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‘Black August’ honors freedom fighters

Commentary by Lamont Lilly |
August 12, 2013
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Durham, NC - On Aug. 28, 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom galvanized hundreds of thousands in the streets of the nation’s capital. On Aug. 25, 1925, A. Philip Randolph helped to establish the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Harlem, New York. It was in August 1791 that the Haitian Revolution first broke the chains of French colonialism. August marks the Nat Turner Rebellion of 1831 and Watts Uprising of 1965. It was on Aug. 8, 1978 that the Philadelphia Police Department first raided the MOVE Organization, giving way to the MOVE 9. August also bears the births of Fred Hampton, Marcus Garvey and Mutulu Shakur. Ironically, August has always been a month of African American struggle and radical resistance.

‘Black August’ is a month-long celebration that marks the remembrance of the lives of freedom fighters who gave their all for African American progress, freedom and mass consciousness. The origin of Black August was first initiated in honor of the fallen soldiers who valiantly fought to liberate George Lester Jackson from the modern day slave trade we now call the U.S. penal system.

On Aug. 7, 1970, freedom fighters – James McClain, William Christmas, Ruchell Magee, Khatari Gaulden and 17-year-old Jonathon Jackson led a courthouse rebellion in a brave display of all out resistance and armed struggle. Unfortunately, lives were lost as they typically are in any war. Magee, who is currently still incarcerated, was the only survivor. And though our heralded comrade, George Jackson was not completely freed, the efforts of Jonathon and others would inspire decades of continued resistance and revolutionary solidarity.

In 1970, George Jackson had just completed the book Soledad Brother, a philosophical revolutionary classic. Jackson however, was assassinated by San Quentin prison guards one year later on Aug. 21, 1971. His second book, Blood in My Eye was published posthumously by Black Classic Press. Jackson’s legacy has inspired millions worldwide, while his literary works continue to teach even in his physical absence. This is the background in which Black August was first formed. It was deep within the belly of the California Penal System that it was first embraced and formally established as a month of reverence, as a time of revolutionary celebration.

Inmates today have continued to protest and press forward all over the U.S. Hunger strikes have roused hundreds of thousands in states such as California, Georgia and North Carolina. Letter writing campaigns have served as vital lines of inspiration and direct communication. Human rights activists such as Mumia Abu-Jamal have served as critical catalysts, tirelessly working to empower the voices of those who continue to be oppressed by the public and private prison industry.

Today, in the spirit of continued resistance we honor the deaths of Mark Clark, Fred Hampton and Geronimo Pratt. We honor the sacrifices and life work of political prisoners, Eddie Conway, Assata Shakur and Sundiata Acoli. We honor the countless victims of COINTELPRO’s callous attacks upon the people. We duly recognize the destructive ills of capitalism and its disastrous effects upon the oppressed, worldwide. In the age of the prison industrial complex, school-to-prison pipeline and widespread police brutality, the struggle for justice and liberation is alive now more than ever.

In the 34th year of Black August, may we all take heed to the spirited words of our brother and mentor, George Lester Jackson: “Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are dying who could be saved.”

Lamont Lilly is a contributing editor with the Triangle Free Press, a Human Rights Delegate with Witness for Peace and organizer with Workers World Party. He resides in Durham, North Carolina.