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The MAAFA (The Black Holocaust)

By Bashir Muhammad Akinyele

“Just think that race of black men, today our slaves and the object of our scorn, is the very race to which we owe our arts, sciences, and even the use of speech. Just imagine, finally, that it is in the midst of peoples who call themselves the greatest friends of liberty and humanity that one has approved the most barbarous slavery and questions whether Black men have the same kind of intelligences Whites!”

– Count C. F. Volney, (Voyages on Syrie Et En Egypte, Paris 1787 pp74-77) a French Egyptologists under Napoleon Bonaparte

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the term holocaust as a mass slaughter of people. Unfortunately, some members of the human family have experienced a holocaust-the mass slaughter of a people-in the world. Our Armenian family experienced a holocaust. The Armenian Genocide was the systematic mass murder and expulsion of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians carried out in Turkey, and by the adjoining regions of the Ottoman government,  between 1914 and 1923. Our Jewish family were the victims of a Holocaust. They experienced anti-Semitism for centuries in Europe and America. When the racist and anti-Semitic Nationalist Socialist (NAZI) Party came to power in Germany in 1933, they initiated World War II. But their quest for world domination included the racist extermination of the Jewish people from 1939 to 1945. This  horrible and inhumane event is called- the Jewish Holocaust. Six million Jews were intentionally killed by the Nazis regime, their allies, and their collaborators. When the Nazis, and her allies, were defeated in World War II, Germany had to pay billions of dollars in reparations to the Jewish people. However, a similar horrific event happened to Black people less than a hundred years prior to the Jewish and Armenian Holocausts. It is called in the Afrikan American community-the Black Holocaust. Although the Black Holocaust has not been widely received by the world as a holocaust, it is imperative that Black people demand humanity to recognize slavery as our holocaust. The Black Holocaust was the slave-trading of Afrikan people by White Americans, Europeans and Arabs from the 1440s to the late 1800s. The Black Holocaust happened concurrently with the Indigenous peoples Holocaust of the Americas. Yes, indigenous peoples experienced a holocaust as well. They were nearly exterminated by European’s “discovery” of Native American lands staring in 1492 by Christoper Columbus. Europeans waged biological and violent warfare upon Native Americans to rob them of their territories. With the stealing of Native American lands, Europeans needed free and exploited labor to work these land into cash crops, roads, bridges, schools, houses, churches, colleges, state houses, and government buildings. Europeans tried to enslave Native Americans, and other whites, but the practice of slavery did not work  well with these groups. Eventually, Europeans began look to Afrikan people to be slaves. They began to use Black people by the millions as enslave labor in the Americas. In the Middle East, Arabs began looking at Black people as cash products to expand their economic power in the world. Eventually, Arabs began slave trading Black people on the eastern side of Afrika. The Black Holocaust began on both sides Afrika in world history. Millions  upon millions of Black lives will be changed forever by slave trade. The  slave -trading of Black people was one of the  most racist, savage, bloodiest, and inhuman events in human history that lasted for nearly 500 years.

The slave trade financially benefited Whites and Arabs. Some of the first European nations to become enslavers of Black people were the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Spanish, the French, and the English. With the invention of  guns, the development of mercantilism, the discovery of “new lands” in what we now call the Americas, the early formations of nationalism, the early developments of White supremacy, and a thirst for lands and power; Europeans became one two dominant forces in the slave trading of Black people. The other dominate force in the slave trade were the Arabs. By the 1600s slavery is full effect, but it’s politics and customs differs from slavery that existed in the ancient world. Slavery practice by Europeans, and some Arab groups, will limit slavery racially down to Black people. Despite the fact some Arabs believed in the religion of Al-Islam, they were still involved in  slavery. But some Arabs Muslims, because in Al-Islam slavery was permissible under certain conditions and rules, will allow Black people some degree of rights. But whatever the laws and faiths traditions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Al-Islam) that govern slavery by Europeans and Arabs, eventually Black people became its chief victims.

The consequences of slavery devastated Afrika and the lives of Black people for generations. In Kiswahili, there is a term the Afrikan centered conscious community uses to describe this Black Holocaust. The term is called-Maafa. It means a great disaster that forced Black people from Afrika to the world. But the late Dr. Khalid Abdul Muhammad, a respected Black nationalist freedom fighter, who led the New Black Panther Party from the late 1990s until his passing in 2001 and the former national spokesman for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, used a stronger Kiswahili term as an addendum to the term Maafa to explain the horrors of the  international American, European, and Arab slave -trading system of Black people. The Kiswahili term is Maangamizo. It means when someone, or something, intentionally works to annihilate a person or a group of people. Kiswahili is a Pan-Afrikan language spoken in many parts of the continent of Afrika. The Maafa and the Maangamizo are two conditions that happened to Black for nearly five hundred years during the Black Holocaust.

