August 1971: The Day the Pigs Offed Brother George Jackson

Revolutionary Worker#1230, February 22, 2004, posted at

This article originally appeared in the Revolutionary Worker (issue #618) in August 1991--20 years after George Jackson was murdered by cold blood at San Quentin Prison. For more on George Jackson's writings, see Re-Reading George Jackson by Bob Avakian.

George Jackson was eighteen in 1961 when he was sentenced to prison for stealing $70 from a gas station. In the California prison system racist attacks on Black prisoners by white-Nazi gangs and guards were intense. Jackson led others to fight back--in the beginning by organizing a Black countergang. George Jackson spent the remaining ten years of his life in prison, nearly eight of them in the solitary punishment cells. The special punishments were usually for defending or avenging others.

Heavy political winds blew into prison from ghetto streets. George Jackson became a revolutionary. He studied Marx, Lenin and Mao Tsetung and wrote, "I don't want to die and leave a few sad songs and a hump in the ground as my only monument. I want to leave a world that is liberated from trash, pollution, racism, nation states, nation state wars and armies, from pomp, bigotry, parochialism, a thousand brands of untruth, and licentious, usurious economics.''

George Jackson wrote, "We attempted to transform the black criminal mentality into a black revolutionary mentality.'' He described struggling with brothers who "think they don't need ideology, strategy or tactics. They think being a warrior is quite enough. And yet, without discipline or direction, they'll end up washing cars, or unclaimed bodies in the city-state's morgue.'' He urged unity among prisoners of different nationalities: "I'm always telling the brothers that some of those whites are willing to work with us against the pigs. All they got to do is stop talking honky. When the races start fighting, all you have is one maniac group against another. That's just what the pigs want."

The Black Panther Party made George Jackson a Field Marshal. His articles appeared in the party press, the Black Panther newspaper.

In January 1970 a guard at Soledad State Prison shot three Black prisoners dead in an exercise yard. Three days later a grand jury ruled the killings were justifiable homicide. Half an hour later, a white guard was found beaten to death. George Jackson and two other prisoners were charged with killing the second guard.

The growing radical movement outside prison walls took up the defense of these three "Soledad Brothers." And Jackson's first book, Soledad Brother,found an eager audience.

Revolutionary Threats to the System

The San Francisco Chronicle later wrote (Aug. 24, 1971): "There was something new. Inmates were showing signs of organized radical groups, not just within single prisons, but reaching from prison to prison around the nation's scattered system of penal institutions."

Such developments threatened the system. The normal brutal operations of the prison system were exposed and denounced broadly in society. Even more, the prisoners themselves were emerging as an important revolutionary force, allied with other sections of the people.

On August 7, 1971 Jonathan Jackson (George's 17-year-old brother) walked armed into the Marin County Courthouse. He liberated three men who were there on trial. Together they took hostages and demanded freedom for the Soledad Brothers. A major shootout ended in four dead, among them Jonathan Jackson and Judge Haley.

The Assassination of George Jackson

George Jackson was a powerful voice in revolutionary times. The trial of the Soledad Brothers was coming up at the end of the summer of 1971, and the powers expected that George Jackson would put them on trial for their tremendous crimes. And they wanted him dead.

On August 21, 1971 the authorities killed George Jackson. The full details of that day may never be known. But this much is known: they murdered this revolutionary brother in cold blood to silence him.

The Official Version of Events: The authorities claimed that Panthers outside had put an automatic pistol, ammunition and an Afro wig into a small tape recorder. George Jackson's lawyer was supposed to have smuggled the tape recorder to Jackson in prison. George, they claimed, hid the gun under the Afro wig, planning to stash it in his cell for a later escape. He then supposedly walked, wearing this gun and wig, 50 yards to the triple maximum security of San Quentin's special "Adjustment Center." There they claimed that an alert guard saw something shiny in his hair. Jackson supposedly made a break for it, sparking an uprising. The authorities said Jackson finally ran out into the prison yard, gun in hand, heading for a 20-foot wall, and was mowed down by gunfire. The officials claimed they found a 9mm automatic. Police records traced the weapon to BPP Field Marshal Landon Williams.

This story had been set up so that the authorities could arrest George's contacts and comrades. His lawyer feared assassination and went underground for fourteen years. Landon Williams was arrested.

Prison authorities were so arrogant that they didn't even bother to construct a careful lie. They assumed they would be automatically believed, as they had so many times in the past.

But Jackson's lawyer had gone through a battery of metal detectors and searches and could hardly have brought in a gun and ammo without police approval.

The San Francisco Chronicle hired a model to reproduce the police story of the "gun under the wig": "The model's attempt to hide the gun by lifting the front of the wig and sliding the weapon onto the top of his head failed. He eventually removed the wig, placed the gun inside and forced the hairpiece back on his head with some struggle. The wig was obviously askew, and with every step he took, the gun wobbled dangerously, bringing his hands instinctively to his head." The automatic stuck three inches out from under the model's wig.

The police produced a gun that had once belonged to Panther leader Williams. But it had been confiscated by the FBI after an arrest in 1969. It was planted in the San Quentin prison yard--and is evidence of direct involvement by the FBI's COINTELPRO program in this assassination. Louise Tackwood, one of COINTELPRO's own agents, later said the murder plot involved California authorities and the prison guards.

The most likely events: As Jackson was led out of the meeting with his lawyer, guards tried to spring some kind of a trap. But it appears that instead Jackson succeeded in overpowering his executioners temporarily. There was a brief rebellion in that wing of the prison in which three guards and two prisoners were killed.

Inmates of the Adjustment Center later said that George Jackson did not run out into the prison yard in a futile attempt to escape. Instead, they said, he sacrified himself. Knowing he was the target, he separated himself from the other inmates and saved them from being massacred with him.

His autopsy showed that a bullet had shattered his shin, bringing him to the ground. Then a second bullet was pumped into his back at close range, killing George Jackson as he knelt on all fours. It was a summary execution.

The Memory of George Jackson

George Jackson burned with impatience for revolution--he hated to live even one more day under their rule. He was fearless.

From the oppressors' own dungeon, he called for revolutionary violence and blasted preachers of slow reform. His words moved people, and his example inspired them. George Jackson stepped into the political spotlight for only twenty short months. Though he did not develop a correct revolutionary strategy for seizing power, he was proud to call himself a communist. He used his time to speak for the revolutionary aspirations of those the system throws away without a thought:

"As a slave, the social phenomenon that engages my whole consciousness is, of course, the revolution. The slave--and the revolution. Born to a premature death, a menial, subsistence-wage worker, odd-job man, the cleaner, the caught, the man under hatches, without bail--that's me, the colonial victim. Anyone who can pass the civil service examination today can kill me tomorrow.with complete immunity. I've lived with repression every moment of my life, a repression so formidable that any movement on my part can only bring relief, the respite of a small victory or the release of death. In every sense of the term, in every sense that's real, I'm a slave to, and of, property."

"We've been made the floor mat of the world, but the world has yet to see what can be done by men of our nature. There will be a special page in the book of life for the men who have crawled back from the grave. This page will tell of utter defeat, ruin, passivity, and subjection in one breath, and in the next of overwhelming victory and fulfillment."