ^ Cummings, pg 209
  15. ^ Andrews, pg 162
  16. ^ “Attempted Escape At San Quentin Leaves Six Dead”. Bangor Daily News. UPI (Bangor, Maine): pp. 1, 3. August 23, 1971. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=tyw0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=QeEIAAAAIBAJ&pg=1467%2C2414109. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  17. ^ Milwaukee Journal. Costly San Quentin 6 Trial Ends With 3 Convictions. August 13, 1976
  18. ^ The Assassination of George Jackson (Intolerable 3: L’Assassinat de George Jackson) Partially retrievable at: Warfare in the American Homeland

^ a b Newton, Huey (2009) [1973]. Revolutionary Suicide. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-310532-9, 9780143105329. http://books.google.com/books?id=WvZPJyeUTUUC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

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