In the western world, the enslavement of Black people made us a permanent underclass in the America and in the world. Millions of Black people lost their lives to European slavery between 1400s to 1800s. Some historians estimate that 12 to 100 million Black people lost their lives during the middle passage in the European slave-trade alone. The middle passage was the route taken by Europeans ships importing enslave Black people from Afrika to the Americas. Once in the America, Europeans sold Black people off to plantations in the Western Hemisphere.

On the American side, White slave masters were also directing and profiting from the enslavement of Black people. In fact, the first enslaved Afrikan Americans landed in Jamestown, Virginia on 1619. Before the American colonies united to become the United States of America on July 4, 1776, White American colonialist were interwoven into the economic fabric of the slave-slave. White American colonists were Importing and exploiting millions of enslave Black people that made White people wealthy for generations. When America finally became an independent country from the British, the United States of America continued on the pathway of enslaving Black people by the millions. America’s involvement in the slave trade made United States one of the richest and most powerful capitalist nations in world history. It would take a Civil War from 1961 to 1865 to physically end the enslavement of Black people in America. But the cultural, social, psychological, and economic scars of American slavery will rage onward in Black America to this present day.

However,  the Arab international slave-trading of Black people existed for centuries before the European Slave -Trade, but ended in 1909. Zanzibar became the main slave-trading port in Afrika. Before the Arab slave -trade ended, millions of Black people were victimized by the Arabs slave -trade. Tidiane N’ Diaye, an Afrikan continental Senegalese scholar, told the non government and nonpartisan sponsored German newspaper Deutche Welle (DW) in 2019, “that 17 million East Africans were sold into slavery: Most people still have the so-called Transatlantic [slave] trade by Europeans into the New World in mind. But in reality the Arab-Muslim slavery was much greater. Eight million Africans were brought from East Africa via the Trans-Saharan route to Morocco or Egypt. A further nine million were deported to regions on the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean.” (

The enslavement of Black people was justified and protected by guns, the military, government laws, government policies, international law (the Asiento), the police, western religions, Arab Muslims,  Popes, the Catholic Church, the White Protestant Church, White supremacist ideology, and racism. (The Asiento was a Western law to keep European nations from going to war with each other over the slave trade. As the Spanish (the European people of Spain) Explorers colonized the Americas and took control of the captured land, called colonies, the slave trade was thought to be unchristian. To get around this problem, slave traders petition the Spanish government and the Catholic Church for permission to bring Black people to the Spanish colonies to work as enslaved Black people. This special permission was called the asiento. The traders, to whom the asiento contracts were granted, were required to pay a tax to the Spanish government on each Black person brought to the colonies.

In America, Black people were brought to Jamestown, Virginia from Afrika in chains by White people to be tuned into slaves in 1619. But wherever Black people ended up in the Americas, the European practice was to de-center Afrikan people from their Blackness. Slavery in America, and in Europe, violently stripped Black people of our Afrikan names; of our Afrikan culture; of our Afrikan religions; of our Afrikan spiritual systems; of our Afrikan languages; of our manhood, of our womanhood; of our childhood; of our norms; of our values; of our folkways; of our mores; of owning land; owning  businesses; of our civil rights; of our human rights; and all of our connections to mother Afrika.

Because of slavery, the disparities between White and Black generational wealth have gotten more entrenched in the millennium. Unfortunately, not one red cent, nor a written apology, has been given to us by the governments our former slave-masters to repair the psychological, cultural, social, and economic damages done to Afrika and Black people.

In America, and in the world, the remnants of slavery forced Black people down into the lowest realms of society to be the permanent exploited group. As a cultural consequence of slavery, Black people developed issues of Black self-hatred.

The ideology of Black self-hatred is a European and Arab psychological and cultural propaganda tactic that manipulates Black people into thinking that our dark skin, our kinky hair, our full lips, and all things associated with Afrika ugly and heathen.

There were many words used to denigrate Black people during the slave trade. However, the slave trade produced two of the most derogatory words used by Europeans and Arabs to dehumanize Black people-the n-word and Ibade. The word Ibade is an arabic word for a Black slave. These two negative words are still in use today to describe Black people. The n-word and Ibade are by-products of White supremacist ideology.

But it was Europeans that employed the fictitious ideology of White supremacy and the system of racism to keep Black people subjugated in slavery.

A good book to read on the Black Holocaust was written by the late Afrikana Studies Professor Dr. John Henrick Clarke. He first published his work on the devastating effects and affects of the enslavement of Black people in 1993. The book is called- Christopher Columbus and Afrikan Holocaust: Slavery and the Rise of European Capitalism. He writes in his book, “The Middle Passge. Our Holocaust. It is our holocaust because this is a holocaust that started 500 years ago and it is not over. We do not start our count at 6 million, we start counting at 60 million, and we have just began to count. Now I do not mean to negate the German and the European Holocaust. Whether the number was 6 or 60 million, it was wrong. But even if it was wrong, it was a problem started in Europe by Europeans that should have been resolved in Europe from Europeans. There is no comparisons between this tragedy and our tragedy which was the greatest crime in the history of the world….

