George Jackson (1941-1971)

Soledad Brother; The Prison Letters of George Jackson (Bantam Books, 1970)
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Author George Jackson is best known for his memoir Soledad Brother, containing the letters that he wrote from prison between 1964 and 1970. George Lester Jackson was born on September 23, 1941, on the west side of Chicago, Illinois. The second of five children, Jackson’s parents provided him with a relatively stable home. After he encountered violence in a public school, his parents moved him to the St. Malachy School, a black Catholic school that he attended for ten years.

During the summers, Jackson would visit his grandmother and aunt in the rural areas of southern Illinois every summer where he developed an independent streak, learning to use firearms and hunt animals. In 1956, the Jackson family moved to Los Angeles to escape bad influences in their Chicago neighborhood.

Before long though, George Jackson had joined a street gang called the Capones. At the age of 15 he was arrested for stealing a motorcycle. After several other burglary attempts and subsequent arrests, Jackson was sent to a California youth authority facility in Paso Robles. After his release, he was suspected in another string of robberies and again arrested. The criminal activity rapidly caught up with Jackson, who received a sentence of one year to life in prison for the $71 armed robbery of a gas station on February 1, 1961. He was imprisoned at the California Training Facility in Soledad, California.

Jackson spent the next few years being transferred between California prisons, often in solitary confinement, and became immersed in radical political theory that he learned from fellow inmate W.L. Nolen. Jackson was returned to Soledad Prison in January 1969. In 1970, he and two other inmates were accused of killing a guard. The three inmates became known as the Soledad Brothers. A collection of Jackson’s letters was published as Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson (1970), which rapidly gained popular mainstream support.

On August 7, 1970, Jackson’s younger brother Jonathan attempted to break the Soledad Brothers from prison by taking hostages in a Marin County, California courtroom. Police opened fire on the hostage takers. When the gunfire stopped, Jonathan and two of his three co-conspirators lay dead, as well as a judge who had been taken hostage.

The Soledad Brothers were transferred to a high-security section of San Quentin Prison in summer 1971. On August 21, 1971 Jackson was killed while attempting to escape from San Quentin during an armed prisoner insurrection that left six people dead. How Jackson’s death occurred remains controversial but the official report was that he somehow was passed a firearm by his lawyers and was shot by prison guards in an escape attempt.

His book Blood in My Eye was published posthumously in 1972.