IN AUGUST 1971, 1 was working a menial job, my hands rough and hewn from lugging thousands of concrete blocks. I was on parole at the time, ending a 5 to 7 year sentence for selling an undercover cop a few joints. First offense. But since my return from Viet Nam, I'd been organizing against the war--effectively. That was a far greater crime than the joints.
ON AUGUST 21st, I heard the news that the brother I knew as Comrade George had been murdered in the prison yard of San Quentin. The first shot from a guard's rifle had hit George in the leg, and dropped him to his knees. The second shot was put through his skull and killed him. The man I admired most in the world was dead.
I WAS STILL CONSUMED with grief and rage when, three weeks later, New York State Police stormed Attica Prison and systematically murdered 29 prisoners in what became known as the Attica Rebellion and Massacre. Like everywhere else, most of the prisoners were Black or Latino.
GEORGE JACKSON was a new breed of political prisoner. At the time of his death, he had already spent half of his life in prison for a $70 robbery. Imprisoned on a criminal charge, George proceeded to change his life, and the lives of others. He became politically conscious, a skilled organizer and member of the Black Panther Party. He received international acclaim with the publication of his first book Soledad Brother. The Prison Writings of George Jackson, which contained an introduction by French author Jean Genet.
SOLEDAD BROTHER became a fundamental writing of Black militancy. George's writing projected the spirit of Black people who have experienced centuries of racism, economic exploitation, and violent repression.
THIS BOOK was followed by a second, Blood in my Eye, with its focus on armed resistance to the systemic violence of the State. He made it clear that if there are to be funerals, they will be on both sides.
THE EXECUTION WARRANT for George came down the moment his influence as a leader in the Black Liberation struggle was felt beyond the confines of his prison cell. Wherever and whenever Black women and men begin to assert effective leadership, they become targets of assassination or imprisonment. From the fallen leaders of slave revolts to the murders of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Fred Hampton, and dozens of Black Panthers, this country has repeatedly demonstrated it will not tolerate a movement that fights for the human rights and aspirations of Black people.
Wherever and whenever Black women and men begin to assert effective leadership, they become targets of assassination or imprisonment....
LISTEN TO THE WORDS of Comrade George: "Born to a premature death, a menial, subsistence-wage worker, odd-job man, the cleaner, the caught, the man under hatches, without bail--that's me, the colonial victim. Anyone who passed the civil service examination yesterday can kill me today, with complete immunity. I've lived with repression every moment of my life, a repression so formidable that any movement on my part can only bring relief, the respite of a small victory or the release of death. In every sense of the term, in every sense that's real, I'm a slave to and of property."
THE WORDS AND PERSPECTIVE are George Jackson's but clearly we have seen a similar vein in Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela. Mandela has often pointed to the role of prisons in South Africa and the existence of political prisoners. In 1971, George recognized that certain colonial conditions existed within the borders of the United States.
LISTEN TO THE WORDS of George Jackson: "The hypocrisy of Amerikan fascism forces it to conceal its attacks on political offenders by the legal fiction of conspiracy laws and highly sophisticated frame-ups. [People] ... must understand the true function of prisons. Why do they exist in such large numbers? What is the real underlying economic motive of crime and the official definitions of types of offenders and victims?
IN 1990, the United States has more Blacks imprisoned, per capita, than South Africa. There are also well over 100 political prisoners.
MANDELA POINTS TO THE LEADING ROLE of Black people in South Africa. George Jackson wrote: "The principal reservoir of revolutionary potential in Amerika lies in wait inside the Black colony."
GEORGE RECOGNIZED that Black people in the U.S. are subjected to a form of apartheid. Since 1971, the prison system has more than doubled--satellite camps to the ghettos and projects that exist in most urban areas. One fourth of Black men in their 20's are in prison, on parole, or probation. People in Harlem have a shorter life expectancy than the people of impoverished Bangladesh. In New York, AIDS is the primary cause of death among Black women under 40; the infant mortality rate among Black babies is nothing short of criminal; the cold-blooded murders of Black people by killer cops has replaced the lynch rope.
I HAVE WATCHED with much interest the warm and exuberant reception extended to Mandela during his recent tour of the country. People say we need a hero in these difficult times. Mandela is certainly an inspiration--a person of great courage and principle. He told the American people we need to deal with our own internal affairs and reiterated the ANC's position that they are opposed to white supremacy wherever it raises its ugly head. He reminded us of the sacrifices and commitment of our own Nat Turner, John Brown, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and so many others.....
AND I AM REMINDED of Comrade George who made the supreme sacrifice.
AS IF FORECASTING HIS MURDER at the hands of the State, George wrote, with rage, "This monster--the monster they engendered in me will return to torment its maker, from the grave, the pit, the profoundest pit. Hurl me into the next existence; the descent into Hell won't turn me .... I'm going to charge them reparations in blood. I'm going to charge them like a maddened, wounded, rogue male elephant, ears flared, trunk raised, trumpet blaring .... War, without terms."
PUBLISHERS LONG AGO ceased to print the books of George Jackson, though many a tattered copy remains in circulation.' There is no profit to be made in the hopes and aspirations of Black people--only in their oppression. George propelled those hopes and aspirations to the top of the agenda. He stood as a symbol incarnate of Black pride and courage.
THE SPIRIT OF GEORGE LIVES on in the fertile legacy of common people's history. His blood continues to flow through the veins of young Black people lashing out at the chains of colonial subjugation. His life is not lost on those who organize against lynch mobs from Los Angeles to Bensonhurst. His legacy continues to torment the oppressor, for as long as conditions of life deteriorate for so many, the class and its functionaries will harbor the fear of resistance. Reparations WILL be paid.
His legacy continues to torment the oppressor.
I WRITE THIS from a prison cell in the locked-down, chained-up, and
poisoned prison in Marion, Illinois. Concrete blocks are still close at
hand. Throughout its history, as well as today, Marion holds the largest
concentration of political prisoners in the U.S. My cell is 20 miles from
George Jackson's grave in Vernon, Illinois. On this day I reflect on the
life of our brother who gave everything he had for the freedom of his people.
(Script for August 16, 1990 "Inside Ktes ", WORT/FM's weekly program by and about U.S. Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War)
1 Since this article was written, Blood in My Eye and
Soledad Brother have been reprinted.
Ray Luc Levasseur, 10376-016, PO Box 150160, USP Atlanta, Atlanta, GA 30315