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George Jackson’s Legacy

“We must discover the many elements within the system that cause us to restrict each other’s freedom, too, and get rid of them… Power to the people means we must learn to govern ourselves

– George Jackson, “George Jackson: Letters from Soledad,” printed in Tricontinental Bulletin, No. 58 (1971), p. 22-23.

Image: List of 99 Books found in George Jackson’s prison cell.

Image: George Jackson Lives! by Emory Douglas (1971)

George Jackson’s legacy is dynamic, kaleidoscopic and unquestioned. Since his assasination by San Quentin prison guards on August 21st, 1971, his personal and political development, sharp intellect, capacity to organize, and deep humanity have been a symbol of righteous rebellion for so many struggling against empire, prison walls and repression. Centering the list of 99 books found in his cell following his murder–the archival materials and perspectives below lift up George as an educator, theorist, writer, and revolutionary.

Prison Conditions

We attempted to transform the black criminal mentality into a black revolutionary mentality. As a result, many of us have been subjected to years of the most vicious reactionary violence by the state.

– George Jackson, “George Jackson: Letters from Soledad,” excerpts printed in Tricontinental Bulletin, No. 58 (1971), p.18.

How did incarceration shape the ways in which George Jackson’s revolutionary knowledge was created, disseminated, and received?

George Jackson’s political consciousness was significantly influenced by other politicized prisoners, a robust Black Liberation Movement in the streets, and by his experiences of incarceration and the heightened racial tensions inside. This awareness was reflected in conversations he had with family, friends, and comrades, as well as in his writings. In a letter to his lawyer, Fay Stender, he wrote of the ways in which the prison conditions he faced gave rise to a deeper understanding of how the ruling class organized themselves to maintain power:

I see the whole thing much clearer now, how fascism has taken possession of this country… the solidarity between the prison here and the court in Salinas, between the judge and the grand jury, the judge and the DA and other city officials. The institution has effectively cut me off from any relief. The unmeek have taken over this whole country, the state, the entire country… Good people, the best of our kind, they’re being locked away into special units, cell blocks, wings segregated from the general prison population and warehoused or simply killed.

– George Jackson, excerpted from “The assassination of George Lester Jackson,” Tricontinental Bulletin, No. 68 (1971), p.22

Photos taken inside San Quentin State Prison following George Jackson’s murder.

Political Education

George also understood prison as a site for the production of knowledge. As an educator, intellectual, and theorist, George’s impact was strongly felt among his comrades and peers both inside and outside of prison walls. Those who had the opportunity to study with him recall his ability to transform complex ideas into accessible information and analysis. In a letter to his lawyer, Fay Stender, George provides a sharp and concise analysis of the prison problem:

For a real understanding of the failure of prison policies, it is senseless to continue to study the criminal. All of those who can afford to be honest know that the real victim, that poor, uneducated, disorganized man who finds himself a convicted criminal, is simply the end result of a long chain of corruption and mismanagement that starts with people like Reagan and his political appointees in Sacramento… the next logical step in the inquiry would be to look into the biggest political prize of the state–the dictatorship of the Department of Correction.

– George Jackson, “The Assassination of George Lester Jackson,” in Tricontinental Bulletin, No. 68 (1971), p. 26.

US Prison Movement

In the 1960s and 70s, the US Prison Movement included individuals, organizations, and community groups both inside and outside of prison bars who were committed to fighting for the self-determination and human rights of prisoners. Prisoners fought to improve conditions inside and issued demands for their rights to education, healthcare and labor protections. On the outside, the development of prisoner support groups led to a growing body of literature about prisons, a renewed focus on the centrality of political prisoners to social movements, and alternative ways of thinking about crime and punishment. The development of the prison movement was inextricably connected to organizing from inside as well as movements for decolonization, national liberation, and civil rights which took place across the US and the world. One of the best known struggles was that of the Soledad Brothers.

