We are currently in the middle of Black August, the month dedicated to honoring, celebrating, and furthering the work of Black revolutionaries and Black liberation. Black August honors the anniversaries of the deaths of incarcerated Black activists George Jackson and Khatari Gaulden in 1971 and 1978. It also marks the anniversary of the beginning of Nat Turner’s 1831 uprising against slavery. This month is a time to reflect on and support the decades and centuries of Black resistance to white supremacy in the United States.
Nat Turner was born into slavery in Virginia and sold three times during childhood. In 1831, a 30-year-old Turner began plotting a rebellion. On August 21, 1831, Turner and his comrades killed their captors and liberated enslaved people on various plantations, rallying 75 other enslaved people to join. It took a month and a half for the government to defeat the insurrection and capture Turner. Though Turner was executed the same year, his rebellion “deepened the schism” between pro- and anti-slavery forces, increasing the tensions that would eventually lead to the Civil War and the supposed abolition of slavery (History).
• Support the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a community organization fighting for self-determination against patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy.
• Support Community Movement Builders, a Black collective fighting over-policing, gentrification, and the construction of Cop City in Atlanta.
• Donate to support the re-entry of former political prisoner Ruchell Magee after 67 years of incarceration.
• Consider: What, if anything, were you taught about George Jackson and Nat Turner? Why might the U.S. government silence or distort the history of people’s struggles through its institutions like the education system? What can you do today and for the rest of the month to educate yourself about and honor Black revolutionaries and support those facing repression for fighting white supremacy today?
But the 13th Amendment allowed for the continuation of slavery and forced labor in the form of incarceration. The United States government remains a white supremacist institution, especially after the defeat of Reconstruction (NPR, History). Exactly 140 years after Nat Turner began his insurrection, George Jackson was murdered by prison guards at the age of 29 as he attempted to escape a California prison. Sentenced to serve one year to life for a gas station robbery he took part in as an 18-year-old, Jackson was incarcerated during the Freedom Rides to the South, the March on Washington, and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. In California’s San Quentin prison, Jackson studied revolutionary theory and began organizing with other incarcerated men across racial lines to fight back against the guards and racist prison system. Appointed a Field Marshall by the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, Jackson wrote two hugely influential books, Blood in My Eye and Soledad Brother, a collection of his prison letters. In August 1971, Jackson was killed by guards while trying to flee San Quentin. His murder sparked the largest prison uprising in U.S. history in Attica, New York, within a month (Salon).
After Jackson’s death, Khatari Gaulden continued organizing the resistance. Gaulden died in August 1978 due to medical neglect by guards. The following year, incarcerated revolutionaries at San Quentin began celebrating Black August as a way to honor those killed by the government in the struggle for Black liberation. Those taking part in Black August spend the entire month studying political theory and history, abstaining from drugs or alcohol, and fasting from sunrise to sunset (Teen Vogue). This year, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement is using Black August to honor Dr. Mutulu Shakur, born in August 1950. Shakur was incarcerated as a political prisoner for 36 years before dying this past July (MXGM).
“We figured that the people we wanted to remember wouldn’t be remembered during Black History Month, so we started Black August,” said cofounder Shuuja Graham (Dissent).
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Juneteenth are now honored with federal holidays. In 2020, politicians and corporations proclaimed their commitments to social justice, with Congressional leaders kneeling in the Capitol building wearing kente cloth (BBC) and the CIA publishing an incredible “woke” recruitment ad (Refinery29). Despite this propaganda, Black August is a reminder that those who truly fought for Black liberation and the freedom of oppressed peoples were not agents of the state: they were killed by it. This month is a time for reflection and redoubling our commitments to the struggle to ensure all of us are free.
• Nat Turner’s August 1831 uprising against slavery helped set the stage for the Civil War and emancipation.
• George Jackson and Khatari Gaulden were incarcerated Black organizers murdered by the government in August 1971 and 1978.
• August is a time to honor and support the Black freedom struggle.