What if Black folks in America decided they were going to chuck the deuces and take a month off from White folks? What if we took a month, outside of February, to study and learn about our own history? What if we decided we wanted to pour libations for the many lives that have been lost, and that keep being taken, as we continue to fight for the right to simply live and be Black at the same time in America?
Such a time has been designated as Black August. That’s right Black people. We have our own month outside of Black History Month, the one time a year you hear the same three names over and over again: Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, & Frederick Douglass; because they are the only Black people who’ve ever made history in America. Black August isn’t for celebrating our history, but reflecting on it and using it to create solutions. It is a month to focus specifically on all the Black people in history that refused to be enslaved or unjustly imprisoned, or those that have lost their lives in the struggle and historic figures and events who were birthed in August.
Before you begin recognizing Black August, you need to get all of the backstory that led to it being started in the first place. That means you need to know the brothers George and Jonathan Jackson.
George, a member of the Black Panther Party, co-founder of the Black Guerrilla Family, (BGF), and “lifetime husband” (they never really married) of Queen Angela Davis, was arrested on some trumped up misdemeanor theft charges when he was 18-years-old and sentenced to one-year in prison, but ended up serving eleven. Already, we have a problem. He spent the first nine years in San Quentin, predominantly in solitary confinement, before being transferred to Soledad Prison with his BGF co-founder W.L. Nolen.
Soledad had serious issues with racial conflicts between the Aryan brotherhood and Jackson and his followers, so most activities were segregated for months until inmates were forced to play nice in the prison courtyard one day, which led to an anticipated altercation. A tower guard ended up shooting and killing Nolen, and this did not sit well with brother George. A few days later, George and two other prisoners became known as the Soledad Brothers when they were charged with killing a prison guard in retaliation for Nolen’s death and they were sent back to San Quentin to await trial.
Meanwhile, back in Oakland, our sister Queen Angela Davis and George’s baby brother Jonathan Jackson were not willing to sit idly by while George was a sitting duck in prison. Angela began writing some pretty steamy love letters to George pledging her devotion to him and his release “by any means necessary.” This is where things go left.
Jonathan tried to demand George’s freedom by holding five people, including a judge and jurors, hostage from a Marin County courtroom with three other Black Panther Party members who were either on trial or serving as witnesses in the courtroom. Let’s just say, things didn’t end well or go as planned. Only one of the kidnappers, Ruchell Magee, survived and is still in prison, and one of the hostages, Judge Harold Haley, was killed in the shoot-out that ensued when the group tried to leave the courthouse.
The Marin County incident is what led to Angela Davis’s subsequent trial because the guns were purchased in her name, and George Jackson remained in prison for another year until he was killed in a revolt and prison escape attempt assisted by the San Quentin Six in August 1971.
Years later, the observation of Black August began when prisoners started wearing black arm bands, and studying Black historical events to honor the fallen in the Marin County incident, the Soledad Brothers, and all who had been unjustly incarcerated or killed in prison. They also began fasting for the entire month between sun up and sun down to recognize the sacrifice of the fallen BGF and Black Panther Party members, and they showed restraint by not having sex, drinking alcohol, or doing drugs. I know I just lost some of you. Don’t ask me how they were doing any of those things in the first place.
Black August has since spread beyond prison walls to the Black community-at-large as a month to honor all those who’ve contributed to our collective progress and all those we’ve lost unjustly to violence and systemic racism. The purpose is to come together peacefully to educate ourselves and each other about our history and strategize about ways to end racial disparities and the list of unjust deaths and imprisonment of Blacks in America by focusing on such events that took place in August. Recognition of Black August also encourages us to patronize Black-owned businesses and limit radio and television that doesn’t reflect positive images of us.
Despite the unorthodox resistance that led to its creation, Black August, in its intent, serves as a time for Black America to come together peacefully and heal, learn, study, grow, and practice self-discipline. It is a designated time to reflect on all of the historical events of Africans that have occurred in August. Births of Dr. Mutulu Shakur and President Barack Obama as well as the deaths of W.E.B. DuBois, the Jackson brothers, and now John Crawford, Mike Brown, and Korryn Gaines are recognized as they all fall in August. The first documented Africans were brought to Jamestown as enslaved people in August of 1619. Martyr Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, Henry Highland Garnett’s slave strike, the Underground Railroad, the March on Washington, and the Watts & Ferguson riots were all started in August as well and are points of reflection and study.
In this very volatile time where Black America’s faith in this country’s judicial system remains as strained as it was during the height of the political resistance aforementioned, a collective observance of reflection and self-discipline could be what we need to find the strength and focus to create solutions. Black August could serve as that much needed designated period. Lord knows we need the break so we can focus on living while being Black in America.
“Black August is a month of divine meaning, of repression and radical resistance, of injustice and divine justice; of repression and righteous rebellion; of individual and collective efforts to free the slaves and break the chains that bind us.” -Mumia Abu-Jamal