Studying to Struggle: Jackson as a Guerilla Intellectual

George Jackson, San Quentin Prison: Untitled

This photo illustrates Jackson’s contemplative demeanor as he writers. 10/26/1970 Courtesy of University of California, Santa Cruz. McHenry Library, Special Collections

Soledad Brother; the Prison Letters of George Jackson Cover

1971 cover of Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson

On October 15, 1970, George Jackson made one of his most lasting contributions to the struggle for freedom with the publication of Soledad Brother. He put this book together out of a series of letters he wrote from prison. The letters were passionate but succinct since State law limited each letter written by a prisoner to a single double-sided piece of paper. Jackson’s ideas were formed in the heat of struggle against oppression, and the book reflected his status as an influential teacher behind prison walls. His peers looked to him for lessons in self defense through martial arts and also in international Marxist theory, from Che to Mao to Du Bois. In Soledad Brother Jackson analyzed the racist violence at the heart of the policing and prison system in hopes of building a global revolution. In many ways, the book predicted California’s current crisis of deadly mass incarceration as well as antiracist responses. 

Jackson emphasized the humanity, intellect, strength, and revolutionary potential of incarcerated people with searing eloquence. As he wrote of his comrades to his lawyer, who set up a legal defense fund with the book’s proceeds:

“There are still some blacks here who consider themselves criminals-but not many. Believe me, my friend, with the time and incentive that these brothers have to read, study, and think, you will find no class or category more aware, more embittered, desperate, or dedicated to the ultimate remedy-revolution. The most dedicated, the best of our kind-you'll find them in the Folsoms, San Quentins, and Soledads. They live like there was no tomorrow. And for most of them there isn't.” 1 .

The book is freely available on History is a Weapon.

Jackson’s letters reveal his relationships with his family, a budding romance with his comrade Angela Davis, and his thoughts on the road from slavery to incarceration, capitalism, education, and global decolonial revolutions. The legacy and impact of George Jackson’s ideas continue to pose such a significant threat to the CDCR and their control of the prisons that even the very possession of George Jacksons’s writings is criteria for gang validation, which often results in indefinite tortuous solitary confinement. However, it was the way in which Jackson, his younger brother Jonathan, and Angela Davis, the woman he loved, were punished for this vision that made him an iconic figure of the Black Power movement. 

Studying to Struggle: Jackson as a Guerilla Intellectual