DOCUMENTS: Honor Fallen Black Freedom Fighters: Two Letters on Black August, 1979
Editors, The Black Agenda Review
Black August emerged from the “August 21 Coalitions” organized in the late 1970s to honor George Jackson, assassinated on that day in 1971. In 1979, a group of prisoners incarcerated in California’s San Quentin State Prison declared the month of August “Black August” as a tribute to Jackson, to his brother Jonathan (murdered on August 7, 1970) and to Jeffrey “Khatari” Gaulden (killed in San Quentin on August 1, 1978). Black August was also meant as an expression of solidarity with other Black political prisoners and prisoners of war, including the Pontiac 17, Earnest Graham and Eugene Allen, the Reidsville Brothers, and Imani Harris – all of whom faced life sentences or the death penalty.
The San Quentin prisoners proposed Black August as a month of sacrifice and self-discipline. Black August was also a means towards building up the Black prison community while strengthening the Black freedom struggle. It included fasting from sun-up to sunset, a refusal of television, radio, and canteen privileges, and a focus on intense political study. The abolition of the death penalty was demanded, as was the repeal of the 13th Amendment and a halt to new prison construction in California. The incarcerated men also called for the California Department of Corrections to end restrictions on visitation rights, while calling out the department out for its own participation in white supremacist attacks on Black prisoners by the Aryan Brotherhood, Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan. Those inside San Quentin were supported by those inside; on August 25, 1979, a group of 150 supporters staged a solidarity march and rally outside the prison.
To mark Black August, The Black Agenda Review will publish a series of historical statements, manifestos, and commentaries from Black political prisoners in the United States and around the world. We begin with two statements on Black August written by San Quentin inmates in 1979 and published in the radical prisoner-support journal, Arm the Spirit.
Black Cultural Development and Revolutionary Growth
“A new unitarian and progressive current has sprung up in the movement centering on political prisoners. (African prisoners in general and P.O.W.’s in particular). How can this unitarian conduct be developed further in the face of determined resistance from the establishment? How can it be used to isolate reactionary elements??… Unitary conduct implies a ‘search” for those elements in our present situation which can become the basis for joint action.” (Comrade George, “Toward a United Front”)
The month of August has a special meaning within the hearts and minds of all African Freedom Fighters in particular and progressive people of various persuasions in general, be they outside in the larger prison or captured behind the walls of concentration camps, from San Quentin and Folsom prisons in California to Pontiac, Trenton, Statesville and Attica. For sisters as well as brothers who have doggedly survived the oppressive/repressive era of revolutionary strain of the last decade in particular. Sisters and brothers who walked the path of suppression and the most inhuman brutal aggression and yet came out whole. Many of us came from this point in time in which we received our first “Great Leap Forward” in the development of Black awareness and revolutionary consciousness.
Since that time, the strain and devastation of revolutionary maturity has been surging forward daily, weekly, and yearly, and yet priceless if we are totally conscious of its historical value to us as African Freedom Fighters and professional revolutionaries. It has afforded us the necessary tempering to advance to the next stage in Nation building, in our National Liberation struggle/Black Liberation movement, and in the World Wide Socialist Revolution.
Traditionally, within the movement, the month of August has brought to mind in particular, the exemplary selfless and relentless examples of George Jackson, assassinated August 21, 1971 at San Quentin and Jonathan Peter Jackson, Comrade George’s brother and comrade, set up and murdered in front of the Marin Courthouse on August 7, 1970, when he attempted to free three comrades of which only one “Ruchell Magee” remains the sole survivor.
More recently in California in particular, and the west coast in general, comrades inside and beyond the walls pay special tribute to the fallen Comrade Jeffrey “Khatari” Gaulden who was victimized by the blatant assassination of capitalist corporate medical politics, on August 1, 1978. Comrade Khatari was the stern believer of retaining the image of the “Black Communist Guerrilla” to the highest without compromise. Also in recent years there have been August 21 Coalitions and committees organized specifically around the month of August and comrade/soldiers that were murdered during the historical month.
It is put forth that from this point on the historical month of August be called and recognized as Black August. It is further put forth that Black August be a non section effort on a mass level with emphasis on gaining a popular and broader support and active participation of Black people. Black August should and will become a progressive vehicle to contribute in the building of revolutionary struggle and culture for the Black Liberation Movement in general and Revolutionary Prison Movement particularly here on the west coast, California in particular. We trust that if/when organs such as the New African Prison Organization and others embrace this effort and it gains wider sponsorship a national strategy and principles of unity can be developed to put it even more in tune with the general strategy for our National Liberation struggle.
