RUCHELL CINQUE MAGEE AND THE AUGUST 7TH COURTHOUSE SLAVE REBELLION
By Kiilu Nyasha, email@example.com
"Slavery 400 years ago, slavery today, it's the same but with a new name".
-- Ruchell Cinque Magee
I first met Ruchell Cinque Magee in the holding cell of the Marin County
courthouse in the Summer of 1971. I found him to be soft-spoken, warm and a
gentleman in typically Southern tradition. We've been in correspondence
pretty much ever since. In fact, I received a letter last week with Ru's
suggestions on how we might save BLU Magazine.
I had just returned to California from New Haven, Connecticut, where I had
worked as an organizer and a member of the legal defense team of three
Black Panthers, including Party Chairman Bobby Seale, on trial for murder
and conspiracy. The second trial resulted in a true people's victory, May
24, 1971. We had kept the New Haven courtroom jam-packed throughout the
joint trial of Seale and Ericka Huggins that resulted in a hung jury. But
the obviously racist judge had to dismiss it due to the enormous publicity
and state expense incurred due to huge crowds and tight security.
In my correspondence with George Jackson, author of the bestseller, Soledad
Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson, he had advised me to seek a
press card in order to visit him at San Quentin. In so doing, I wound up
working for The Sun Reporter, a local Black newspaper (byline Pat Gallyot),
and covering the pretrial hearings of Angela Davis and Magee.
Already familiar with courtroom injustice, racism and bias against Black
defendants witnessed in two capital trials, it didn't come as a surprise
that Ruchell was getting a raw deal in the Marin Courtroom where he was
frequently removed for outbursts of sheer frustration.
By 1971, Ruchell was an astute jailhouse lawyer. He was responsible for the
release and protection of a myriad of prisoners benefiting from his
extensive knowledge of law, which he used to prepare writs, appeals and
lawsuits for himself and many others behind walls.
Now Ruchell was fighting for all he was worth for the right to represent
himself against charges of murder, conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and
conspiracy to aid the escape of state prisoners.
Although critically wounded on August 7, 1970, Magee was the sole survivor
among the four brave Black men who conducted the courthouse slave
rebellion, leaving him to be charged with everything they could throw at
"All right gentlemen, hold it right there.we're taking over!" Armed to the
teeth, Jonathan Jackson, 17, George's, younger brother, had raided the
Marin Courtroom and tossed guns to prisoners William Christmas and James
McClain, who in turn invited Ruchell to join them. Ru seized the hour
spontaneously as they attempted to escape by taking a judge, assistant
district attorney and three jurors as hostages in that audacious move to
expose to the public the brutally racist prison conditions and free the
Soledad Brothers (John Clutchette, Fleeta Drumgo, and George Jackson).
McClain was on trial for assaulting a guard in the wake of Black prisoner
Fred Billingsley's murder by prison officials in San Quentin in February,
1970. With only four months before a parole hearing, Magee had appeared in
the courtroom to testify for McClain.
The four revolutionaries successfully commandeered the group to the waiting
van and were about to pull out of the parking lot when Marin County Police
and San Quentin guards opened fire. When the shooting stopped, Judge Harold
Haley, Jackson, Christmas, and McClain lay dead; Magee was unconscious (See
photo)and seriously wounded as was the prosecutor. A juror suffered a minor
In a chain of events leading to August 7, on January 13, 1970, a month
before the Billingsley slaughter, a tower guard at Soledad State Prison had
shot and killed three Black captives on the yard, leaving them unattended
to bleed to death -- Cleveland Edwards, "Sweet Jugs" Miller, and the
venerable revolutionary leader, W. L. Nolen, all active resisters in the
Black Liberation Movement (BLM) behind the walls. (Others included George
Jackson, Jeffrey Gauldin (Khatari), Hugo L.A. Pinell (Yogi Bear), Steve
Simmons (Kumasi), Howard Tole, and the late Warren Wells.).
After the common verdict of "justifiable homicide" was returned and the
killer guard exonerated at Soledad, another white-racist guard was beaten
and thrown from a tier to his death. Three prisoners, Fleeta Drumgo, John
Clutchette, and Jackson were charged with his murder precipitating the case
of The Soledad Brothers and a campaign to free them led by college
professor and avowed Communist, Angela Davis, and Jonathan Jackson.
Magee had already spent at least seven years studying law and deluging the
courts with petitions and lawsuits to contest his own illegal conviction in
two fraudulent trials. As he put it, the judicial system "used fraud to
hide fraud" in his second case after the first conviction was overturned on
an appeal based on a falsified transcript. His strategy, therefore,
centered on proving that he was a slave, denied his constitutional rights
and held involuntarily. Therefore, he had the legal right to escape slavery
as established in the case of the African slave, Cinque, who had escaped
the slave ship, Armistad, and won freedom in a Connecticut trial. Thus,
Magee had to first prove he'd been illegally and unjustly incarcerated for
over seven years. He also wanted the case moved to the Federal Courts and
the right to represent himself.
Moreover, Magee wanted to conduct a trial that would bring to light the
racist and brutal oppression of Black prisoners throughout the State. "My
fight is to expose the entire system, judicial and prison system, a system
of slavery.. This will cause benefit not just to myself but to all those
who at this time are being criminally oppressed or enslaved by this
On the other hand, Angela Davis, his co-defendant, charged with buying the
guns used in the raid, conspiracy, etc., was innocent of any wrongdoing
because the gun purchases were perfectly legal and she was not part of the
original plan. Davis'lawyers wanted an expedient trial to prove her
innocence on trumped up charges. This conflict in strategy resulted in the
trials being separated. Davis was acquitted of all charges and released in
June of 1972.
Ruchell fought on alone, losing much of the support attending the Davis
trial. After dismissing five attorneys and five judges, he won the right to
defend himself. The murder charges had been dropped, and Magee faced two
kidnap charges. He was ultimately convicted of PC 207, simple kidnap, but
the more serious charge of PC 209, kidnap for purposes of extortion,
resulted in a disputed verdict. According to one of the juror's sworn
affidavit, the jury voted for acquittal on the PC 209 and Magee continues
to this day to challenge the denial and cover-up of that acquittal.
In any case, Ruchell is currently on the mainline of Corcoran State Prison
doing his 39th year locked up in California gulags - many of those years
spent in solitary confinement under tortuous conditions. Nearly 40 years!
In spite of having committed no physical assaults or murders. Is that not
If you would like to contact Ruchell, please write to him at the following
address: A92051, 3A 02 204, P.O. Box 3461, Corcoran, Ca. 93272
The article above was written for the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. You
can access the Bay View at http://www.sfbayview.com. But there's a photo
spread that might only be available in the newspaper itself. Feel free to
distribute widely in keeping with "Each one teach one."
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