The most disastrous of all their [Europeans] colonizations was the colonization of the image of God. They denied the conquered people the right to see God through their own imagination or to address God in a word that came from their own language……

Every effort was made to wipe from their [Black people] memory how they ruled a state and how they related to their spirituality before the coming of Europeans. Most of the people of the world were forced to forget that over half of human history was over before anyone knew that a European was in the world. Non-Europeans, especially in the Nile Valley civilizations, had laid the basis for the spirituality that would later be converted into the major religions of the world. They [Black people] had also developed the thought pattern that would later be developed into the philosophical thought of the world.”

Dr. Na’im Akbar, the great Afrikan centered psychologist wrote a very popular book on the affects of American slavery upon minds of Black people called-The Chains and Images of Psychological Slavery. In the 1990s, the Chains and Images of Psychological Slavery was a must read book. Although published in 1984, his professional analysis of the affects of slavery are still true today. He writes, “slavery was ‘legally’ ended in excess of 100 years ago, but the over 300 years experience in its brutality and unnaturalness constituted a severe psychological and social shock to the minds of African Americans. This shock was so destructive to natural life processes that the current generation of African Americans, though we are 5-6 generations removed from the actual experience of slavery, still carry the scars of this experience in both our social and mental lives. Psychologist and sociologist have failed to attend to the persistence of problems in our mental and social lives which clearly have their roots in slavery.”

The denial of reparations to Black people for being the victims of slavery is heartbreaking. Every group (Native Americans, Japanese Americans, and Jews) oppressed by a racial or religious holocaust in the world has been given reparations except Black people.

The Brookings Institute, an nonpartisan public policy based in Washington DC, recently published a report on the importance Black Reparations titled, Why we need reparations for Black Americans written by Rashawn Ray and Andre M. Perry. It was published on April 15, 2020. They said, ““Reparations—a system of redress for egregious injustices—are not foreign to the United States. Native Americans have received land and billions of dollars for various benefits and programs for being forcibly exiled from their native lands. For Japanese Americans, $1.5 billion was paid to those who were interned during World War II. Additionally, the United States, via the Marshall Plan, helped to ensure that Jews received reparations for the Holocaust, including making various investments over time. In 1952, West Germany agreed to pay 3.45 billion Deutsche Marks to Holocaust survivors….

Black Americans are the only group that has not received reparations for state-sanctioned racial discrimination, while slavery afforded some white families the ability to accrue tremendous wealth. And, we must note that American slavery was particularly brutal. About 15 percent of the enslaved shipped from Western Africa died during transport. The enslaved were regularly beaten and lynched for frivolous infractions. Slavery also disrupted families as one in three marriages were split up and one in five children were separated from their parents. The case for reparations can be made on economic, social, and moral grounds. The United States had multiple opportunities to atone for slavery—each a missed chance to make the American Dream a reality—but has yet to undertake significant action.” (

In summation, although we as Black people have a great history before slavery, we must devote time to the remembrance of the Black Holocaust. We must use the terms Maafa, and / or the Maangamizo, to help humanity understand that Black people experienced a holocaust. But must importantly, we must remind humanity that the Black holocaust has created a bottomless pit of Black oppression in America and in the world. Equally important, we must remind humanity that to make all things equal in America and in the world, reparations must be given to Black people to repair lives and cultures broken by slavery.


Asante sana (Kiswahili for thank you very much) for reading my commentary.

O Dabo (Yoruba for go with God until we meet again)!!!

-Bashir Muhammad Akinyele is a History Teacher, Black Studies Teacher, Community Activist, Chairperson of Weequahic High School’s Black History Month Committee in Newark, NJ, commentary writer, and Co-Producer and Co-Host of the All Politics Are Local, the number #1 political Hip Hip radio show in America.

Note: Spelling Afrika with a k is not a typo. Using the k in Afrika is the Kiswahili way of writing Africa. Kiswahili is a Pan -Afrikan language. It is spoken in many countries in Afrika. Kiswahili is the language used in Kwanzaa. The holiday of Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January


Claudia Jones: Black Feminist Fighter for Socialism

A look at Orange Mound, the oldest all-Black neighborhood in the U.S.

Orange Mound via

In 2019, Orange Mound, a neighborhood located in southeast Memphis, Tennessee, marked its 100th year of existence. Orange Mound is the country’s oldest African-American neighborhood which has officially been part of the city of Memphis since 1919.

The first African-American neighborhood to be built by and for African Americans was built on the grounds of the former Deaderick plantation, the Orange Mound subdivision was developed for African Americans in the 1890s to provide affordable land and residences for the less wealthy.

Drugs and crime infected the neighborhood in the 1980s and 1990s. In the first decade of the 21st century, revitalization efforts were started with its attendant positive effects.

