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George Jackson: Soledad Brother 40 years later

Forty years after his death, George Jackson continues to reflect different things to different people depending on their ideologies and experiences.

To some, Jackson was a renowned author, Marxist, and activist truth-teller who brought the injustices of the American experience in and out of prison into harsh light as the once-vibrant ‘60s faded to a disillusioned and bloody end.

To others, he was a career criminal and prisoner turned violent radical whose acts and incitements brought misery to many and resulted in the kind of revolutionary martyrdom now worshiped by Islamicists and Tea Party extremists.

In a society that both thrives on a fundamental class-based inequality and manages to keep its prison population of 2 million over 40% black, Jackson remains a figure of some relevance, however legendary. Perhaps the best way to get a picture of the man is to read his words in Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson

On the ideological side of things, here’s George Jackson - 40 year commemoration, a video produced by Jonathan Jackson Jr:

After the jump: George Jackson in context, and Bob Dylan’s salute to the man…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Thirty-nine years of Attica: Ali & Lennon speak out

September 9, 1971 saw the population of Attica State prison in western New York state rise up and seize the facility, taking 33 staff hostage. Attica was infamous at the time for both being stuffed at twice its capacity, and for the inhumane living conditions of its majority-black and Puerto Rican community. Prison officials allotted one bar of soap and roll of toilet paper per month and a bucket of water per week as a shower. Inmate mail was regularly censored, visits were highly restricted, and prisoner beatings happened constantly. Responding to news of the imminent torture of one of their fellows who’d assaulted a prison officer, a group of prisoners freed their brother and rose up after guards denied yard-time to the full population.

After four days of negotiation, Governor Nelson Rockefeller—who refused the prisoners’ requests to come to the prison and hear their grievances—blessed Correctional Services Commissioner Russell G. Oswald’s order to retake Attica by force.  This resulted in the death of nine hostages and 28 inmates in an episode that shocked the conscience of a nation wearied by war, assassination and urban unrest. It also saw the birth of modern prison reform.

The episode is chronicled in four feature film adaptations—and famously referenced in Dog Day Afternoon)—alongside numerous documentaries, the best being Cinda Firstone Fox’s recently preserved 1973 piece. That one isn’t up on YouTube, but here’s a short doc from the great grassroots media hub Deep Dish TV.

After the jump: Muhammad Ali recites and John & Yoko sing out on Attica…

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Huey Newton compels William F. Buckley to side with George Washington, 1973

Huey Percey Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, would be 68 years old if he hadn’t been shot in Oakland on this day in 1989 by Tyrone “Double R” Robinson, an alleged member of George Jackson’s Marxist prison gang The Black Guerilla Family.

Here he is engaging William F. Buckley on his show Firing Line in a preliminary thought-game before getting deep into the kind of civil dialogue on political theory that’s absolutely impossible to find on television today.

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Remembering the Watts Riots

The Watts riots happened 45 years ago today. Sparked by the arrest and beating of young African-American Marquette Frye and the detention of objecting Frye family members, the 1965 unrest happened in a context of extreme racial tension in California.

Along with the growing poverty that accompanied the post-War closing of factories in South Central L.A., the riots also happened in a context West Coast segregationist politics. By funding the passage of Proposition 14, the California Real Estate Association had just successfully cancelled out the Mumford Act, which was the part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prevented housing discrimination on the basis of race.

The week of rioting left 34 dead, over 1,000 injured and more than 200 businesses destroyed, with property damage was estimated at $40 million. Urban politics would never be the same. For some perspective, read Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’s reflections on how the riots connect with the building and revitalization of the area’s Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital.

After the jump: From Stacy Peralta’s 2008 documentary Crips and Bloods: Made in America, Kumasi, a former member of the street squad The Slausons, breaks down the strategy of dealing with the National Guard presence during the riots…

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