Black August started in a California prison then spread throughout the U.S. penal system. Eventually, it poured out to Black communities and is a re-emerging month-long observation. Photo credit: Isha Gaines of Create Her Stock

‘Until revolution has become our normal rhythm.’ Reflections on the past, preparing for the future during Black August

Activists fight against racial disparities in a month-long observance seeking justice for Black folk in the U.S. and around the world.

Beginning with the resistance of George Jackson, Black August is a Revolutionary’s time to reflect and celebrate. Irrespective of its humble start, observers today commemorate Jackson’s imprisoned struggle by adhering to his wisdom regarding one’s rights — becoming a less susceptible target. 

Discipline is the name of the game, and participants are required to whet their minds and bodies. “Black August is also anchored in the idea [of] trying to get our minds, our bodies, our souls together so that we can organize to liberate ourselves,” said Dr. Greg Carr. 

To increase their self-awareness and knowledge of individual rights, prisoners who initiated the month-long observance, studied various subjects with hopes to vicariously empower themselves through their ancestors. As well as, to avoid not knowing their rights when dealing with law enforcement. To them, maintaining a healthy temple, which is their body, contributes to a sound mind. Two popular, easily accessible ways to do so are to fast and exercise. 

Where do we begin?

“Patience has its limits. Take it too far, and it’s cowardice,” said author and revolutionary Jackson in a letter written to his parents while incarcerated from San Quentin prison. 

At the age of 18, Jackson was incarcerated in 1960 for allegedly stealing $71 from a gas station in California. Subsequently, he was sentenced to one year to life. There were several attempts to break Jackson’s mental and physical state. He was subject to solitary confinement for seven of the ten years of his sentence.  It was there that his famous letters from prison were written –later published in the 1970’s Soledad Brother.

| Read: Aging and incarcerated: U.S. political prisoners face ‘execution by medical neglect’

Afterwards, Jackson co-founded the Black Guerilla Family with fellow inmates George “Big Jake” Lewis, James Carr, W.L. Nolen, Bill Christmas and Torry Gibson. Founded  in 1971, the organization was formed to change the Black mentality. After his assassination, the collective sought to celebrate acts of Black defiance like that of Jackson and other political prisoners with the establishment of Black August in 1979. 

Today, oppression and exploitation still echo in prison walls. Here are some ways people still resist during the Black August:

Abstinence

The purpose of fasting is to break the ties that bind you to food and material things in order to focus your attention on improving yourself. In the same way, Black August observers fast to discipline themselves in hopes of changing their mindset to a revolutionary one. 

“We must fast cause who feeds you controls you,” Black August Resistance tweeted.  “We must fight to dare to invent the future . . . we must study & train until revolution has become our normal rhythm.” 

To that end, the Black Theology Project is hosting a nationwide fast from sunrise, or 6:00 am, to sundown, or 8:00 pm. Participants eat one healthy meal before sunrise and one after sunset. Ending their observance, a traditional feast is held to break the fast on the last day of the month to honor past and present sacrifices made. Practitioners are also encouraged to abstain from using drugs, ingesting mind altering herbs and consuming alcoholic beverages, and shopping at large corporations throughout the month.

“The social structure that Black August came out of in the modern world system [was] capitalism,” said Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Chair of the Afro-American Studies Department at Howard University, Dr. Greg Carr. For this reason, many are encouraged not to shop at any corporate stores, fast food establishments or vendors.

Study 

George Jackson did not go into prison a revolutionary. But being Black and imprisoned in America turned him into one.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Black inmates make up 38.2 percent of the prison population while 30.4 percent of the inmates are Hispanic. Included in that population are many prisoners who have been arrested unjustly and are poorly educated. 

“For the first four years I’ve studied nothing but economics and military ideas…We attempted to transform the Black criminal mentality into a Black revolutionary mentality,” wrote Jackson in his book entitled, Soledad Brothers.

In the same way, observers immerse themselves in new African history, and revolutionary theory via politics and criminal justice education. Created by a group of inmates, prison organizers and human rights activists, George Jackson University transformed the United States prison system — also referred to as the prison industrial slave concept (P.I.S.C).