Early row houses built by African Americans in Orange Mound. These plots of land were sold to them by Izey Eugene Meacham for less than $100 a piece.

Orange Mound was built on the John George Deaderick Plantation. Deaderick purchased 5,000 acres of land between 1825 and 1830, and the neighborhood got its name from a local fruit called the mock orange that grew in the shrubs there. The Deaderick plantation was sold to a white real estate developer, Izey Eugene Meacham, in 1890.

Young men and women get relief from the summer heat, swimming at the Orange Mound swimming pool in this undated photograph. (Courtesy Memphis & Shelby County Public Library and Information Center)

“During a time where land ownership was very much out of reach for African Americans, Meacham was instructed by Mrs. Deaderick not to sell any of the land to Negroes, but he made it his business to do just that. Turning a former plantation site into a black Mecca. After his purchase he divided the land and assigned a segregated area for African Americans and sold lots for less than $100 a piece. The neighborhood was fairly autonomous, and African Americans owned, not rented, their homes. This created a haven where black people could thrive including building houses, schools, churches and businesses in which they could economically control.

“The neighborhood was fairly autonomous, and African Americans owned, not rented, their homes. This created a haven where black people could thrive including building houses, schools, churches and businesses in which they could economically control.”

By the 1970s, Orange Mound had one of the largest African-American presence in the U.S. During the 1980s and 1990s, however, there were high rates of drugs, crime, and violence as a result of the poverty in the area. Despite the hardships, business owners, lawyers, doctors, attorneys, teachers and other influential members emerged from the community.

Piggly Wiggly was the first true self-service grocery store. It was founded on September 6, 1916 at 79 Jefferson Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, by Clarence Saunders.

“Churches including Mt. Pisgah C.M.E. Church, Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, and Beulah Baptist Church played a role in the Civil Rights Movement by assisting and supporting various activists. Blues legends B.B. King and Bukkah White played some of their earliest gigs in the community. Prominent athletes also have their roots in Orange Mound, such as former Memphis State basketball coach Larry Finch, Denver (Colorado) Broncos’ Tori Noel, and Olympic gold track athletes Sheila Nichols and Rochelle Stevens.

“Education is also a source of pride in Orange Mound which includes schools such as Dunbar Elementary and Melrose High School. In fact, the creators of “Memphis Sound” (Willie Mitchell and Carl Cunningham) and Stax CEO Kirk Whalum first played in the Melrose Band. Moreover, Melrose graduate, Dr. Alvin Crawford was the first African American to earn a medical degree from the University of Tennessee and became internationally recognized for orthopedic surgery.”

Ever resilient, Orange Mound continues to foster a strong sense of community and identity within a large urban environment.

The Handy hosted the finest in African-American entertainment. In 1953 alone, Little Esther Phillips, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Lloyd Price, and Ivory Joe Hunter played at the Handy. The theater site was demolished in 2012.

The Myth of the First Thanksgiving is a Buttress of White Nationalism and Needs to Go

David J. Silverman is a professor at George Washington University, where he specializes in Native American, Colonial American, and American racial history. He is the author of ThundersticksRed BrethrenNinigret, and Faith and Boundaries. His essays have won major awards from the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the New York State Historical Association. He lives in Philadelphia.


Most Americans assume that the Thanksgiving holiday has always been associated with the Pilgrims, Indians, and their famous feast. Yet that connection is barely 150 years old and is the result of white Protestant New Englanders asserting their cultural authority over an increasingly diverse country. Since then, the Thanksgiving myth has served to reinforce white Christian dominance in the United States. It is well past time to dispense with the myth and its white nationalist connotations.


Throughout the colonial era, Thanksgiving had no association whatsoever with Pilgrims and Indians. It was a regional holiday, observed only in the New England states or in the Midwestern areas to which New Englanders had migrated. No one thought of the event as originating from a poorly documented 1621 feast shared by the English colonists of Plymouth and neighboring Wampanoag Indians. Ironically, Thanksgiving celebrations had emerged out of the English puritan practice of holding fast days of prayer to mark some special mercy or judgment from God, after which the community would break bread. Over the generations, these days of Thanksgiving began to take place annually instead of episodically and the fasting became less strictly observed.


The modern character of the holiday only began to emerge during the mid to late 1800s.  In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared that the last Thursday of November should be held as a national day of Thanksgiving to foster unity amid the horrors of the Civil War. Afterward, it became a tradition, with some modifications to the date, and spread to the South too. Around the same time, Americans began to trace the holiday  back to Pilgrims and Indians. The start of this trend appears to have been the Reverend Alexander Young’s 1841 publication  of the Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers, which contained the only primary source account of the great meal, consisting of a mere four lines. To it, Young added a footnote stating that “This was the first Thanksgiving, the harvest festival of New England.” Over the next fifty years, various New England authors, artists, and lecturers disseminated Young’s idea until Americans took it for granted. Surely, few footnotes in history have been so influential.


