Article from WCP Newsletter
Black August: Celebrating Freedom Fighters
As part of our learning and unlearning, this month our group delved into the stories of Black revolutionaries whose struggles have paved the way for anti-racist movements today. Historically, August has been a month of Black struggle, starting with August 1619 when the first slaves were kidnapped and brought to the English colony of Virginia. This event began the era of Black oppression in what is now called the United States. August has shown up again and again in Black History:
· August 1791, St. Domingue, Haiti: slaves in the French colony led a siege against the white plantation owners.
· August 1831, Virginia: Nat Turner led the rebellion against slave owners and became a symbol of war against slavery.
· August 1925, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was formed to fight the inhumane working conditions and became the first Black labor union recognized by the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
· August 1965, Los Angeles, CA: Watts Rebellion in response to the brutal treatment of Black people by Los Angeles Police, triggered by a traffic stop which escalated into the forcible arrests of Marquette Frye for drunk driving, his brother Ronald and his mother Rena, and drew a crowd of 1000 to the scene.
· August 1970, Marin County Courthouse, CA: Death of Jonathan Jackson
· August 1971, San Quentin State Prison, CA: Death of George Jackson
· August 2020, Movement for Black Lives organizes the first Black National Convention in almost 40 years.
The deaths of the Jackson brothers led to the founding of Black August, a month-long celebration of Black freedom struggle. George Jackson was imprisoned for a year for stealing $70. While in prison, Jackson and fellow inmates Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette were falsely accused of killing a guard. The three were sentenced to death and locked up in Soledad prison. They became known as the Soledad Brothers. To expose the racist prison conditions that led to the indictment of the Soledad Brothers and to demand their release, George’s brother Jonathan organized the Marin County Courthouse Slave rebellion. He broke into the courtroom armed with guns but was cornered and killed in open fire by the courthouse guards. During the rebellion, Jonathan Jackson had guns with him that were allegedly registered in the name of Angela Davis, leading to her arrest and the subsequent “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners Campaign”. George Jackson’s political organizing in the prison made him a target and he was ultimately killed by prison guards.
Black August is a commemoration of the ongoing efforts of revolutionaries to dismantle the political-economic system that continues to oppress, unjustly incarcerate, and kill Black people. It motivates us to persist in the struggle against oppressive systems and inspire radical change in our ways of thinking, being, and treating one another. During this time when we are collectively grieving the attack on Black humans, most recently Jacob Blake on August 23, 2020, it is imperative that we commit to this work. As the saying goes, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” So, this August we ask ourselves whether we, as scientists, researchers, engineers, clinicians, administrators and students, will continue to participate in oppressive systems or work to change them.