By Juard Barnes
As we enter into September, I’m looking back over the previous month, August, more to the point, Black August. Many Black folk have come to embrace Black August as a touchstone for Liberation. A time to exemplify the continued struggle. It represents a break from the apt celebration of Black excellence of February, all too easily commercialized and trivialized and instead acknowledge the truth of a historical and contemporary struggle. It memorializes the African Holocaust and the lives of countless Black people who have died in the streets and prisons of America due to their inability to not be Black and resistant to colonization
For many, Black August boils down to the story and indomitable spirit of a single Freedom Fighter named George Jackson. George Jackson’s story includes reciprocity to repression and state sponsored murder. The story of the Soledad Brothers is a story of boundless brotherhood. A commitment to solidarity at any cost.
Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson, William Christmas, James McCain, and Khatri Gauldin were the focal point of a California penal systemwide commemoration of Black August. In the late 70s, Black revolutionaries began to take the celebration around the country. Angela Davis was a co-defendant of Ruchell Mcgee who was the sole survivor of the August 7, 1970 attempted liberation of Black bodies. His stance that day, to liberate freedom fighters is impossible to commercialize. Black August is the Memorialization of Black Resistance against empire and the unapologetic celebration of Black Liberation and Unity. It is a master class in proportionately epic responses to the excesses and impulses of an empire bent on the annihilation of the spirit of those they consider other.
But my heart is a bit heavy. I’m devastated by the reality of cracks in the armor of our current heroes. Black August is significant for so many amazing reasons. The last weekend in August of 2021 represented the 58th anniversary of what was officially named the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The historic event took place of August 28, 1963. Over 250,00 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and over 3,000 members of the press covered it. There were many things to remember and savor about that day, including the famous “I have a Dream” speech delivered by MLK. But, that wasn’t what made the day. It was that the day was actually a result of Black people negotiating with the White political power structure and then with one another A. Randolph Phillips, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters had been working on the idea of a march on Washington since 1941 and had been convinced not to, due to an appeasement from FDR.
By the mid 1950s, the charisma of King had captured the imagination of Randolph and they embarked on a march in May of 1957, Together. By 1963 the two men were convinced that a major march was mandatory. Randolph cited job discrimination and King, particularly following violent attacks on civil rights leaders in Alabama, was fighting for Civil Rights and Freedom. The two groups merged and created one of the most memorable moments in our nation’s history.
58 years later, in August of 2021, with voting rights in the balance, filibuster remaining a real and present issue, a global pandemic having further exposed the disparities in health equity, police brutality mounting, and community violence skyrocketing, we were not able to muster enough solidarity to show up, together in one place, with one powerful voice, demanding to be heard. Instead, multiple groups descended on Washington, DC that day, as many as 17 different venues, with very small numbers.
Black August is exactly not that. It is a personification of the African affirmation, Ubuntu; “I am because you are”. The germ of scarcity, spawned by proximity to White Supremacy focused on “alternate” fights, is a pathology we must resist. I’m listening to people of the Global Majority find ideology after of factional perspective serving to divide us.
Here’s part of the significance:
The first Africans were brought to Jamestown as slaves in August of 1619.
Underground Railroad was started on August 2, 1850.
Gabriel Prosser’s 1800 slave rebellion occurred on August 30.
Nat Turner planned and executed a slave rebellion that commenced on August 21, 1831.
The Watts rebellions were in August of 1965.
On August 18, 1971 the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA) was raided by Mississippi police and FBI agents.
The MOVE family was bombed by Philadelphia police on August 8, 1978.
Further, August is a time of birth. Dr. Mutulu Shakur (political prisoner and prisoner of war).
Pan-Africanist Black Nationalist Leader Marcus Garvey, Maroon Russell Shoatz (political prisoner) and Chicago BPP Chairman Fred Hampton were born in August. August is also a time of rebirth, W.E.B. Dubois died in Ghana on August 27, 1963.
On a personal level, my only brother and hero of my life died in August of 2008. A week after we buried him my first grandson was born. In short, it’s a very important time for me. I want to look at this amazing month as a touch stone for powerful energy toward resistance. My prayer is that we recapture the passion of resistance that holds us together in spite of ideological differences being amplified by those whom will never love us. What are we really about?