For the rest of the nation to go along with New England’s idea that a dinner between Pilgrims and Indians was the template for a national holiday, the United States first had to finish its subjugation of the tribes of the Great Plains and far West. Only then could its people stop vilifying Indians as bloodthirsty savages and give them an unthreatening role in a national founding myth. The Pilgrim saga also had utility in the nation’s culture wars. It was no coincidence that authorities began trumpeting the Pilgrims as national founders amid widespread anxiety that the country was being overrun by Catholic and then Jewish immigrants unappreciative of America’s Protestant, democratic origins and values. Depicting the Pilgrims as the epitome of colonial America also served to minimize the country’s longstanding history of racial oppression at a time when Jim Crow was working to return blacks in the South to as close to a state of slavery as possible and racial segregation was becoming the norm nearly everywhere else. Focusing on the Pilgrims’ noble religious and democratic principles in treatments of colonial history, instead of on the shameful Indian wars and systems of slavery more typical of the colonies, enabled whites to think of the so-called black and Indian problems as southern and western exceptions to an otherwise inspiring national heritage.


Americans tend to view the Thanksgiving myth as harmless, but it is loaded with fraught ideological meaning. In it, the Indians of Cape Cod and the adjacent coast (rarely identified as Wampanoags) overcome their initial trepidation and prove to be “friendly” (requiring no explanation), led by the translators Samoset and Squanto (with no mention of how they learned English) and the chief, Massasoit. They feed the starving English and teach them how to plant corn and where to fish, whereupon the colony begins to thrive. The two parties then seal their friendship with the feast of the First Thanksgiving. The peace that follows permits colonial New England and, by extension, modern America, to become seats of freedom, democracy, Christianity and plenty. As for what happens to the Indians next, this myth has nothing to say. The Indians’ legacy is to present America as a gift to others or, in other words, to concede to colonialism. Like Pocahontas and Sacajawea (the other most famous Indians of Early American history) they help the colonizers then move offstage.


Literally. Since the early twentieth century, American elementary schools have widely held annual Thanksgiving pageants in which students dress up as Pilgrims and Indians and reenact this drama. I myself remember participating in such a pageant which closed with the song, “My Country Tis of Thee.” The first verse of it goes: My country tis of thee/ Sweet land of liberty/ Of thee I sing./ Land where my fathers died!/ Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!/ From every mountain side,/ Let freedom ring!” Having a diverse group of schoolchildren sing about the Pilgrims as “my fathers” was designed to teach them about who we, as Americans, are, or at least who we’re supposed to be. Even students from ethnic backgrounds would be instilled with the principles of representative government, liberty, and Christianity, while learning to identify with English colonists from four hundred years ago as fellow whites. Leaving Indians out of the category of “my fathers” also carried important lessons. It was yet another reminder about which race ran the country and whose values mattered.


Lest we dismiss the impact of these messages, consider the experience of a young Wampanoag woman who told this author that when she was in grade school, the lone Indian in her class, her teacher cast her as Chief Massasoit in one of these pageants and had her sing with her classmates “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land.” At the time, she was just embarrassed. As an adult, she sees the cruel irony in it. Other Wampanoags commonly tell of their parents objecting to these pageants and associated history lessons that the New England Indians were all gone, only to have school officials respond with puzzlement at their claims to be Indian. The only authentic Indians were supposed to be primitive relics, not modern, so what were they doing in school, speaking English, wearing contemporary clothing, and returning home to adults who had jobs and drove cars?


Even today, the Thanksgiving myth is one of the few cameos Native people make in many schools’ curriculum. Most history lessons still pay little to no heed to the civilizations Native Americans had created over thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans or how indigenous people have suffered under and resisted colonization. Even less common is any treatment of how they have managed to survive, adapt, and become part of modern society while maintaining their Indian identities and defending their indigenous rights. Units on American government almost never address the sovereignty of Indian tribes as a basic feature of American federalism, or ratified Indian treaties as “the supreme law of the land” under the Constitution. Native people certainly bear the brunt of this neglect, ignorance, and racial hostility, but the rest of the country suffers in its own ways too.


The current American struggle with white nationalism is not just a moment in time. It is the product of centuries of political, social, cultural, and economic developments that have convinced a critical mass of white Christians that the country has always belonged to them and always should. The myth of Thanksgiving is one of the many buttresses of that ideology. That myth is not about who we were but how past generations wanted us to be. It is not true. The truth exposes the Thanksgiving myth as a myth rather than history, and so let us declare it dead except as a subject for the study of nineteenth-and twentieth-century American cultural history. What we replace it with will tell future Americans about how we envision ourselves and the path of our society.



Study, fast, train, fight: The roots of Black August

Study, fast, train, fight: The roots of Black August

George Jackson

This article originally appeared on Liberation School

Exactly 400 years ago, in August 1619, enslaved Africans touched foot in the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States for the first time. The centuries since have seen the development of a racial system more violent, extractive, and deeply entrenched than any other in human history. Yet where there is oppression, there is also resistance. Since 1619, Black radicals and revolutionaries have taken bold collective action in pursuit of their freedom, threatening the fragile foundations of exploitation upon which the United States is built. These heroic struggles have won tremendous victories, but they have also produced martyrs—heroes who have been imprisoned and killed because of their efforts to transform society.

