George Jackson began a rigorous program of self-education in California’s Soledad prison at age nineteen while serving a one-year-to-life sentence for armed robbery. He became interested in Marxist literature and used its precepts as a framework for his studies of politics, economics, history, philosophy, and languages. He blamed the problems of African Americans on capitalism. He considered American involvement in the war between North and South Vietnam as “neoimperialism”—another example of the kind of white aggression that had subjugated most of the world and created the institution of black slavery. With only a tenth-grade education, he became knowledgeable and articulate, thanks in part to the fact that he spent many years in solitary confinement with nothing to do but read, meditate, and nurture his resentment. He antagonized prison guards and parole officers by declaring his advocacy of armed overthrow of the government led by black militants and abetted by the International Communist Party directed by the Soviet Union.
Jackson put his finger directly on a sore spot. There were Americans who believed that the only conceivable armed revolution in the United States would be one that followed Jackson’s scenario. Some feared that the poorest minorities and whites, led by resentful African Americans (who had the most to gain and the least to lose), inspired by Marxist rhetoric and abetted by Soviet agents, could conceivably overthrow the government and establish a communist regime. No doubt a bloodbath would follow as private property was seized by the new regime and the whole economic system forcibly transformed, as it had been in the Soviet Union and Communist China.
In 1970, Jackson and two other militant black prisoners were charged with murdering a white guard and held in solitary confinement in San Quentin prison, awaiting trial which could result in their executions. Teenage Jonathan Jackson, inspired by his older brother’s prison letters, died during an...
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