Soledad Brother

George Jackson, Soledad Brother

A massive happy birthday to George Jackson, martyr of the struggle for freedom, leading intellectual of the Black Power movement, and a major source of inspiration for many of the best hip-hop artists.

Aged only 18, George Jackson was imprisoned for the petty crime of stealing $70 from a petrol station. In spite of the lack of evidence, he was convicted, and the judge threw the book at him, giving him a sentence of one year to life. In prison, he became known as a radical, and for that reason he was never released. When he started teaching other prisoners about the conditions that had got them into prison, and when he started organising the other prisoners to defend themselves, he was put in solitary confinement, where he did seven and a half years.

While in prison, he joined the Black Panther Party, and became one of its leading intellectuals and public figures. His books, ‘Soledad Brother’ and ‘Blood in my Eye’ are essential reading, even today.

On 21 August 1971, George Jackson was shot to death by a tower guard, who claimed George was trying to escape. As the famous writer James Baldwin put it: “No Black person will ever believe that George Jackson died the way they tell us he did.”

Jackson represented an important ideological thread within the international movement against colonialism, imperialism and racism. He was sickened by the traditional ‘left’, and felt that their lack of courage, their refusal to keep up with new developments and their comfortable middle class backgrounds prevented them from organising real change in society. He took to the Black Panther Party quickly, because he saw that it was an organisation that spoke to the street, to the dispossessed, the downtrodden; an organisation that *organised*, not just talked. In ‘Blood in My Eye’, he puts it very simply:

“We are faced with two choices: to continue as we have done for forty years fanning our pamphlets against the hurricane, or to build a new revolutionary culture that we will be able to turn on the old culture”

The historian Walter Rodney summed up George Jackson’s contribution brilliantly:

“George Jackson, like Malcolm X before him, educated himself painfully behind prison bars to the point where his clear vision of historical and contemporary reality and his ability to communicate his perspective frightened the US power structure into physically liquidating him… The greatness of George Jackson is that he served as a dynamic spokesman for the most wretched among the oppressed, and he was in the vanguard of the most dangerous front of struggle.” (see this article)

George Jackson and his brother Jonathan – who was killed while leading an incredibly audacious courtroom breakout – have been mentioned in many a hip-hop track. Check out Nas’s ‘Testify’, which he dedicates to George and Jon:

George would have been 69 years old today. We can only guess what he might have achieved by now.

“To the slave, revolution is an imperative, a love-inspired, conscious act of desperation. It’s aggressive. It isn’t ‘cool’ or cautious. It’s bold, audacious, violent, an expression of icy, disdainful hatred! It can hardly be any other way without raising a fundamental contradiction. If revolution, and especially revolution in Amerika, is anything less than an effective defense/attack weapon and a charger for the people to mount now, it is meaningless to the great majority of the slaves. If revolution is tied to dependence on the inscrutabilities of ‘long-range politics,’ it cannot be made relevant to the person who expects to die tomorrow.” (Blood in my Eye)