“Black August” is honored every year to commemorate the fallen freedom fighters of the Black Liberation Movement, to call for the release of political prisoners in the United States, to condemn the oppressive conditions of U.S. prisons, and to emphasize the continued importance of the Black Liberation struggle. Observers of Black August commit to higher levels of discipline throughout the month. This can include fasting from food and drink, frequent physical exercise and political study, and engagement in political struggle. In short, the principles of Black August are: “study, fast, train, fight.”

George Jackson and the origins of Black August

George Jackson was a Field Marshal of the Black Panther Party while he was incarcerated in San Quentin Prison in California. Jackson was an influential revolutionary and his assassinations at the hands of a San Quentin prison guard was one of the primary catalysts for the inception of Black August.

A 19-year-old convicted of armed robbery, in 1961 George Jackson was sentenced to a prison term of “1-to-life,” meaning prison administrators had complete and arbitrary control over the length of his sentence. He never lived outside of a prison again, spending the next 11 years locked up (seven and a half years of those in solitary confinement). In those 11 years—despite living in an environment of extreme racism, repression, and state control—George Jackson’s political fire was ignited, and he became an inspiration to the other revolutionaries of his generation.

Jackson was first exposed to radical politics by fellow inmate W.L. Nolen. With Nolen’s guidance, Jackson studied the works of many revolutionaries, including Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Frantz Fanon. Nolen, Jackson, and other prisoners dedicated themselves to raising political consciousness among the prisoners and to organizing their peers in the California prison system. They led study sessions on radical philosophy and convened groups like the Third World Coalition and started the San Quentin Prison chapter of the Black Panther Party. Jackson even published two widely read books while incarcerated: Soledad Brother and Blood in My Eye.

Unfortunately, if predictably, these radical organizers soon found themselves in the cross-hairs of the California prison establishment. In 1970, W.L. Nolen—who had been transferred to Soledad prison and planned to file a lawsuit against its superintendent—was assassinated by a prison guard. Days later, George Jackson (also now in Soledad Prison) and fellow radical prisoners Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette were accused of killing a different prison guard in retaliation for Nolen’s death. The three were put on trial and became known as the Soledad Brothers.

That year, when it was clear that George Jackson would likely never be released from prison, his 17-year-old brother Jonathan Jackson staged an armed attack on the Marin County Courthouse to demand the Soledad Brothers’ immediate release. Jonathan Jackson enlisted the help of three additional prisoners—James McClain, William Christmas, and Ruchell Magee—during the offensive. Jonathan Jackson, McClain, and Christmas were all killed, while Magee was shot and re-arrested. Ruchell Magee, now 80 years old, is currently one of the longest held political prisoners in the world.

On August 21, 1971, just over a year after the courthouse incident, a prison guard assassinated George Jackson. The facts regarding his death are disputed. Prison authorities alleged that Jackson smuggled a gun into the prison and was killed while attempting to escape. On the other hand, literary giant James Baldwin wrote, “no Black person will ever believe that George Jackson died the way they tell us he did.”

While the particular circumstances of Jackson’s death will likely forever remain contested, two facts are clear: his death was ultimately a political assassination, and his revolutionary imprint can’t be extinguished. Through the efforts and sacrifice of George and Jonathan Jackson, Nolen, McClain, Christmas, Magee and countless other revolutionaries, the 1970s became a decade of widespread organizing and political struggle within prisons. Prisoners demanded an end to racist and violent treatment at the hands of prison guards, better living conditions, and increased access to education and adequate medical care. Tactics in these campaigns included lawsuits, strikes, and mass rebellions. The most notable example may be the Attica Prison rebellion, which occurred in New York State just weeks after George Jackson was murdered. In protest of the dehumanizing conditions they were subjected to, about 1,500 Attica Prison inmates released a manifesto with their demands and seized control of the prison for four days, beginning on September 9, 1971. Under orders from Governor Nelson Rockefeller, law enforcement authorities stormed Attica on September 12 and killed at least 29 incarcerated individuals. None of the prisoners had guns.

This is the context out of which Black August was born in 1979. It was first celebrated in California’s San Quentin prison, where George Jackson, W.L. Nolen, James McClain, Willam Christmas and Ruchell Magee were all once held. The first Black August commemorated the previous decade of courageous prison struggle, as well as the centuries of Black resistance that preceded and accompanied it.

