George Jackson Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 818 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Armstrong, Gregory. The Dragon Has Come. New York: Harper & Row, 1974. An emotional memoir by Jackson’s editor.

Davis, Angela Yvonne, et al. If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance. New York: Third Press, 1971. A collection of essays about African Americans’ experiences with the American justice system. Devotes a section to the “Soledad brothers.”

Durden-Smith, Jo. Who Killed George Jackson? New York: Knopf, 1976. Attempts to find out not only who Jackson was and how he died but why. Includes an index.

Howard, Clark. American Saturday. New York: R. Marek, 1981. An unsympathetic account of Jackson’s death.

Jackson, Lester. “A Dialogue with My Soledad Son.” Ebony, November, 1971. Summarizes discussions of politics, religion, and race relations.

Lester, Julius. “Black Rage to Live.” The New York Times Book Review, November 22, 1970. Compares Jackson’s Soledad Brother with The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) and Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice (1968).

Liberatore, Paul. The Road to Hell: The True Story of George Jackson, Stephen Bingham, and the San Quentin Massacre. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996. An in-depth account of the San Quentin massacre that focuses on Jackson and his radical lawyer, Stephen Bingham.

Mann, Eric. Comrade George: An Investigation into the Life, Political Thought, and Assassination of George Jackson. New York: Harper & Row, 1974. Claims that Jackson was framed and murdered.

Wilentz, Amy. “Lawyer on Trial: Stephen Bingham Faces His Past.” Time, January 20, 1986. Reviews the underground existence of the lawyer accused of smuggling Jackson a gun on August 21, 1971.

Yee, Min S. The Melancholy History of Soledad Prison: In Which a Utopian Scheme Turns Bedlam. New York: Harper’s Magazine Press, 1973. Good investigative journalism.