George Jackson (Black Panther)

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George Jackson
Book cover, Soledad Brother by George Jackson.jpg
Cover of Soledad Brother
Born George Lester Jackson
(1941-09-23)September 23, 1941
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died August 21, 1971(1971-08-21) (aged 29)
San Quentin, California, U.S.
Cause of death Shooting
Nationality United States
Known for Prison activist[1] and cofounder of the Black Guerrilla Family
Parent(s) Lester and Georgia Bea Jackson
Relatives Jonathan Jackson (brother)

George Lester Jackson (September 23, 1941 – August 21, 1971) was an African-American author, a member of the Black Panther Party, and co-founder of the Black Guerrilla Family. Jackson saw himself as a Marxist and was fond of quoting leftwing ideology but in his writings he reveals himself to be an anti-white racist and fascist with no sympathy for women's rights. He came to fame as one of the Soledad Brothers and was later shot dead by guards in San Quentin Prison following an unsuccessful escape attempt which left Jackson and four others, including a judge, dead.


Born in Chicago, Illinois, Jackson was the second son 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 $70 from a gas station at gunpoint and at age 20 was sentenced to serve one year to life in prison.[3]

During his first years at San Quentin State Prison, Jackson was found guilty of assaults on guards and fellow inmates. Such behavior meant that he was not eligible for parole and early release. He effectively sentenced himself to remain incarcerated. He had a lawyer and wrote to her but she was unable to do much for him while he continued to re-offend. 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] In speaking of his ideological transformation, Jackson remarked "I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me."[6]

As Jackson's disciplinary infractions grew he spent 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," bestsellers that 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 amass a following of inmates including whites and Hispanics although with less enthusiasm than his fellow black inmates.[7]

According to David Horowitz, Jackson joined the Black Panther Party after meeting Huey P. Newton in jail.[8]

In January 1969, Jackson and Nolen were transferred from San Quentin to Soledad prison.[9] On January 13, 1970, Nolen and two other black inmates were shot to death by guard Opie 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.”[10]

On January 17, 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 Soledad’s Y wing[11] 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.[12]

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 sawn-off shotgun that had been fastened to his neck with adhesive tape by the abductors. Thomas, Magee and one of the jurors were wounded.[13] 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.[14] Magee is currently imprisoned in Corcoran State Prison and has lost numerous bids for parole.


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 9 mm pistol from beneath the wig and said "Gentlemen, the dragon has come"—a reference to Ho Chi Minh.[15] It isn't clear how Jackson obtained the gun. Bingham, who lived for 13 years as a fugitive before returning to the United States to face trial, was acquitted of charges that he smuggled a gun to Jackson.[16]

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 Rubico had been shot and stabbed as well, but survived.[17] 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.[18] Jackson was killed just three days prior to the start of his murder trial for the 1970 slaying of guard John Mills.[19]

Three inmates were acquitted and three were convicted for the murders: David Johnson, Johnny Spain and Hugo Pinell.[20] They became known as the San Quentin Six.[21]

There is some evidence, however, that Jackson and his supporters on the outside had planned the escape for several weeks. Three days before the escape attempt, Jackson rewrote his will leaving all royalties as well as control of his legal defense fund to the Black Panther Party.[22] Some Black Guerrilla Family members claimed that Newton had used his contacts within Soledad to hamper Jackson’s release as he did not want a potential rival for power to be freed.[23][24]

Jackson's funeral was held at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in Oakland, California on August 28, 1971.[25]

Writings and Political Philosophy

Soledad Brother which contains the letters that he wrote from 1964 to 1970, reveals Jackson to have been a thorough-going anti-white racist, black supremacist, and fascist. He reserves the term "Man" exclusively for black people. He insists that black people are superior to whites and that he is highly intelligent, although he is not fully able to explain why in that case he is where he is. He frequently advocates violence, glories in the violence he has carried out and thinks that he is a revolutionary rather than just an unsuccessful criminal. The book was reprinted several times, with an introduction by Jean Genet the French homosexual jailbird and sociopath.

In Soledad Brother Jackson wrote, "I could play the criminal aspects of my life down, but then it wouldn't be me." He admits that even as a young child, "I served mass so that I could be in a position to steal altar wine." His idea of fun was to deliberately set a large tank of oil on fire. "My disposition for guns and explosions was responsible for my first theft...Downtown we plundered at will." He describes how the age of fifteen he stole his father's car and crashed it into a shop window. The shop owners brought no charges. He writes, "Love of self and kind is the first law of nature" and complains when his mother sends him a birthday card with a picture of white people on it. He writes with contempt of Europeans who according to him "do not possess the quality of rational thought" (p.43-44) then goes on to say "This is a predatory man's world. The real world calls for a predatory man's brand of thinking." He writes with disapproval of women who aspire beyond a domestic role. "The white theory of the emancipated woman is a false idea" and leads to "the breakdown of the family unit." [26]

Jackson's rabid racism, his advocacy of violence, and his naive enthusiasm for Marxist theory set him far apart from the Civil Rights movement as led by Dr Martin Luther King. While his friends in the Black Panther movement such as Angela Davis elevated him to the status of a martyr, that is not a universally accepted view.

