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Black August | BAJI 2022

BAJI reflects on the significance of Black August

Black August was started by California prisoners in 1979 to honor their comrades, freedom fighters, who died at the hands of the state because they were revolutionaries. Black August is not a mere celebration, it is a commemoration. It is not a corporate and commercialized summertime Black History month. It is a time for reflection and a recommitment to Black liberation. 

W.L. Nolen, Cleveland Edwards and Alvin Miller were killed by a Soledad prison guard Jan. 13, 1970. On Aug. 7, 1970, Jonathan Jackson Jackson, William McClain and Jamest McClain were killed by San Quentin prison guards at the Marin County courthouse. Jonathan’s brother George, Field Marshal of the Black Panther Party and author, would be killed by San Quentin guards the following year, on Aug. 21, 1971. Khatari Gaulden would die from medical neglect after suffering a head injury on the San Quentin exercise yard on Aug. 1, 1978.

All of these men were committed to protecting and uplifting their fellow prisoners as well as challenging the state and its oppression of Black people, inside and outside of prison. Their comrades decided that they would use the month of August to honor their deaths, their lives and their sacrifices. The men decided they would fast from dawn to dusk; that they would not use loud boastful or profane language or behavior; that they would collectively exercise and also collectively study.

It was during their collective study sessions that many of these brothers learned the history of Black resistance for the first time. They learned that unlike the lies told by historians such as Ulrich B. Phillips and others, Black people were not happy, docile and passive during the era of enslavement: we fought back. They learned that major rebellions such as Nat Turner’s and Gabriel Prosser’s and the uprising in Haiti either took place or were planned during August, as well as the Watts Rebellion of 1965. They learned that several African nations gained their political independence from European colonizers during August and many Caribbean nations celebrate the end of slavery during August. The birth of Marcus Garvey, founder of the largest Black organization in history, the Universal Negro Improvement Association as well as its defining conference, occurred in August. The brothers learned of many other significant births and events that occurred during the month of August.  

As Black August continued to be observed behind the prison walls by its founders, family members, friends, political comrades and associates also began to participate. From 1979 to today this tradition continues. BAJI joins in the commemoration of Black August and the fierce spirit of Black August Resistance.