Black August and Black Rebellion
In celebration of Black August, Leaders of A Beautiful Struggle and the Great Blacks in Wax Museum organized a symposium in Baltimore to talk about various strategies for black liberation
Dayvon Love: So, I don’t wanna take too much of your time, there’s two figures I actually wanna lift up for the moment and connect that to we’re doing today. So for those who may not be familiar with the Soledad brothers. And the repression in the California state prisons, that took place in you know the 60’s and 70’s and still takes place today. You know, many of us are aware of the ascendance of Ronald Reagan as president of the United States in the 1980s. A lot of people don’t recognize that he started off as governor of California. And in fact, as governor of California, he was a part of the effort where the Black Panther Party for self-defense had organized patrols to use their guns to protect themselves against police brutality. They were trying to pass a law that made it illegal for them to carry their lawfully registered, and owned firearms in public as a direct response to them patrolling the community. And so, you have a lot of repression as a result of the radical activity, much of that took place in California, and Jonathan Jackson who in March of 1970 was a part of the effort to try to free Soledad brothers and other folks that were in the prison, taking hostage a judge as a revolutionary act, to challenge the system that had caused so much repression.
So there was that, and there’s also Marcus Garvey who was born in August, and as many people know one of the inceptive pan-Africanists, the United Negro Improvement Association that had chapters all around the world, one of the most effective mass organizing efforts and organizations in the history of the world. And what’s important to note about that is a lot of people are most familiar with Garvey’s rhetoric, not as familiar with things like the Black Star Line, an attempt to establish commercial relationships between Africans in the United States, the Caribbean and Cotton of Africa. The idea of the Black Cross Nurses, right, who were providing medical services because the other major medical institutions wouldn’t do so. And a whole myriad of other things that the Garvey movement was responsible for.
So, the reason why I just wanted to lift up those two figures in particular and link it to our event today is that, we’re an organization that our lane is public policy. Too often, there are a lot of folks that engage in the political arena from the perspective that politics is the panacea. And one of the things that we’re really clear about is policy and politics is one particular lane. And our lane, we don’t think our lane is the most important lane. Right? But it’s one lane that helps to provide the leverage and cover to support the other lanes that are important in our community. And so, the reason that a conversation about public policy is important in the context of revolutionary political action is because we have to use all of the things that are available to us in order to challenge the systems that exist before us. Right, so we have to avoid the dogma of embracing a particular approach as the only approach.
So, a big part of the context of this event is that really as black people, every solution idea is on the table in terms of what we’re discussing that’ll lead to our ultimate liberation. And, so policy again is one aspect of that, it is one way that we approach that issue. But one of the things that I’m proud of, is the fact that LBS is a part of an ecosystem of black organizations, and formations that are pushing forward in the way that will help us all collectively find freedom, here in Baltimore and hopefully around the world. So I just wanted to give that context, so people understood the connection between Black August, particularly the figures of George Jackson and Marcus Garvey, and how that history connects, not just to public policy but to the work we do and the context of all the other work, the amazing work that’s happening here in Baltimore.
Bashi Rose: So, again this is a Black August event, and Dayvon gave some context. So, could you elaborate on the influence that George Jackson had on you, and the fact he also worked against the stereotype of being a narrow nationalist, because he’s an exceptional theorist who influenced activists around the world. So could you talk about the influence that he had on you and just put it in a larger context for the audience?
Eddie Conway: Okay well honestly, I hope I influenced George, but the fact of the matter is George was our superstar but when I became aware of George I had already been struggling for two or three years. Malcolm X was actually my person that influenced me most of all, right, but George Jackson and his internationalism. He joined the Black Panther Party, he was one of our field marshals, and throughout the prison system from coast to coast, he was known among prisoners and his books, ‘Blood in my eyes,’ was read all over. ‘The Soledad Brothers’ first, though. Initially, a funny story is that initially prisoners would use Soledad brothers because he had a number of love letters in there to Angela Davis, and they were putting their names on letters and sending it to their significant others outside. They sound revolutionary, right? But eventually just reading all that stuff, people actually started learning. And by ’70, which is when George was probably the most prominent prison activist in the country, there were two things going on.
One thing was, in the East Coast there was a number of riots, one of the most important and one of the people will remember most is called Attica, and on the West Coast the black Guerrilla family was being developed to defend the black prisoners in the prison system against attacks from the white racists, white supremacists, against Latinos etc. there was just all this division in prison. So they were fighting back with guerrilla warfare. What we did in Maryland was we decided to kind of try to walk down the middle. One, we would protect ourselves, two, if necessary we would riot, but we wanted to organize, and so we organized labor unions, we organized educational stuff, we organized to try to empower the individuals.
But, George is the end of a long line of people, and I’m gonna invoke the name of Nat Turner now because that rebellion also happened in August. The reason why we took Black August, we took August and named it Black August is to recognize some of the resistance, the resistance that most of us don’t even know. In 1811, in New Orleans in Louisiana, a slave named Charles rose up in rebellion with 1,500 other slaves from 10 plantations and they marched down the Mississippi to take over New Orleans to establish an African republic here on the continent. This is like 7 years after Haiti and they were influenced by sailors and freed people coming from Haiti after the rebellion in Haiti. They end up fighting three militias and they lost, and they got captured and divided 500 of them or so, scattered into the swamps of Louisiana and they got away, the rest of them got caught. The leaders got their heads chopped off. This is 1811, and along the Mississippi highway, all the way to New Orleans, they put their heads on posts, 1 mile apart, completely down the river.
The rebellion was so frightening, that the state of Louisiana sealed the records of that rebellion in 1811, and the records didn’t get unsealed until 2011. 200 years later, they sealed those records for 200 years. And this is sudden, and it is these kind of things that’s happening that’s in the records right now in state houses that we don’t even know about, that’s not even unsealed yet, because there was always this effort to show that we wanted to be accepted in America and we wanted to become part of America, and I maintained it from day 1, we’ve always resisted, we’ve always rebelled, we always tried to maintain our human dignity, and all of that information has always been swept under the rug because no one wants it–at least people in power, don’t want you to understand that you have a legitimate right to rebel, to resist, to maintain your humanness, your dignity and so on. So, Black August was actually taken by the movement, the liberation movement and other movements to say that this is a significant thread of struggle throughout our whole entire existence here, and we don’t want that lost.
It’s not just about the peanut man and black history month. It’s about who we are as people and how we maintain our human dignity. And, so when you start looking you’ll see all kinds of events that’s occurred that we recognize and we celebrate. But, that particular one, Charles in Louisiana that was buried for 200 years, is very significant, because they always want us to kind of like to look at the little incidents. This was people that was trying establish a state here, us, to maintain our freedom and dignity.