What is Black August?
By Broderick Dunlap
Contrary to popular belief, Black history is not confined to the 28 days of February. From the Haitian Revolution to the Nat Turner Rebellion, the Watts Uprising, the March on Washington and the inception of the Underground Railroad and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the fight for Black Liberation has been a struggle that has continued all year long, for 400 years. Over the last three months the world has seen the largest uprisings throughout the African diaspora in history, and those uprisings were not solitary or isolated to events from this year alone. The uprisings in 2020 built on the uprisings of 2014-2016, the uprisings of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, and further. It is within our tradition – the Black Radical Tradition – to struggle towards liberation.
Since its inception in the 1970’s honoring political prisoner George Jackson, Black August is a commemoration of the Black Radical Tradition and it is also a call to action: we must work to free political prisoners and all people in cages to abolish the prison industrial complex, be rigorous in our studies of Black history, and deepen our understanding of what we are up against so that we can move the needle on Black Liberation.
Like many before us, we have the task of turning words into actions – into tangible results – so that we can build a new world that is free of oppression and exploitation. History shows us this task is easier said than done.
During the rise of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements the government initiated the Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), a covert and illegal operation with the goal to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” political organizations and activists that were considered a threat to national security. This put people like Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, and Malcolm X in the crosshairs of the United States government. During the COINTELPRO era, organizers and activists were surveilled, discredited, falsely accused of crimes and thrown in jail. Others like Fred Hampton and George Jackson were outright murdered. Although the attacks of COINTELPRO have subsided for decades the fallout from the damage that they have caused are still felt today. Numerous freedom fighters remain behind bars simply for struggling for a better world during the dynamic era of the 60’s and the 70’s.
We see similarities to COINTELPRO today in the form of the FBI’s Black Identity Extremist concern, or the countless instances (widely known or not) of local police departments spying on Black activists and journalists, regardless of the instance of an uprising. And the Trump administration releasing the secret gestapo-like police force to snatch activists off the street in broad daylight in order to quell dissent.
Our fight has always had to withstand the full weight of the ruling class. They have used a number of ways to try and strip us of our hard fought victories and our dignity, their number one tool is through the criminal justice system. Someone who boldly and tirelessly worked to expose this was George Jackson, an integral figure in the commemoration of Black August who continues to inspire many inside and outside of prison.
George was arrested and convicted in 1961 for stealing $70 from a gas station. He was outrageously sentenced to one year to life in prison. It was in prison that he became radicalized and before he began reading the works of Marx, Lenin and Mao he had more than 40 disciplinary actions and spent 7 years in solitary confinement. Jackson is quoted as saying, “I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me”.
Jackson’s political awakening caused a sharp change not only in his behavior, but in his overall outlook. He described this change and going from a criminal mentality to a revolutionary mentality and it soon spread to other prisoners. He would hold secret political study groups emphasizing international solidarity and raising the consciousness of other inmates. From inside he joined the Black Panther Party and founded the Black Guerilla Family, a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist organization of prisoners with the goals of eradicating racism, maintaining dignity in prison and overthrowing the US government.
An organized prison movement was a blatant threat to the prison system (and still is) and all that it stood for, and George became a target and the subject of repression based on his political beliefs. He not only inspired prisoners to organize for their rights in San Quentin where George was inspired, but it also had a direct influence on the Attica Rebellion. This solidarity, along with the case of the Soledad brothers and continued funneling of community leaders into prison with the help of COINTELPRO are the makings of Black August. It’s national recognition has anchored support for numerous political prisoners and has played an important role in winning their freedom.
In the early 1970’s, the revolutionary Black nationalist organization MOVE, was founded and based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. MOVE fought against the poisoning and stripping of the Earth’s natural resources and police brutality, two things we are still fighting against today. MOVE endured constant surveillance and attacks, and police raids happened on a regular basis. Debbie Africa, a member of MOVE, and eight others were falsely accused of murdering a police officer, during a police raid of their home. Even though there was no physical evidence that any MOVE members were involved they were all found guilty. In 1985, The Philadelphia Police Department also bombed the MOVE house and murdered eleven people including five infants.
In 2018, Debbie Africa was finally paroled after a 40 year stretch in Pennsylvania State Prison. Debbie Africa and the Move 9 are just a small number of a large group of revolutionaries and activists who have been jailed for their beliefs and fighting for equality. This is the type of repression we can expect to be met with as we struggle for liberation. We’ve already begun to see this kind of repression under the Trump presidency.
In order to answer the call to action that is Black August, we must educate ourselves and realize where we really stand in society. We are a colonized people, members of a landless nation and not only do we have the right to fight for a new world but it is an obligation that addresses the needs of working-class Black people all over the world. The most effective way to do this is through building revolutionary organizations in our communities.
Our existence as Black people will continue to be criminalized as long as there is a profit from it if we do not educate ourselves, organize, and fight. As George Jackson said “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, that generations more will die or live butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love of revolution. Pass the torch, Join us, give your life for the people.”
No one is free until we are all free. We must fight so that a system that profits from throwing women, men and children in cages no longer exists. We cannot forget the people that sacrificed so much for us to be where we are now and we have to continue to push the Black Radical Tradition forward.