Long live the spirit of Jonathan Jackson
Published Aug 8, 2010 11:34 PM
Jonathan Jackson was only 17 years old when he gave his life for oppressed
people on Aug. 7, 1970, when he went to the San Rafael, Calif., courthouse to
free his older brother George Jackson, along with Fleeta Drumgo and John
Clutchette — the “Soledad Brothers.”
Jonathan Jackson, James McClain
These three revolutionary inmates were charged with killing Soledad prison
guard John Mills. Just before Mills was thrown over a third floor railing, a
grand jury exonerated fellow officer O.G. Miller for shooting to death Black
inmates Cleveland Edwards, Alvin Miller and W.L. Nolen on Jan. 13, 1970.
African-American witnesses weren’t allowed to testify at the whitewash
While no evidence linked the Soledad Brothers to the killing of Mills,
California Governor and future U.S. President Ronald Reagan wanted to kill them
in the state’s gas chamber because they were revolutionaries.
George Jackson was internationally known for “Soledad Brother,” a
book-length collection of his letters from prison. “I met Marx, Lenin,
Trotsky, Engels and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me,” he
A field marshal of the Black Panther Party, George Jackson had already spent a
decade behind bars for a $70 robbery. As an 18-year-old he was given a
one-year-to-life sentence for being a passenger in a car whose driver allegedly
robbed a gas station.
Jonathan Jackson went to Judge Harold Haley’s courtroom armed with guns.
San Quentin prisoner James McClain was there, defending himself against
frame-up charges of assaulting a guard following the beating to death of Black
inmate Fred Billingsley by prison officials. Fellow inmates Ruchell Cinque
Magee and William Christmas were also in the courtroom as witnesses for
Like the enslaved Africans who joined John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, these
three San Quentin prisoners immediately joined Jonathan Jackson’s freedom
fight. Judge Haley, assistant prosecutor Gary Thomas and three jurors were made
“We are revolutionaries,” they proclaimed. “We want the
Soledad Brothers free by 12:30.”
According to Black Panther Party veteran Kiilu Nyasha, “The plan was to
use the hostages to take over a radio station and broadcast the racist,
murderous prison conditions and demand the immediate release of the Soledad
Brothers.” (San Francisco Bay View, Aug. 3, 2009)
But the capitalist class would rather have one of their judges killed than let
Black prisoners go free. As Jonathan Jackson drove away in a van, San Quentin
guards and court cops started firing. Jonathan Jackson, McClain and Christmas
were killed, along with Judge Haley. Magee and Assistant District Attorney
Thomas were wounded.
“Free Angela! Free Ruchell!”
The courageous action of these four Black heroes at the San Rafael courthouse
shook the capitalist state from the White House to the local police precinct.
“Psychologically the slave masters have been terrified by the boldness
and innovative tactical conception,” wrote Fred Goldstein in Workers
World. “No court is safe anymore.” (Aug. 20, 1970)
Scapegoats had to be found. Magee and Angela Davis, who had chaired the Soledad
Brothers Defense Committee, were put on trial. Jonathan Jackson had been a
bodyguard for Davis and three of the guns used at the San Rafael jailbreak were
registered under her name. That was enough for Gov. Reagan to try to send Davis
to the gas chamber as a “conspirator” responsible for Haley’s
death. In 1969 Reagan had gotten trustees at the University of California, Los
Angeles, to fire the radical philosophy professor for being a member of the
For two months Davis eluded the FBI, which put the Black communist on its
“10 most wanted” list. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover listed her as
being “armed and dangerous” — an official invitation to shoot
her on sight. President Nixon congratulated Hoover for the capture of Davis and
labeled the Black woman “a terrorist.”
From her prison cell Davis declared, “Long live the spirit of Jonathan
The Black community mobilized coast to coast to defend their sister. More than
200 “Free Angela Davis” defense committees were formed. Members of
every Workers World Party branch joined and supported these committees.
People rallied in Cuba, the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic
(East Germany) as well. On June 4, 1972, a jury acquitted Angela Davis of all
Tried separately from Davis, Magee had adopted the name “Cinque”
after the African leader of the 1839 slave revolt on the ship Amistad. The
original Cinque was freed by a Connecticut court. Ruchell Cinque Magee, who
also was part of a slave revolt, was convicted of kidnapping after murder
charges were dismissed.
Judge Morton Colvin refused to adjourn the trial for a single day when
Magee’s mother died. Yet Colvin recessed the hearing for two days
following former President Truman’s death. At one point this
bigot-in-robes kicked all 40 Black spectators out of the courtroom. (Jet, March
An appeals court forced Colvin to allow former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey
Clark, who later founded the International Action Center, to help defend
Cinque. Jury foreman Bernard J. Suares stated in a 2001 affidavit that the jury
actually voted to acquit Cinque of kidnapping for the purpose of extortion.
Ruchell Cinque Magee remains imprisoned today. Jailed for 47 years, he is the
longest held political prisoner in the U.S. and possibly the world. As an
accomplished jailhouse lawyer, Cinque has freed dozens of fellow inmates.
You can write to this heroic freedom fighter at Corcoran State Prison. The
address is Ruchell Magee # A92051, 3A2-131 Box 3471, C.S.P. Corcoran, CA
One year after his younger brother sacrificed his life, George Jackson was
assassinated by prison guards on Aug. 21, 1971. George Jackson’s murder
sparked the Attica prison rebellion in which 29 prisoners were slaughtered by
billionaire New York Gov., Nelson Rockefeller.
On March 27, 1972, the two remaining Soledad Brothers — Fleeta Drumgo and
John Clutchette — were acquitted by a San Francisco jury.
“Courage in one hand, the machine gun in the other,” was how George
Jackson described his 17-year-old brother Jonathan.
Sources: “If They Come in The Morning” by Angela Davis and
other political prisoners; “The morning breaks; the trial of Angela
Davis” by Bettina Aptheker.
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