Political prisoners and the prison struggle

Observers of Black August call for the immediate release of all political prisoners in the United States. That the US government even holds political prisoners is a fact they attempt to obscure and deny. In reality, dozens of radicals from organizations such as the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army, the American Indian Movement, and MOVE have been imprisoned for decades as a result of their political activity. As Angela Davis, who was at one time the most high profile political prisoner in the US, explains:

“There is a distinct and qualitative difference between one breaking a law for one’s own individual self-interest and violating it in the interests of a class of people whose oppression is expressed either directly or indirectly through that particular law. The former might be called criminal (though in many instances he is a victim), but the latter, as a reformist or revolutionary, is interested in universal social change. Captured, he or she is a political prisoner… In this country, however, where the special category of political prisoners is not officially acknowledged, the political prisoner inevitably stands trial for a specific criminal offense, not for a political act… In all instances, however, the political prisoner has violated the unwritten law which prohibits disturbances and upheavals in the status quo of exploitation and racism.”

Prisons in the United States are a form of social control which serve to maintain the status quo of oppression. Over the last few decades, prisons have become an increasingly important tool for the US ruling class. Prisons not only quarantine revolutionaries, but also those segments of the population who have become increasingly expendable to the capitalist system as globalized production, deindustrialization, and technological automation decrease the overall need for labor-power. These shifts, which began in earnest in the 1970s, have hit Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities the hardest, as exemplified by the sky high unemployment and incarceration rates those communities face. These groups are also historically the most prone to rebellion. Angela Davis noted in 1971 that as a result of these trends, “prisoners—especially Blacks, Chicanos and Puerto Ricans—are increasingly advancing the proposition that they are political prisoners. They contend that they are political prisoners in the sense that they are largely the victims of an oppressive politico-economic order.”

Though that definition of political prisoner is unorthodox, it illustrates the political and economic nature of criminalization. This is why observers of Black August connect the fight to free “revolutionary” political prisoners to the broader struggle against US prisons. Mass incarceration is a symptom of the same system that political prisoners have dedicated their lives towards fighting.

As increasing numbers of the US working class are “lumpenized,” or pushed out of the formal economy and stable employment, the potential significance of political struggle among the unemployed and incarcerated increases. George Jackson wrote in Blood in My Eye that “prisoners must be reached and made to understand that they are victims of social injustice. This is my task working from within. The sheer numbers of the prisoner class and the terms of their existence make them a mighty reservoir of revolutionary potential.”

George Jackson’s own journey is a perfect example of that revolutionary potential. Jackson didn’t arrive in prison a ready-made revolutionary. He had a history of petty crime and was apolitical during his first years in prison. He would have been dismissed by many people in our society as a “thug.” But comrades who knew that he held the potential inherent in every human being found him and took him in. They helped him understand his personal experiences within the context of capitalism and white supremacy. In turn, George Jackson dedicated his life to doing the same for others incarcerated individuals.

Black August today

August, more than any other month, has historically carried the weight of the Black Liberation struggle. Of course, enslaved Africans were first brought to British North America in August 1619. Just over 200 years later, in August 1831, Nat Turner led the most well-known rebellion of enslaved people in US history. This historical significance carried into the 20th century, when both the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the Watts Rebellion—an explosive uprising against racist policing in Los Angeles—occurred in August during the 1960s.

Even today, the month remains significant in the struggle. John Crawford, Michael Brown, and Korryn Gaines were three Black Americans who were murdered in high-profile cases of police brutality; Crawford and Brown in August 2014, and Gaines in August 2016. Their deaths have been part of the impetus for a revived national movement against racist police brutality. Finally, on August 27, 2018, the 47 year anniversary of George Jackson’s death, thousands of U.S. prisoners launched a national prison strike. They engaged in work stoppages, hunger strikes, and other forms of protests. The strike lasted until September 9, 47 years after the Attica Prison Uprising began. Like the Attica prisoners, the 2018 prison strike organizers put forth a comprehensive list of demands that exposed the oppression inherent to the U.S. prison system, and laid out a framework to improve their conditions.

Each of these historical and contemporary events reveal a truth that the Black radical tradition has always recognized: there can be no freedom for the masses of Black people within the white supremacist capitalist system. The fight for liberation is just that: a fight. Since its inception in San Quentin, Black August has been an indispensable part of that fight.

In the current political moment, when some misleaders would have us bury the radical nature of Black resistance and instead prop up reformist politics that glorify celebrity, wealth, and assimilation into the capitalist system, Black August is as important as ever. It connects Black people to our history and serves as a reminder that our liberation doesn’t lie in the hands of Black billionaires, Black police officers, or Black Democratic Party officials. Those “Black faces in high places” simply place a friendly face on the system that oppresses the masses of Black people in the United States and around the world, often distorting symbols of Black resistance along the way. Black liberation lies, as it always has, in the hands of the conscious and organized masses. Study, train, fight, and in the words of George Jackson, “discover your humanity and your love of revolution.”




Trump’s Message: US (united snakes) is White Man’s Country

Donald Trump’s racist attacks on immigrants and “The Squad” are designed to tell his base that the US is a White Man’s Country and he is the president who’s going to keep it that way,” said Black Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford


Collateral White Skin

Painting by Biko Eisen-Martin. Young black boy shackled to a pick, figure in background looking on from a porch.


