30th Anniversary of George Jackson's Assassination
August 21: A Day to Remember
by Karen Lee Wald <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Thirty years ago, on August 21, 1971, guards at San Quentin Prison,
California, shot and killed Black prison inmate and writer George Jackson.
For the next several days they beat, tortured and terrorized the remaining
prisoners. Six of the survivors were later charged with having assaulted
and killed several guards in the uprising that failed the murder of George
The assassination of this Black prison leader was both the culmination and
the initiation of the prison movement. George Jackson went from the
obscurity of being just another young black man marginalized by the system
and imprisoned for his marginalization (an indeterminate, life-maximum
sentence for sitting in a car while its other occupant stole $70 from a gas
station cash register -- with or without Jackson's knowledge), to the
California Penal System's most famous, and most threatening, inmate.
Famous, because when George and 2 other inmates in Soledad Prison were
accused of killing a guard in retaliation for the shooting deaths of three
other unarmed prisoners in 1970, a book of his poignant and articulate
prison letters circled the globe. Threatening to the prison officials,
guards, and those they served, because not only did he make millions aware
of the conditions in California prisons -- he succeeded in uniting prisoners
of all races against their common oppressor.
That's why the men who run the prison system and those who benefit from it
had to kill him.
His death, far from ending prisoner unity and outside support, multiplied
it. Two weeks later, Black, White and Puerto Rican prisoners in Attica
Prison, New York staged the most massive prison uprising in US history --
speaking out against the assassination of George Jackson and the prison
conditions he had so effectively denounced. The State of New York responded
with typical, wanton brutality, leaving the prison yard strewn with the dead
and wounded, men who only wanted to be heard to demand basic human rights.
His life and death led to other spin-offs, as well. Angela Davis, accused of
having masterminded and supplied the guns used by George Jackson's teenage
brother Jonathan in a 1970 attempt to free the Soledad Brothers, was
captured and underwent her own trial. The jury in her case saw through the
lies and brutality of the police and prisons, and acquitted her -- as they
later did with the surviving Soledad Brothers and most of the San Quentin 6.
On August 21, 1971, the prison guards shot and killed a man, George Jackson.
But the prison movement he inspired did not die so easily. Wherever men and
women are unjustly imprisoned, they recall his defiant and unitary spirit.
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