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George Jackson in a Global Frame

The story of George Jackson and his radical politics that challenged the American Government in an age of political repression.

Fifty years ago, George Lester Jackson’s Blood in My Eye dropped like a bomb, but the author did not live to hear it. He had been killed by guards at the San Quentin State Prison six months before the book, his second and last, hit the shelves. Though hailed in the Seventies as a martyr in the struggle by Black Americans within and against the United States prison system, today Jackson haunts discussions of racial injustice and anti-racist social movements from the margins.

The unprecedented surge of protest following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 precipitated a wave of public reckoning with the violent history of white supremacy in the United States. The legacies of activists, including Angela Davis, organizations such as the Black Panther Party, and protagonists of the Attica Prison uprising have begun to receive their due. George Jackson was part of this matrix and deserves a new hearing, too.

Jackson contributed to the movement in various ways over the course of a decade spent behind bars. He landed in Soledad, a notorious California state prison, before his 20th birthday. Charged with stealing $70 from a Los Angeles gas station, Jackson followed the suggestion of his counsel and pleaded guilty in the state court. For this act of contrition—a practice still encouraged by state-appointed defenders today— he received the draconian sentence of “one-year-to-life.” This term would prove tragically accurate on August 21, 1971.

While Jackson’s name may be familiar to readers of Black Perspectives, he was once a household name around the world. Walter Rodney marveled at Jackson’s resolve despite the vicious repression visited upon him in prison, while C.L.R. James called his letters from prison the greatest contribution to political thought since the death of V.I. Lenin. Jackson’s first book, Soledad Brother, reached the best-seller list in 1970 and was swiftly translated into Spanish, French, and German. Blood in My Eye appeared in five different languages within two years. The campaign to set him free counted Jane Fonda, Pete Seeger, and Dr. Spock among its supporters. In death, he was memorialized in a hit ballad by Bob Dylan. Tributes by Archie Shepp, Steel Pulse, and many others would follow.

Not merely a passive victim or cause célèbre, Jackson persistently cultivated solidarity against state terror among activists and thinkers on both sides of the prison gates. A voracious reader, he scoured prison libraries and convinced friends, family, and comrades to secretly send him books about fascism in Europe, slave revolts in the Americas, and anticolonial insurgencies. He assumed the mantle of an international, revolutionary Marxist tradition in the vein of Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, and Mao Zedong. He became a best-selling author and a respected prison organizer in California. He listened to and learned from his comrades, some of whom established an annual month of remembrance, study, and struggle in his honor.