August 21, 1971 – George Jackson is shot and killed at San Quentin Prison. He was convicted in 1961 of stealing seventy dollars from a gas station and sentenced to one year to life. At the time of his death he had been incarcerated for ten years. And as an outspoken member of the Black Panther Party and supporter of Marxist ideology, he became a embroiled in controversy. To this day the circumstances surrounding his death remain shrouded in mystery. It was alleged that Jackson had a firearm in his possession but how or when he obtained the gun has never been established. While incarcerated, he began to record his thoughts keeping a journal and writing letters to his family members. ‘Soledad Brother’ is the collection of the surviving letters to his family, friends and acquaintances. A foreword is provided by his nephew Jonathan Jackson, Jr. , whose father Jonathan met his own tragic fate when he was shot and killed on August 7, 1970 in a shootout with authorities during a foiled attempt to force the release of George and two co-defendants. The group was known as the Soledad Brothers and had been charged with the murder of prison guard John Vincent Mills. Also killed in foiled the attempt was Marin County Judge Harold Haley. While it has never been proven that George was involved in the deaths of the guard or Judge Haley, his name is forever linked to their deaths. And during the trial of Angela Davis several years later, their correspondence became the center of the case and helped Davis win her acquittal.
The beauty of the book is the mind of Jackson on full display for the reader. While incarcerated his sharpened his mind and pen through deep analytical thought and extensive writing. Had he not been in San Quentin, he very well could have walked alongside Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. The tragedy of George Jackson is the surreal jail sentence for such a petty crime and his untimely death that has never fully been explained. The youths of today have no idea who Jackson is and most will never read this book. Over time he has been forgotten by students of the civil rights movement and even those committed to prison reform. His life and death are a textbook example of the systematic discrimination that has ended the lives of thousands of young African-American men. There are hundreds of thousands of prisoners in prison today convicted on flimsy evidence and given overly harsh sentences in a criminal justice system that suffers from the bias of those tasked with upholding the blindness of justice.
At first Jackson might come off as angry or even charged. But is necessary to remember the social and political climate in which he lived and died. His letters are filled with his thoughts on the prison system, the civil rights movement and the relationships with his family members in particular his father. In his letter Jackson admits to his faults and its evidently clear that in his life he has acted on some occasions with blatant disregard for himself and others and without a clear mind. He was no angel but far from the demon that he was once portrayed to be. As he found his voice, he became an outlet for the rising anger and frustration of Black Americans and in his writings, he accurately relays the mindset that many of his peers began to develop. And if he had lived, I believe that he would have written books and given speeches about the reality of prison and the movement for civil rights.
This book is a forgotten gem that should be added to the library of the many books of the struggle for civil rights in America. Jackson is either loved or hated but his words are accurate and necessary in the process of reformation to correct the horrors of discrimination. For those who want to know more about this controversial and enlightening figure, this is the place to start.