“George Jackson… 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 U.S. power structure into physically liquidating him,” Liberation School tweeted.

Enrolled students can expect a curriculum consisting of Pan African studies and “New Afrikan” Criminology. Political Science and Education are also subjects that will be studied. Additionally, students will have access to a number of core subjects.

Book review groups and study sessions is an often practice during Black August. Photo credit: Isha Gaines of Create Her Stock

Training bodies and behaviors

“As a result [of a peaceful assembly], each of us has been subjected to the most vicious reactionary violence of the state,” articulated Jackson in his book Soledad Brothers. Inside prison walls, the organizing and educating of prisoners was deemed a threat.

Additionally, legal aptness and knowing your rights when dealing with law enforcement are detailed. Bystander Intervention 101 offers a course on oppressive interpersonal violence and harassment. Cop Watching 101 provides training in basic cop watching methods, safety considerations and laws.

Further, the People’s Response Team of Chicago is offering training on how to watch cops and intervene as a bystander.“At PRT [The People’s Team of Chicago], we facilitated training[s] on basic legal rights when interacting with police, cyber-security, anti-raid, and anti-deportation tactics. We led city-wide campaigns for police accountability and transformative demands,” explained PRT organizer, lawyer, and facilitator, Timmy Chau. 

Using the tools

Due to the renewed interest in social justice following the civil unrests across the world in summer 2020, there are a number of internet petitions circulating dedicated to freeing political prisoners — the petition of Ruchell Magee is among them. 

Black August Resistance tweeted “We can and MUST free Ruchell Magee, the longest held political prisoner in the United States.” 

In 1963, Magee was convicted of aggravated kidnapping after a $10 dispute over marijuana when he was 23 years old. Magee said his arrest was based on fraudulent charges disavowing his constitutional rights. Yet, the possibility of release was slim to none, especially during the Jim Crow-era in Louisiana.   

In his mind, the only way to have a fair trial was to get in front of television and radio. Thus, he participated in Marin County’s prison rebellion led by revolutionary and Jackson’s younger brother, Jonathan. As the sole rebellion survivor, Magee was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

While there, he earned the reputation as a lawyer for the people by offering his assistance to other inmates and filing lawsuits. Currently, his petition has 935 signatures.

| Read: Burn Motherfucker, Burn: Minneapolis protests escalate into the night

 “Once the facts can be clearly established and shown to the people where these dogs are practicing slavery under the color of law, then this automatically requires a special investigation by the people to look for themselves. They will find that these judges are criminals,” laments  Magee as per his website.

Similarly, the son of activist and former Black Panther leader H. Rap Brown, Kairi Al-Amin, also known as Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, is petitioning for his father’s release. Brown was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Fulton County Sheriff’s Deputy Ricky Kinchen, and wounding his partner Deputy Aldranon English, in 2002. On the FBI watch list since the 1970’s, Brown contested that his constitutional rights were violated. His lawyers argued that the trial judge should have allowed them to question the FBI agent present during his arrest.

Brown’s defense team believes someone else shot at Kinchen and his partner. White Hall, Georgia resident, Kourtney Davis testified that he looked out a window at his home and saw two FBI agents firing automatic rifles from behind an SUV. As well, Forensic Toxicology expert Dr. David Benjamin testified that English was disoriented by painkillers when he picked Brown out in a line up several days after the shooting. To no avail, a federal appeals court rejected his challenge of imprisonment. 

| Read: Black political prisoners such as Jamil Al-Amin are not forgotten

Presently, his son Kairi Al-Amin is petitioning Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard and Director of the Conviction Integrity Unit Aimee Maxwell for a new trial. Al-Amin hopes that his father can finally plead his case. Currently, his petition has over 73,000 signatures.

“If we don’t commit to action, the same action he dedicated himself to for the entirety of his life, the same action many of you are benefiting from, while he sits suffering silently, then we’ve turned our backs on…our brother and we should be ashamed of that,” said Kairi Al-Amin

Today, the world swells with the presence of political prisoners. Their sentiments still carry weight both in and outside of lockup. Despite the various forms of commemoration, Black August observers share the same fundamental concern – resistance in struggle.

Journalist established in 2001, inspired by transformative leads.

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