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Understanding Black August
History of Black August
Black August originated in the California penal system to honor fallen Freedom Fighters, Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson, William Christmas, James McClain and Khatari Gaulden. Jonathan Jackson was gunned down outside the Marin County California courthouse on August 7, 1970 as he attempted to liberate three imprisoned Black Liberation Fighters: James McClain, William Christmas and Ruchell Magee.
Ruchell Magee is the sole survivor of that armed rebellion. He is the former co-defendant of Angela Davis and has been locked down for 57 years, most of it in solitary confinement. George Jackson was assassinated by prison guards during a Black prison rebellion at San Quentin on August 21, 1971. Three prison guards were also killed during that rebellion and prison officials charged six Black and Latino prisoners with the death of those guards.These six brothers became known as the San Quentin Six.
To honor these fallen soldiers, the brothers who participated in the collective founding of Black August wore black armbands on their left arm and studied revolutionary works, focusing on the works of George Jackson. In the month of August the brothers did not listen to the radio or watch television. Additionally, they didn’t eat or drink anything from sun-up to sundown; and loud and boastful behavior was not allowed. The brothers did not support the prison’s canteen. The use of drugs and alcoholic beverages was prohibited and the brothers held daily exercises because during Black August emphasis is placed on sacrifice, fortitude and discipline.
The tradition of fasting during Black August teaches self-discipline. A conscious fast is in effect from sunrise to sunset (or suggested from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm), this includes refraining from drinking water or liquids and eating food of any kind during that period. Some other personal sacrifice can be made as well. The sundown meal is traditionally shared whenever possible among comrades. On August 31, a People’s Feast is held and the fast is broken. Black August fasting should serve as a constant reminder of the conditions our people have faced and still confront. Fasting is uncomfortable at times, but it is helpful to remember all those who have come and gone before us, Ni Nkan Mase, if we stand tall, it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors.
The Spread and Growth of Black August
In the late 1970’s the observance and practice of Black August spread from prisons of California to Black/New Afrikan communities throughout the country. Members of the New Afrikan Independence Movement (NAIM) began practicing and spreading Black August during this period. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) inherited knowledge and practice of Black August from its parent organization, the New Afrikan People’s Organization (NAPO). MXGM through the Black August Hip Hop Project began introducing the Hip-Hop community to Black August in the late 1990′s after being inspired by New Afrikan political exile Nehanda Abiodun.
Brief Historical Outline of “Black August”
Black August is a time to embrace the principles of unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical training and resistance. It is also a time to reflect and study our history and the current conditions of our people. As the Black August practice and tradition spread, it grew to observe the sacrifices and struggles of our ancestors against white supremacy, colonialism, and imperialism. Below is a sampling of this month of “righteous rebellions” and “racist repressions”
- The first Afrikans were brought to Jamestown as slaves in August of 1619
- Haitian Revolution August 21, 1791-January 1, 1804
- Gabriel Prosser’s 1800 slave rebellion occurred on August 30th, 1800.
- The “Prophet” Nat Turner planned and executed a slave rebellion that commenced on August 21, 1831.
- In 1843, Henry Highland Garnett called a general slave strike on August 22.
- The Underground Railroad was started on August 2, 1850.
- The March on Washington occurred in August of 1963
- The Watts rebellions were in August of 1965.
- On August 18, 1971 the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA) was raided by Mississippi police and FBI agents.
- The MOVE family was bombed by Philadelphia police on August 8, 1978
Further, August is a time of birth. Dr. Mutulu Shakur (New Afrikan prisoner of war), Pan-Africanist Leader Marcus Garvey, Maroon Russell Shoatz (political prisoner) and Chicago Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton were born in August. August is also a time of transition and rebirth. The great scholar and educator W.E.B. Dubois died in Ghana on August 27, 1963. So, August is a month during which African Americans can reflect on their current situation and struggle for self-determination and freedom.
For more info:
Black August Booklist
1. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson
2. The Second Crucifixion of Nat Turner
3. Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
4. The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. DuBois
5. The Black Power: The Politics of Liberation by Kwame Ture and C V Hamilton
6. Ready for Revolution by Stokely Carmichael
7. Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson by George Jackson
8. Blood in My Eye by George Jackson
9. Angela Davis: Autobiography by Angela Y Davis
10. Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur
11. To Die for the People by Huey P Newton
12. Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party by Bobby Seale
13. We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party by Mumia Abu-Jamal
14. The Assassination of Fred Hampton by Jeffrey Haas
15. Cointelpro: The FBI's Secret War on Political Freedom by Nelson Blackstock
The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey and Amy Jacques Garvey
Message to the People by Marcus Garvey
Are Prisons Obsolete by Angela Y Davis
Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P Newton
Live from Death Row by Mumia Abu-Jamal
The Classroom and the Cell by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Still Black, Still Strong by Dhoruba Bin Wahad
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Racial Matters: The FBI's Secret File on Black America, 1960-1972 by Kenneth O'Reilly
Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian … by Ward Churchill