*Pardon the length. I got to writing about George Jackson and damn near couldn’t stop. Enjoy.*
There are pivotal moments in a young person’s life where an event shapes their political and world views in dramatic fashion. I realize am not unique in having that experience but this particular instance altered my persona forever. My earliest recollection of one of these profound occurrences took place when I was seven (soon to be eight) years old. I found a dog-eared copy of a book written by imprisoned Black Panther George Jackson. The book, Soledad Brother, was a collection of written letters to family and most notably Professor Angela Davis.
I think I always had an awareness of my blackness early on because I looked so unlike my mother who was of mixed parentage. I was darker than she and my father were. I had this hair that was straight, wavy, kinky, curly and wild all at once. I stood out away from her but I was still hers. The book I found was my mother’s, something she read during her time as an activist in her neighborhood (by this time, my mother had a cushy job and was content). She encouraged me to read it and I did so with glee. It reinforced and hammered home that I was indeed black and that it was a mater of pride. I felt instant kinship to George Jackson’s vision of blackness. I wanted to BE George Jackson.
I was so gripped by Jackson’s story because it was so harsh. I grew up in rough neighborhoods but I was removed from the harsher elements by sheer will. I did not live a life of crime although plenty of people in my family did. I didn’t experience the coldness that George Jackson experienced as a young man. I didn’t have that type of turmoil in my life that shaped my views. I didn’t inject myself into the tough life many of my peers did. I did not want that. I felt like I wouldn’t have survived it. Yet, I was attracted to the idea of struggle present in the book. Eventually, I did start up with some petty, illegal activity and spending time with the wrong crowds. However, it was all a ploy to supplant my fragile ego and nothing more.
To say that the book held my attention would be an understatement. Some nights, I wouldn’t even eat dinner because I’d be in my room with my small book light reading each page with a wonderment some would reserve for more trivial fare. I devoured this book yet I didn’t understand all of what I read. But what did stick was that this Black Revolutionary, this man, this thinker…he had a story to tell and I needed to read it. It wasn’t a familiar tale, but it was one that eventually became a blueprint of how I dealt with my own impending manhood and sensibilities rooted in my Black experience.
As anyone who knows me will tell you, I love my brothers. Especially my younger middle brother. The love George had for his younger brother Jonathan was my favorite part of the book. I know many focus on the infamous love story between Angela Davis and George Jackson, but there was a purity in how he regarded his brother that couldn’t be denied. The tragic details of how Jonathan lost his life are clearly depicted here. I sometimes would dream about how if I were George that my brother would do this for me…would die for me. I love him so much, I’d die for him now if I had to. I get emotional when I think about Jonathan. I know he was willing to die for George.
As I’ve grown with the book and having read it several times over (with a current reading taking place), I’ve changed a lot. I’ve been a socialist, a vocal activist, a Marxist, a hard-line liberal…you name it. I’m a lot more balanced and moderate these days but I lean left with my politics. But the lessons of struggle, fighting calculated persecution, striving for justice…all those themes resonate deeply inside of me. I know I titled the piece to explain what George meant to me so I’ll go into that now.
George Jackson is one of my heroes, if not my favorite. I used to dream he was my real father. I wanted a man this open with himself on paper to talk to me with that freedom and openness. I wanted him to talk to me like he spoke to his little brother Jon — “DECIDE NOW” — as he tells him school is a fallacy. I wanted George Jackson to guide me. I wanted him to be my own living reality. And you know what ? He was. He is just as tangible now as he was then and as he should be for the rest of the world. We should all be so lucky to have witnessed a man of his struggle and beautiful mind.
Like Ish of Digable Planets said: “My heroes died in prison/George Jackson” — right on, brother. Right on. So what does George Jackson mean to me?