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Not long before George Jackson, the Black revolutionary, author, and co-founder of the Black Guerrilla Family, was murdered in California's San Quentin Prison at age 29, he wrote these words to his comrades:
"Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are already dying who could be saved, that generations more will live poor butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done; discover your humanity and your love in revolution."
Jackson served a ten-year term in prison (with seven years in solitary confinement) after taking an ill-fated plea deal for petty theft when he was just 19 years old. He, along with two other Black prisoners—Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette—was later accused of murdering a prison guard in retaliation for the murder of three Black prisoners at Soledad State Prison. He was murdered on August 21, 1971. His younger brother Jonathan Jackson, along with William Christmas and James McClain, were killed on August 7, 1970, after staging a hostage conflict in a courthouse to force the release of the Soledad Brothers, which also resulted in the infamous criminal case against Angela Davis. These deaths catalyzed what is now called Black August.
August marks several landmark moments in Black histories across the African Diaspora, including the Haitian Revolution (1791), the Nat Turner Rebellion (1831), the founding of the Underground Railroad support network (1850), the birth of Marcus Garvey (1887), the lynching of Emmett Till (1955), the Watts uprising (1965), and more recently, the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri (2014). This August alone, the world lost three critical figures in Black literature and Black queer feminism—Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall, and Dr. Gloria Joseph.
First marked by Black prisoners throughout the California penal system, Black August is now an event commemorated by Black communities writ large, mostly in the U.S., with the aim of rigorous Black political education to strengthen Black resistance efforts against incarceration, labor exploitation, and other forms of anti-Black oppression.
Scalawag's hometown of Durham, North Carolina, commemorates the month with Black August in the Park, a weekend-long gathering of local Black community to connect residents with Black-centered justice movements and to celebrate their Blackness in Durham Central Park, one of the city's most visible spaces. The event happened for its fifth year on August 10.
Black August in the Park has the vibe of a family reunion, a music festival, and a political rally. The smell of fried plantains, barbecue, and funnel cake waft through the air, carried by go-go remixes and party jams. It is hot—everywhere you see sunhats, misters, and hands waving church fans from the newly established NorthStar Church of the Arts. Clothes cling to sweaty bodies moving to dance, to lay down on the grass, to reach for the arms of friends not seen for a while.
Everywhere are reminders of who we are and from whence we came. You cannot ignore the necessary re-affirmation by the late Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah etched on a billboard sized display—that "all people of African descent" regardless of nation, "belong to the African nation." This year, there were other grand displays of Black power history painted on pillars—a biography of George Jackson, a recounting of the San Quentin Six, a collage of famous Black figures, a statement on the principles of Black August, which include abstaining from alcohol (none was served at the event.) Instead of vendors, all along the covered walk in the park sat political groups, from the Durham Chapter of Black Youth Project 100 to Southerners on New Ground to SpiritHouse NC, offering pamphlets, stickers, buttons, and invitations to write love letters to Black trans women, to pose for photos with your own vision of community safety (without police), to learn how we can abolish cash bail on the way to abolishing jails and prisons and police for good. A few young boys gathered at a table to put lavender and rose petals and essential oils into African waxprint sachets to carry home with them, as a prominent community organizer explained their healing properties.
The political commitment to action, to resistance, was buttressed by an evenly weighted commitment to joy. There was yelling and whooping and laughing and jumping and double dutch and dancing and drumming and gathering and holding and eyes closing to rest under the sun. There was every kind of Black motto and affirmation on t-shirts and tattoos and etched into faded heads. There was Blackness everywhere, and at a time when Blackness feels especially in danger everywhere, there was safety.