In popular culture

Many notable artists and entertainers have dedicated their work to Jackson's memory or created works based on his life. A non-album single was released by Bob Dylan, "George Jackson" about the life and death of Jackson. The song made the American charts peaking at #33 in January 1972.[27]

Ja Rule named his 2003 album after Jackson's book, Blood in My Eye. Saxophone player Archie Shepp dedicated most of his album Attica Blues (1972) to the story of George Jackson ("Blues for Brother George Jackson") and the Attica prison riots that followed. Stephen Jay Gould wrote, in his 1981 book The Mismeasure of Man, of George Jackson's death in a context of racial bigotry, "George Jackson ... died under Lombroso's legacy, trying to escape after eleven years (eight and a half in solitary) of an indeterminate one-year-to-life sentence for stealing seventy dollars from a gas station",[28] but omits to say that Jackson had held a man at gunpoint, this being only the last in a string of armed robberies and assaults, and that he would very soon have got parole if he had not continued to be seriously violent in jail.

Jackson's life and death were the topic of one of the many audio tapes recorded at the Jonestown commune in Guyana during 1978. In the tape in question, Jones' tirade, touches on several issues relating to Jackson, most notably Jones' firm belief that Jackson's death was a racist assassination. His admiration for the Black Panther activist on the tape is as clear as his disgust that the follower could think he was remotely in the same league as Jackson. Jones states at least twice during the 45 minute recording that "people like [the follower] killed George Jackson."[citation needed]

Stanley Williams dedicated his 1998 book Life in Prison in part to George Jackson. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's response to Williams' appeal for clemency said that this dedication was "a significant indicator that Williams is not reformed and that he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems."[citation needed]

The 2007 film Black August is a retelling of the last fourteen months of Jackson's life.[29]

British reggae band Steel Pulse included two songs about George Jackson in their 2004 album African Holocaust: "George Jackson", and "Uncle George", which was previously released on Tribute to the Martyrs.[citation needed]

In Part II, "Cargo Rap," of the novel Higher Ground (1989) by Caryl Phillips, the muse for the character Rudy seems to be George Lester Jackson.[30]

See also


  1. Murrin, John; Paul E. Johnson; James M. McPherson (2008). Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People, Compact. Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth. p. 1136. ISBN 978-0-495-50243-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Cummins, Eric. The Rise and Fall of California’s Radical Prison Movement. Stanford University Press. p. 155. ISBN 978-0804722322.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "America's fortress of blood: The death of George Jackson and the birth of the prison-industrial complex". Salon. Retrieved September 7, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Cummins, pg 156
  5. James, Joy. Imprisoned Intellectuals: America's Political Prisoners Write on Life, Liberation, and Rebellion. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 85. ISBN 978-0742520271.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Jackson, George (1994). Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. Chicago Review Press. p. 16. ISBN 1613742894.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Cummins, pg 157
  8. Horowitz, Davis (November 10, 2006). "The Political Is Personal". Front Page Magazine. Retrieved February 11, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. James, pg 85
  10. Cummins, pg 164
  11. Cummins, pg 165
  12. "Day of the Gun: George Jackson".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Justice: A Bad Week for the Good Guys". TIME. August 17, 1970. Retrieved August 8, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Associated Press (January 23, 1975). "Magee Gets Life Term". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved August 11, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Andrews, Lori. Black Power, White Blood: The Life and Times of Johnny Spain. Temple University Press. p. 158. ISBN 978-1566397506.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. San Quentin profile,, June 28, 1986.
  17. Cummings, pg 209
  18. Andrews, pg 162
  19. "Attempted Escape At San Quentin Leaves Six Dead". Bangor Daily News. Bangor, Maine. UPI. August 23, 1971. pp. 1, 3. Retrieved October 23, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Milwaukee Journal. Costly San Quentin 6 Trial Ends With 3 Convictions. August 13, 1976
  21. Bernstein, Lee (2010). "The Age of Jackson: George Jackson and the Radical Critique of Incarceration". America is the Prison: Arts and Politics in Prison in the 1970s. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. p. 66. ISBN 9780807871171. Retrieved July 12, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Cummings, pg 158
  23. Pearson, Hugh. The Shadow of the Panther. Da Capo Press. p. 254. ISBN 978-0201483413.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Pearson, pg 307
  25. Newton, Huey (2009) [1973]. Revolutionary Suicide. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780143105329.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson by George Jackson and Jean Genet, published 1970, reprint by Chicago Review Press, 1994.
  27. "Casey Kesem American Top 40". January 8, 1972. Retrieved August 23, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Gould, Stephen Jay (1981). The Mismeasure of Man: The definitive refutation to the argument of the Bell Curve, revised and expanded. p. 172. ISBN 0-393-31425-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Finkelman, Paul. Encyclopedia of African American History: 5-Volume Set. Oxford University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0195167795.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Phillips, Caryl. "Cargo Rap" Higher Ground. New York. Vintage Books (1989).

Further reading

External links

Jackson's writings, interview, advocacy of his views