Photo: 1971 Attica Prison uprising, sparked by the assassination of George Jackson
Today marks the beginning of Black August, a month-long commemoration of the heroic, centuries-long struggle for Black liberation. Party for Socialism and Liberation branches across the country are organizing educational and cultural events as part of this tradition that dates back to 1979, reaffirming our determination to overthrow the grinding oppression imposed by U.S. capitalism on Black America.
On August 21, 1971, legendary revolutionary George Jackson was assassinated by a guard at San Quentin prison. At the age of 19, George Jackson was sentenced to a prison term of “1-to-life,” meaning prison administrators had complete and arbitrary control over the length of his sentence. While incarcerated, he became an icon of radical politics and a leader of the Black Panther Party, writing the classic books “Soledad Brother” and “Blood in My Eye” while organizing his fellow prisoners.
August, more than any other month, has historically carried the weight of the Black liberation struggle. Enslaved Africans were first brought to British North America in August 1619. Just over 200 years later, in August 1831, Nat Turner led the most well-known rebellion of enslaved people in U.S. history. This historical significance carried into the 20th century, when both the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the Watts Rebellion — an explosive uprising against racist policing in Los Angeles — occurred in August during the 1960s.
In 1979, Black August was first celebrated in San Quentin prison. Observers of Black August commit to higher levels of discipline throughout the month. This can include fasting from food and drink, frequent physical exercise and political study, and engagement in political struggle.
The oppression and exploitation of Black people is at the core of the vast wealth of the U.S. capitalist class and the blood-soaked system of government it presides over. The enslavement of millions of Africans, share-cropping and the super-exploitation of Black wage labor are the key sources of capital accumulation that allowed the white supremacist ruling class of this country to ascend to its position of global dominance.
Throughout U.S. history, the struggle for Black liberation has posed the greatest threat to the rule of the capitalist class. This is true not only because of the unceasing, militant struggle of Black people for their own freedom, but also because of the Black liberation movement’s ability to draw into motion all other sectors of the exploited and oppressed. The oppression of Black America is so central to the country that the struggle for Black liberation has often acted as a detonator, setting off broader social struggles throughout the system.
The resurgence of the movement for Black lives in the uprising of the summer of 2020, which brought tens of millions of people into the streets in the most massive social movement in U.S. history, will be a source of inspiration for generations to come. The struggle continues against racist police; the prison system; huge disparities in wealth, housing, education and health; and so many other injustices. Black August is an important opportunity to strengthen this fight.