BLACK AUGUST DEFINED
Black August is about resistance. It is an annual commemoration, rather than celebration, of our political prisoners – those who lost their lives during the 1970s in the gulags of California, along with the hundreds who are currently languishing under torturous conditions and being denied their basic human rights across the United States.
In 1979, the concept of Black August manifested outside the gates of San Quentin State Prison, in a response to a number of assassinations, state sponsored executions, and deaths related to the denial of medical treatment. One such case was that of Khatari Gaulden, a disciplined and principled leader in the Black Prison Movement who became the last man to suffer a Black August inspired death. On August 1, 1978, Khatari was playing football in the San Quentin adjustment center prison yard, when he tripped and hit his head on a pipe sticking out of the side of a brick wall. Khatari was taken to the infirmary with a severe head injury and held there for hours. The doctors in the infirmary knew immediately that they could not help him and that Khatari should be taken to a public hospital. However, the prison refused him the much needed medical care, stating they didn’t have “enough security to transport him”. Khatari Gaulden would lay in the prison infirmary long enough for authorities to see he was gravely ill, before a decision was made to transport him to Ross Hospital in Marin, California for a brain scan. After several additional hours of not being attended to, he was transferred to San Francisco General where he made his transition.
During the tenure of his 11-year imprisonment, Khatari Gaulden’s leadership, courage and accountability made him legendary, and he quickly became one of the most hated targets by the California Department of Corrections. For years, up until Khatari Gaulden’s death, the prison paid-off a number of inmates to kill him, and also hired fellow convicts to file bogus charges in an attempt to set him up for more time. They were unsuccessful. Many believe the prolonged medical treatment, which ultimately led to his demise, was the prison’s opportunity to “legally” neutralize him.
Along with Khatari Gaulden’s death, the roots of Black August date back to 1970 with the murders of three young men on the yard of Soledad Prison. These men, 21-year-old W.L. Nolen, 23-year-old Alvin “Juggs” Miller, and 21-year-old Cleveland Edwards, were involved in an altercation with members of the Aryan Nation when corrections officer Opie G. Miller, an expert marksman, opened fire and wounded the young men. The Brothers were left on the prison yard for 20 minutes until they all bled to death. According to witnesses, inmates made efforts to carry the wounded inmates off of the yard and were forced at gunpoint to cease their attempts. Four days after the murders, a prison guard was beaten and thrown from a prison tier to his death.
George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo and John Cluchette –known as “The Soledad Brothers” – were accused and charged with the retaliation. George Jackson, who was arrested at the age of 17, was serving time after being sentenced to 1 year to life in prison for allegedly robbing a gas station of $70. George was a close comrade of W.L. Nolen and was well on his way to becoming a recognized writer, freedom fighter and cultural icon. Shortly after the murders of inmates Nolen, Miller and Edwards, and the charges brought upon the Soledad Brothers, George Jackson released his first book_, “Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson.” He was quickly thrust into the international spotlight. Jackson, a recognized prison leader and organizer studied and shared revolutionary philosophies and politics. In addition, he developed and taught his team a bastardized martial arts fighting system. Huey P. Newton later drafted George Jackson as Field Marshal of the Black Panther Party.
On August 7, 1970, George Jackson’s 17 year-old brother, Jonathan Jackson, entered the Marin County Courthouse armed with several guns, including a M1 carbine, demanding the release of the Soledad Brothers. Jonathan passed guns to James McClain (who was on trial for stabbing another guard), William Christmas, and Ruchell McGee. Jonathan announced to the court officers, “Ok, gentlemen we will be taking over from here”. Taking hostage Judge Harold Haley, Deputy District Attorney Gary Thomas and juror Maria Elena Graham, the 4 men hopped into a van and attempted to escape when police opened fire on the vehicle. In the aftermath Jonathan Jackson, William Christmas, James McClain and Judge Harold Haley were all dead. The guns, which were allegedly bought by and given to Jonathan Jackson by freedom fighter Angela Davis, made her a fugitive hunted by the FBI. President Richard Nixon declared Angela Davis a “dangerous terrorist”.
One year later, August 21, 1971, 29-year-old George Jackson was assassinated by San Quentin Prison guards after they claimed he smuggled a pistol under an afro wig, returning to quarters after a visit with his lawyer. This government sponsored assassination sent a ripple effect across the globe. George Jackson’s murder set off a rebellion in which three prison guards were killed. Six brothers were accused, and labeled “the San Quentin 6”. Jackson’s assassination had such an impact, that it is said to have ignited the Attica Prison Rebellion, which took place 2 ½ weeks later at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York.
These are only a few key reasons why we have continued to commemorate Black August Resistance since its inception. It is important that we keep the spirit of Black August Resistance alive and well in its proper context. And we must be clear, Black August is not a fad or just an event; it is a practice. Each year, in the State of California, over 300 inmates are placed on lock down if they are caught with any literature or paraphernalia pertaining to Black August. On August 5, 2016, the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center put out an anti-resistance propaganda memo, with a fabricated warning that Black August was gang activity and to watch out for “increased violence” and “ambushing of police officers in dark alleys”. The memo serves as a form of propaganda used as an age-old scare tactic by the FBI for almost a century, going back to its Palmer Raids in 1919, and its counterinsurgency plan of the 1960s known as COINTELPRO. But in the words of poet Maya Angelou “Still we rise”.
FREE 'EM ALL
Political Prisoner - a Political Prisoner is someone targeted or imprisoned because of their political actions, affiliations and/or beliefs. A Political Prisoner is also a person who while in prison takes up and maintains political struggle.
Black August Interviews and Articles
2004 SF Bayview Interview w/ OG Shaka
THE YEAR OF THE ANT AND THE DRAGON: Black August Organizing Committee and The FTP Movement Unite
Hard Knock Radio: Kalonji Changa & Mama Ayana Pay Tribute to Baba OG Shaka At-Thinnin
Kumasi, George Jackson, Bunchy Carter and the Prison Movement
Black August Resistance: "Long Live the Dragon"
Rhythm United presents Black August: The Past, Present, and Future of a Black Liberation Movement
Black August 42nd Year Commemoration
The Village Market: Black August Resistance
KPFA Radio Black August Commemoration
Black August GPB/NPR Interview
Hood Communist: The Meaning of Black August