By Abayomi Azikiwe
Since the early 1980s, the prison population in the United States has grown exponentially with African Americans, Latin Americans and other working class people making up the majority of those incarcerated in the dungeons of the world’s leading capitalist state.
During the previous decade on September 9, 1971, several thousand inmates at the Attica Prison in New York State took control of the correctional facility to demand radical changes in the way people are treated while incarcerated.
Less than three weeks prior to the Attica Rebellion on August 21, George L. Jackson (1941-1971), was martyred during an escape attempt from San Quentin prison in California. One year earlier on August 7, 1970, George Jackson’s younger brother, Jonathan Jackson, just 17-years-old at the time, was killed along with William Christmas and James McClain. Jonathan Jackson had walked into a Marin County, California courtroom where Christmas, McClain and Ruchell Cinque Magee were on trial. Christmas, Magee and McClain were given weapons by Jonathan Jackson as they took Superior Court Judge Harold Haley, prosecutor Gary Thomas and three jurors hostage.
As they walked the hostages outside the courthouse and into a rented van, other law-enforcement officers opened fire on the vehicle killing Jackson, McClean, Christmas and Judge Haley. Ruchell Magee was wounded and was the only survivor among the armed guerrillas. These events were covered widely in the corporate press. Later that same year, George Jackson would publish his book of prison letters entitled “Soledad Brother.”
Angela Davis, at the time a member of the Communist Party, was terminated from her teaching position at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) during 1969. The then Governor Ronald Reagan deliberately interfered with the administration of colleges and universities throughout the state. The year before, in 1968, the longest student strike in U.S. history took place at San Francisco State College, where an alliance led by African Americans, fought pitched battles to make sure the institution did not function on a normal basis. The SFSC strike of 1968-69 included at one point the faculty union which was under attack by the board of regents and Reagan.
Davis later became involved with the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee in 1970 and worked with Jonathan Jackson in political and legal efforts to exonerate his older brother George. Law-enforcement and media sources claimed that the guns utilized in the Marin County rebellion led by Jonathan Jackson were registered in the name of Angela Davis.
As prosecutors in Marin County focused on Davis as a suspect in an alleged conspiracy, the professor and activist went underground for two months. She was captured and imprisoned in October 1970. An international political and legal process would result in her acquittal on all charges by the summer of 1972.
It was the African American inmates which led the Attica insurrection in 1971 after being politicized by the numerous organizations operating on the outside including the Black Panther Party (BPP), Nation of Islam and the Young Lords Organization (YLO). The advent of the movement for Civil Rights and Black Power during the 1960s attracted thousands of youth activists who were committed to total freedom within their lifetimes.
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