George Jackson

George Jackson

Notes on George Jackson.


These notes are provided as annotations to Wolk’s 1972 interview with James Baldwin.

GEORGE JACKSON (1941-1971):  Jackson is known mostly from Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson (Coward McCann, October, 1970), with an Introduction by Jean Genet (trans. Richard Howard). Also for Blood in My Eye (Jonathan Cape, 1972).

George Jackson is of course best represented in his own words: the prison letters in Soledad Brother and his book-length essay, Blood in My Eye, the manuscript handed over one week before his murder. Is it a wonder that (as for so many black American writers) its first publication was in Great Britain? Note that J. Edgar Hoover was appointed the first head of the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI) in 1924 for a ten year term, yet he remained its director until his death in 1972, the long term for reasons no longer held secret.

If my own reading of Soledad Brother is typical, I had never read such a powerful book. When I heard of George Jackson’s death, what could I do but weep?


The first letter, out of chronological sequence, is a reply to the editor who requested from Jackson a brief autobiography. A dozen pages along, Jackson tells how in 1960, when he “was accused of robbing a gas station of seventy dollars, I accepted a deal—I agreed to confess and spare the county court costs in return for a light county jail sentence. I confessed but when time came for sentencing, they tossed me in the penitentiary with one to life” (letter written from Soledad Prison, June 10, 1970). He never was paroled, that a story in itself. The temptation is to begin to quote from the subsequent letters, a temptation which would entail seemingly endless quotes.

Note that there’s a current edition with a Foreword by George Jackson’s nephew, Jonathan Jackson, Jr. The elder Jonathan Jackson was killed at age seventeen after taking hostages from the Marin County courthouse and demanding an immediate release of the Soledad Brothers. The hostages including the Superior Court judge Harold Haley, prosecuting attorney Gary Thomas, and several jurors. In the shootout, Jonathan Jackson and Judge Haley were killed. Haley was shot twice, once by the police, and once from within the car. Gary Thomas was paralyzed. Also killed were the two inmates who joined the kidnappers. Three female jurors were also among the hostages, two of whom were wounded. The guns Jackson used were registered to Angela Davis, which prompted her arrest (see the entry for Angela Davis).

Among the last letters in Soledad Brother, five are sent to Angela Davis, the first sent shortly before May 22, 1970, the others (all in 1970) on May 21, May 28, May 29, and June 4 (seventy-eight days before George Jackson’s death). My suggestion for us all is that we read Soledad Brother, not in any hurry, and ultimately in the context of the interview with James Baldwin, especially the letters to Angela Davis. For now, here is the last of those letters:

Dearest Angela,
          This is the fifth one of these (on legal paper). I hope one reaches you soon.… [All ellipses from the text] Very discouraging. But I’ll never stop trying.
          All of these brothers here with me love you. In fact, every black I’ve talked with who had an opinion at all concerning you agrees with me about you…
          One thing about this bothers me a great deal. Do you know (of course you do) the secret police (CIA, etc.) go to great lengths to murder and consequently silence every black person the moment he attempts to explain to the ghetto that our problems are historically and strategically tied to the problems of all colonial people. [Note that Jackson has been reading Franz Fanon.] This means that they are watching you closely. I worry. If something happened to you I just wouldn’t understand.
          It’s no coincidence that Malcolm X and M. L. King died when they did. Malcolm X had just put it together (two and two). I seriously believe King knew all along but was holding out and presenting the truth in such a way that it would affect the people situationally without getting them damaged by gunfire. You remember what was on his lips when he died. Vietnam and economics, political economy. The professional killers could have murdered him long before they did. They let Malcolm rage on Muslim nationalism for a number of years because they knew it was an empty ideal, but the second he got his feet on the ground, they murdered him. We die too easily. We forgive and forgive too easily.
          Gentle and refined people, aren’t we? We’ll make good communists, if someone deals with the fascists for us.
          That was a little bitter. Pay no attention to stuff like that. I have more faith in our resilience than is healthy for me.
          If what I said about M. L. King is true, and I’m going to put it down as if I were positive that it is, he was really on our side (the billions of righteous) and his image can be used. I mean we can just claim him, and use his last statements and his image…to strengthen ours. And Malcolm can also be “reformed.”
I’m working this into my thing right now, I can use anything you have or can get that contains King’s public statements or comments to notable people. I’ll be easy with it, slip it in, like it was just common knowledge that King was a Maoist.
I sure hope you understand, sister, and hurry. This hour hand is sweeping like the second hand. I don’t care. My credo is to seize the pig by the tusks and ride him till his neck breaks. If fortuitous outcome of circumstances allows him to prevail over me—again—then I want to have this carefully worked-up comment prepared. I want something to remain, to torment his ass, to haunt him, to make him know in no uncertain terms that he did incur this nigger’s sore disfavor. I need some facts and figures to dress this passion—insist where you have to, but get them to cooperate. And I have only my memory now. I keep pictures in my head. My memory is close to photographic (but not quite).
The lights went off an hour, perhaps an hour and a half ago. It’s 12:45 a.m., June 5, and I love you twice as much as I did yesterday. It redoubles and double redoubles. I’m using the night-light in front of my cell to write this. You may never read it. I make this covenant with myself. I’ll never again relax. I’ll never make peace with this world as long as the enemies of self-determination have the running of things. You may never read this, and I may never touch you, but I feel better than I have for many seasons. You do know that I live, and I hope that by some means you have discovered that I love you deeply, and would touch you tenderly, warmly, fiercely if I could, and if my enemies were not at present stronger. I’m going to stop here and do something physical, push-ups, finger stands, something quiet and strenuous.
Love you Woman.

 Blood in my Eye reminds me of Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat by the Door (see the Greenlee note) which had two printings in 1969 and a third in January, 1970, but those were in England. I’d say that what Greenlee imagined could and was imagined by George’s seventeen-year-old brother Jonathan. Early in Blood in My Eye George quotes his brother, a passage that ends with these four sentences:

The things I say (for us, smile) it doesn’t seem fantastic for them to go against the L.A.P.D. with a snubbed-nosed revolver. There’s a great deal of work to be done—with ourselves—yet. But the day of the real dragon is coming. Long live the guerrilla!! [39]

 And here are the last few sentences from Huey Newton’s “Afterword”:

I see the example that George set living on. We know that all of us will die someday. But we know that there are two kinds of death, the reactionary death and the revolutionary death. One death is significant and the other is not. George certainly died in a significant way, and his death will be very heavy, while the deaths of the ones that fell that day in San Quentin will be lighter than a feather. Even those who support them now will not support them in the future, because we’re determined to change their minds. We’ll change their minds or else in the people’s name we’ll have to wipe them out thoroughly, wholly, absolutely and completely. ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE. (216-217)

 Then there’s the last two paragraphs from Blood in My Eye, the second swift and to the point:

The substructured prison movements are gaining momentum. My trial is set for early August, 1971, they’ll be hearings in between of course. If they are at all like the last [the hearing of April 6, 1971], you’ll get to see my special bastardized style of martial arts. I’m working hard to stay in form. I wasn’t at my best at the last showing. I’ll clean them all next time they attack. Attend—let me see your style.

Your comrade in arms—“He who does not fear the death of 1,000 cuts will dare unseat the emperor. [211]

Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez

H. Rap Brown

H. Rap Brown