The Revolutionary Prison Movement is again gaining momentum behind the bars from California to Florida, as National Liberation surges forward outside on every level. It is understood that the Prison Movement is not a separate and isolated development outside the overall struggle for self-determination and independence, on the contrary it is an integral part of it and they influence each other as one front effect[s] the other.
During the 60’s and early 70’s, when what was then called the Black Power Movement, when the movement reached a high point in our struggle, and when the government was virtually defeated ideologically and politically it moved on our leaders and soldiers militarily and all of us that were not murdered in some form were sent to prison or concentration camps. And just as Comrades at the people’s work must be supported and protected outside, the same is true for the Comrades behind the walls and bars inside who face even more blatant repression and less control of their lives.
“The activity surrounding the protection and liberation of people who fight for us is an important aspect of struggle. But it is important only if it provides new initiatives that redirect and advance the revolution under new progressive methods.” (Comrade George)
There are already efforts to organize a Black August (B.A.) Committee in the Bay Area of California. Brothers and sisters interested in joining this effort, in need of more information, and that have criticism on methods to organize Black August, should write to the following address:
P.O. Box 21573
San Jose CA 95116
Message from San Quentin Adjustment Center
The month of August has a special meaning within the hearts of all freedom fighters who have lived the era of Revolutionary strain in California prisons of the last decade. We came from that point in time where the consciousness of our people got its first push, and our scorn for the enemy order led its inevitable course and delivered us to the prison gates.
Since that time the strain and devastation to Revolutionary maturity has been great and priceless if we are totally conscious of its historical value to us as freedom fighters. It has afforded us the necessary tempering to advance in our determined liberation.
August 7, 1970; the man child Jonathan Jackson took courage and carbine in hand and delivered Black consciousness to its next practical level.
August 21, 1971; Comrade George Jackson reared the head of the fire breathing Dragon and showed by his supreme Revolutionary example his relentless, selfless, devout love for the people.
August 1, 1978; Comrade Supreme Khatari who carried the ideals of attaining the image of the true Black Communist Guerrilla to the highest, was victimized by the blatant assassination of corporate medical policies. Khatari in his short time had seen it all from the desperate perspective of the doomed and in the oppressor nation. He saw the contribution of all comrades who gave us Revolutionary growth and stimulation, and then he saw the efforts of the enemy to destroy that growth. But he remained like a bridge over turbulent waters to deliver us to the other side
Within this brief presentation we attempted to give to you our decade of struggle and a few outside standing examples of those who gave their all. Needless to say there are many more, for we have always been a heroic people today and tomorrow but in recognizing our past, as Revolutionaries we must likewise take definitive steps to give it the highest possible credibility.
The month of August will become a Revolutionary cultural month called “Black August.” B. A. will be a time of building Revolutionary strength and culture. Soldiers will wear black armbands on the left arm. Each comrade will show Revolutionary initiative and creativity in all fields of practice. Going among the people and inviting them to join us. Working in the interest of the people totally. All studies will be of revolution, with strong emphasis on Comrade George.
There will be no affiliation with the enemy culture meaning radio and television. Comrades will eat one meal a day after sunset, and no water until sunset. The emphasis is placed on sacrifice, fortitude and rigid discipline. Study groups will meet daily. No loud or boastful behavior. There will be no stimulation of the enemy's economy. Meaning no canteen or packages. The needs of the people will be met by the people. Absolutely no drugs or alcoholic beverages. Brief exercise periods will take place in the morning, collectively as a show.
1979 marks the first year of a new Black Culture. It has come from the ardent struggle of ten years past and beyond. We now have convictions and dedications to show our people and the rest of humanity our worth.
Black August will become stronger and stronger as we progress toward liberation. Give your mind, body and soul to struggle.
Comrades must see the value this month in terms of righteous guerrilla culture. And learn to help one another to become strong by straining together.
If a Comrade sees how this idea can be improved upon, bring it forth immediately.
As previously stated there are mandatory requirements all soldiers will adhere to. But the overall planning of Black August activities will be dependent on each cell taking into account the particulars of surrounding circumstances.
With that in mind we propose the following:
Each collective of freedom fighters elect a Black August committee. Depending on who is available personnel wise. The duties of the committee is to coordinate and get a consensus of what would be good to build the Revolutionary sprint of B.A.
Emphasis is on reaching the people. This is non-sectarian, so all activities should have popular support, or developed toward broad support.
S.Q. Adjustment Center
Both documents originally appeared under the banner “Honor Fall Black Freedom Fighters: Build Black August Month” in the August, 1979 issue of the radical prisoner-support journal Arm the Spirit, available in The Freedom Archives.