Black August is a month-long commemoration following the deaths of George Jackson and Jonathan Jackson.
George Jackson was sentenced to one year to life in prison after stealing $70 from a gas station; he was killed during a prison revolt while trying to stage an escape.
Activists say the month is focused on political education and the ultimate liberation of Black people globally.
In 1961, George Jackson was sentenced to one year to life in prison for stealing $70 from a Los Angeles gas station. While behind bars, George became politicized, reading dozens of books from left-wing figures such as Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.
While incarcerated, George wrote two books, "Blood In My Eye," and "Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson" — a compilation of his letters from prison — analyzing the social, political, and economic realities of Black people, including those inside prison walls.
He spent around a decade in prison — first in San Quentin, and later, in Soledad State prison — much of which was in solitary confinement.
In a letter, he described his experience in solitary confinement, writing, "It destroys the logical processes of the mind, a man's thoughts become completely disorganized."
During his time at San Quentin, Jackson befriended W.L. Nolen. Together, the two created the Black Guerilla Family, a revolutionary organization for prisoners that was a part of the larger Black Power movement at the time.
On January 13, 1970, Nolen and two other Black prisoners were killed by a corrections officer during a prison yard riot.
The corrections officer was exonerated in their deaths with a ruling of "justifiable homicide."
Soon after the news of the ruling had reached Soledad prison, another white guard was found murdered. Three prisoners, including George Jackson, were charged with the crime.
They would come to be known as the Soledad Brothers. The three men were transferred to San Quentin to await their trial.
On August 7, 1970, Jackson's 17-year-old brother, Jonathan Jackson stormed a courthouse where James McClain was on trial for the stabbing of a San Quentin guard. Along with three other people, Jackson took five hostages and demanded the release of the Soledad Brothers.
The situation escalated into a shootout with police; four people died as a result, including Jonathan Jackson.
A year later, on August 21, 1971, Jackson, along with a number of other inmates, staged a prison break.
The escape sparked a prison riot, which left six dead, including Jackson.
In 1979, the first Black August was celebrated as members of the Black Guerilla Family in San Quentin gathered to commemorate the lives of George and Jonathan Jackson.
Black August is not another Black History Month, activists told Insider. It is centered around discipline, a commitment to political education, a focus on political prisoners in the US, the prison industrial complex, and the ultimate liberation and self-determination of Black people globally.
"It is a commemoration, and a lot of times people hear about it, and they want to talk about it as far as the historical events that happened in August" Sanyika Bryant, a political education organizer for the Black Organizing Project told Insider.
August also marks the anniversaries of the start of the Haitian Revolution, Nat Turner's revolt, and Fred Hampton's birthday.
According to Bryant, Black August traditions include attending local political education classes, breaking daily fast together, screening films, writing letters to incarcerated people, as well as throwing benefit concerts where the proceeds go to political prisoners and those unjustly detained.
The Black August Organizing Committee, which was started in 1979, is responsible for bringing the traditions of fasting, discipline, and political study from inside the prison into local communities, Bryant said.
According to Bryant, Black August should be "something that has to be struggled against."
"There has been more of a trend around parties ... which is not what Black August is supposed to be about at all." Bryant said. "It's one of the few things that we have as far as political traditions that exist that's really about discipline, and we don't want to lose that. We want to make sure that discipline part of it is popularized."
"In prisons to this day, California prisons in particular, you can't even say the words Black August without being thrown in the hole," Bryant said. "The tradition is something that we need as a people, disciplining ourselves, building up our strength for the political struggles that we're faced with."
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