San Francisco had its prison walls all picked out; prepared to unveil its latest awkward interpretation of imperialism. Two police officers exit a squad car.

The United States power structure does not dialogue with us, it dialogues with our potential for resistance. And we receive the red and blue lights of its spokespeople as best as our political, spiritual, and psychic commitments permit.

The first time I was frisked by police, it was alongside my younger brother. I was an especially thin wrist’d nine. He was seven. I have been enjoying my poetry being proven right ever since.

Photograph of young black boy shackled to pick with man in background looking on, seated on a porch.


What this present moment, and what the past few centuries all teach us is that the primary reality of an oppressive system is its military reality. Before the determination of economics, institutions of socialization, and culture, there is a foundation of violence (organized, monopolized, and sponsored). An empire has to slaughter people in order to set up shop and enforce cultural hegemony. A slave owner is not someone who does not pay people for their work, as much as they are someone who will maim or kill people if they do not work (let alone, yet especially, revolt). And this equation continues into this modern era with hyper militarization of police, mass internment of Brown and Black people, permanent imperialist invasions around the world, and masses who practice whiteness (as it was designed by past U.S. ruling classes), not as a privilege, but rather a deputization.

In the United States, or really as a hallmark for all imperialist projects past and present, the foot soldier of the empire, both those literally sworn in and trained or those who just live regular corporation-determined lives on the various postindustrial, service economy roads to nowhere, stewing in confusion—for all foot soldiers, practicing violence is the only way that they can prove to themselves that they actually exist. This identity both extends and is extended by the deep feeling that war is the only way that they can be sure that their country exists.

This is where we enter daily as poets. And it is with respect to this reality that we must intervene.

Poetry (or art of any discipline) exists in the same part of the mind that produces revolutionary intention. Somewhere among flickers of stray phenomenal constructs are the stray building blocks of praxis asking to be gathered, expanded, and clarified by study and practice. Poetry is every step of the way from idea to practice. Our revolutionary (or counterrevolutionary) praxis and our art subtitle each other. Both evolve or atrophy together.

We garden praxis with critical conversation and vigilant (though ideally gentle) upkeep of detail and nuance.

In that biosphere of phenomenal engagement, we nurture, restore or postpone our humanity.

Poetry is a play on perception. It is the opportunity to see what your mind can do moment to moment; specifically, what your mind’s capacity for and use of language can manufacture when you don’t have to follow the bounds of physical and/or social reproduction. This perception, as catalyzed by the opportunity for de-crystallizing hegemonic identity, is where liberation begins.

What is the reality of power in the United States?

At nine years old, under duress and with an interrupted sugar high, the mapping of my repression was violent and ceremonial; especially ceremonial, was my mandate not to fold to these occupying troops. I remember their military-aided body language. I was engaged by the system as a have-not, but this was not a dream of the wallet. This was not a matter of privilege. This was a protein of the true nature of contradiction in the United States: that of violence.

I wonder if it is a rite of passage for a police officer to detain a non-white child.

Poetry occupies the strangest place in reality. A convergence of paradoxes where reality can simultaneously only be perceived and only be produced; where one line is both a universe unto itself and at the same time completely devoid of any individual register or self-contained existence; where there is only evidence and simultaneously no evidence of a creator. All proof of the fact that the system is not immortal nor invincible, but rather the aggregate of coercion and consent.

Poetry is the half step between the realms of cosmic unity and one million dualities. The poet creates an image by pulling these realms towards each other. A process of healthy insanity or within an insanity free of self-absorption. The poet creates an image by relaxing into the emotive math of language. In poetry, there is no ideal state. In poetry, there is no ideal style. There is no ideal reader. There is no ideal audience. There is only a torrential continuum of language through which we chase liberation. All proof that any poet (regardless of their respective talents and obsessions) can become a revolutionary.

How do we define a poet’s power in the United States?

Armies water themselves with children; therefore, a poet must have a revolutionary praxis. Armies water themselves in your mother’s living room; therefore, a poet is only either a tool of the oppressor or tool of the oppressed.

What is a busy Saturday sidewalk of bystanders in the United States?

Police searched skinny children for weapons and the crowd did not intervene. They stopped. They gawked. They reasoned with their hegemony-ridden internal compasses. They mostly kept walking. They mostly ganged up against God.

Which poet are you in the preceding scene?

I wonder if I am too severe or if the individual beliefs of a person not immersed in a revolutionary praxis are no more than phrases etched onto a horse bit.

The police left us on the street to digest the theatre of whiteness we just survived. Their military strut had no instrumental beyond my nine-year-old heart rate. Their metronome versus mine. Bystanders moved along without any consequences for their U.S. induction. We were all participating now in history.

Two boys meet imperialism.


Originally Published: June 4th, 2019