Friday, July 31, 2015

Why We Need Black August

August has come again. And another Black August is here.

Honestly, I don't know much about Black August. I would like to know more. I know it is associated with a radical tendency within Black thinking and action. I also know that, historically, August has many important events in the history of antiblack racism and the struggle against antiblackness in the USA.

  • August 7, 1970 (San Rafael, California, USA) -- Jonathan Jackson, Ruchelle Magee, and William Christmas take over a courtroom in Marin County Courthouse demanding freedom for the Soledad Brothers, George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo, and John Clutchette.
  • August 10, 1835 (Canaan, New Hampshire) --More than 500 white men yoked more than 100 oxen to the Noyes Academy and dragged it into a swamp to prevent Black children from attending. The white men also fired canons into the boarding houses where the Black children lived while attending. Among the children who had attended were Alexander Crummell and Henry Highland Garnett, who would grow to be important leaders advocating Black autonomy and revolution.
  • Aug. 13, 1955 (Brookhaven, Mississippi) -- Voting rights activist and veteran Lamar Smith is shot dead in front of the local courthouse in Brookhaven. No one has ever been charged.
  • August 14, 1908 (Springfield, Illinois, USA) -- Based on spurious accusations of rape, a white mob goes on a rampage, burning a Black neighborhood, assaulting, raping, and killing numerous residents. Seven Black people die.
  • August 17, 1887 (St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica) -- Marcus Mosiah Garvey, future founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, is born.
  • August 21, 1831 (Southampton County, Virginia, USA) -- Nat Turner's Rebellion begins in Virginia. It succeeds in killing more than 50 slaveholders before being suppressed and its conspirators killed by US government.
  • August 21, 1971 (San Quentin State Penitentiary, California, USA) -- George Jackson's Rebellion in San Quentin prison succeeds in killing several guards before being suppressed. In following weeks, rebellion in Attica prison in New York state continues the rebellion before being brutally suppressed on the orders of New York governor Nelson Rockefeller.
  • August 27, 1974 (Washington, North Carolina, USA) -- Black inmate Joan Little kills white guard Clarence Alligood. He had been raping her, a common practice among southern white jailers with their Black female inmates.
  • August 30, 1800 (Richmond, Virginia, USA) -- Gabriel Prosser's planned rebellion to take over Richmond is foiled by two snitches. Prosser and his fellow conspirators escape but are eventually captured and executed.

The thing is, I don't remember hearing about most of these events. During most of the past Augusts of my life, The March On Washington has usually the only historical event I remember commemorating during August. All of that changed only when I found out about freedom fighters like Joan Little, Jonathan Jackson, Angela Davis, George Jackson, Gabriel Prosser, and Nat Turner.

But, as the series of pieces I've posted from Zinn Education Project shows, August has also been a very bloody and traumatic month for Black folks, a month when we have been reminded that, as one very anti-afropessimist friend of mine once surprisingly (ironically) put it, "Black people will never get treated fairly here or anywhere else in the world." Ironically, that statement remains the best definition of afropessimism that I have ever heard.

That analysis is why we fight back *as* Black people. We can fight back as women, LGBT folks, workers, or even members of the "middle class." But at the end of the day, all the other members of those groups can achieve victories toward their freedom and go back home and we remain unfree. Black August is the time when we remind ourselves that, however implicated in other fights for justice and equality we might be, there is something unique that we do when we recognize antiblack racism as the paradigm of the world. That recognition binds us to a fight that has a long history and many names, most of it and most of them unknown.

Afropessimism doesn't oppose struggle; it is authorized as a set of questions (not really a "school of thought," per se) posed by die-hard soldiers and activists like Assata Shakur, Dhoruba bin Wahad, Safiya Bukhari, George Jackson, Jonathan Jackson, Jalil Muntaquim, and Frank Wilderson.

So, however you honor Black August, make it a moment of commemoration and action. Study the memories cited above. And make new ones.

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