Soledad Brothers

George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo, and John Clutchette became known as the “Soledad Brothers” after being falsely accused of murdering a white prison guard at Soledad Prison. This came shortly after politically active prisoner W.L. Nolan, and two other Black Prisoners, Alvin Miller and Cleveland Edwards, were shot dead by a prison tower guard. The Soledad Brothers were charged with murder not because there was evidence of such, but because they had been identified as Black militants by the prison “authorities.”

George Jackson on the Soledad Brothers

Soledad Brothers refers to more than 3 people – it means all those prisoners who unite and resist. Selection taken from interviews done in 1971 by Karen Wald.

Image: Excerpt from “San Quentin to Attica: The Sound Before the Fury,” The National Lawyers Guild, n.d.

The prison was our battleground and our battles did not take place in isolation.”

– David Johnson, Interview on George Jackson’s Legacy

Prisoner Unity

George advocated for cross racial unity inside, recognizing that prison officials would often exploit racial antagonisms as a tactic to provoke disagreements and fights among prisoners. Unity among prisoners was the prerequisite of fighting against the racism and violence of the guards. Below, hear George speak on the importance of building a unified front against the real enemy–the fascist, imperialist state.

George taught us that all people could live together. He constructed programs, starting in around 1966, which were composed of blacks, browns and whites. He attempted to use the Marxist world outlook of historical and dialectical materialism to transcend racism. He pointed out to us the commonality of our circumstances and that the same pig that had a boot up a black’s ass, just so happened to be the same identical fascist that had the same boot up this white guy’s ass. This basic truism, along with hours and years of teaching, is the cause and the birth of the present prison movement.”

– Statement from the Seventh of August Movement, in San Quentin to Attica: The Sound Before the Fury,” The National Lawyers Guild, n.d.

George Jackson – We Are All Together

George advocated for cross racial unities inside, recognizing that prison officials would exploit racial antagonisms as a tactic to provoke disagreements and fights. He insisted that the struggle against racism be directed at the prison system and the guards in particular. Selection taken from interviews done in 1971 by Karen Wald.

Theory and Literature

Image: Tricontinental Bulletin, No. 58 (1971).

…To seize power for the people and relegate fascism to the history books the vanguard must change the basic patterns of thought. We are going to have to study the principles of people’s movements. We are going to have to study them where they took place and interpret them to fit our situation here… We must take our lessons from [the people of China, Cuba, Viet Nam, and parts of Africa], reorganize our values, decide whether it is our personal desire to live long or to chance living right.

– George Jackson, “George Jackson: Letters from Soledad,” printed in Tricontinental Bulletin, No. 58 (1971), p. 24.

George became Field Marshal of the Black Panther Party and was a prolific writer and theorist, particularly on the topics of capitalism and fascism. As a Black man in the U.S., he saw himself and Black people as internally colonized. The powerful, underlying effects of white supremacy on the Black population, the unique history of American slaves and descendants of slaves is central to any analysis of American fascism.

George spoke of the political nature of incarceration and insisted that prisons and prisoners are integral to building revolutionary movements. From personal statements to full-length books, his writings exposed the realities of prisons and how they operate to the US public and the world. They also emphasized the significance of the Black Liberation Movement both inside and outside of prisons.


George’s ideas were reproduced, disseminated, and studied across the world and reflect his commitment to internationalism. As an internationalist, George recognized that the leading struggles against imperialism were the anti-colonial and socialist struggles in the Third World. A large part of his library was focused on revolutionary movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Image: Excerpt from “George Jackson Lives!” The Black Panther Party Community Newspaper, August 28, 1971.

“Enemy of the Sun” was a title among George Jackson’s list of 99 books found in his prison cell. It was a collection of Palestinian poetry, written by Samih al-Qasim. Although consistent with his ideas and politics, the title poem of the collection was mistakenly credited to George and reproduced in Black Panther Party Newspaper.

George Jackson Lives

The legacy and impact of George Jackson still resonates throughout revolutionary movements and culture. In addition to yearly commemorations of his practice and ideas (Black August), the symbol of George is present wherever there is a struggle for self-determination and justice.

Image: “Power to the People” Poster by the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL)

Image: NEPA News, Vol II, No. 7, August 1974.

For additional materials, see The Freedom Archives’ California Prison Struggles Collection.