By Mama Ayanna Mashama

Each year of f icially since 1979 we have used the month of August to f ocus on the oppressive treatment of our brothers and sisters disappeared inside the state run gulags and concentration camps America calls prisons. It is during this time that we concentrate our ef f orts to f ree our mothers, f athers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, and all other captive f amily and f riends who have been held in isolation f or decade af ter decade beyond their original sentence. Many of these individuals are held in the sensory deprivation and mind control units
called Security Housing Units (S.H.U. Program), without even the most basic of human rights.” – BAOC

Black August is a month of great commemorative signif icance f or the Af rikan peoples of the Diaspora, particularly those in the U.S. and especially the Calif ornia prison isolation units, where the commemorative tradition originated. Black August, as noted by one our most dedicated New Af rikan Freedom Fighters, Mumia Abu-Jamal,” is a month of divine meaning, of repression and radical resistance, of injustice and divine justice; of repression and righteous rebellion; of individual and collective ef f orts to f ree the slaves and break the
chains that bind us”.


Black August originated in the concentration camps (prisons) of California in 1979 and its’ roots come from the history of resistance by Black/New Af rican/Af rican brothers in those prisons. It’s original purpose is to honor and commemorate the lives and deaths of several f allen Freedom Fighters, amongst them were Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson, W.L. Nolan, James McClain, William Christmas and Khatari Gaulden; to bring education and awareness to f amily members, f riends, associates and communites about the conditions f or the
Black/New Af rikan prisoners held within those concentration camps (in particular in California) and to educate our people about and honor the history and actions of continued resistance of Black/New Afrikan/Afrikan peoples to oppression, colonization and slavery in the U.S. and throughout the Diaspora, with particular emphasis on f reedom f ighters and historical acts of resistance.

The contemporary historical roots of Black August can be f ound in the actions of Jonathan Jackson who was gunned down outside the Marin
County California courthouse on August 7, 1970 as he attempted to liberate three imprisoned Black Liberation Fighters: James McClain, William Christmas and Ruchell Magee.  Ruchell Magee (who is still imprisoned in California to this day) is the sole survivor of the August 7th rebellion. He is the f ormer co-def endant of Angela Davis and has been locked down f or 40 plus years, most of it in solitary conf inement in the SHU in Pelican Bay.  George Jackson was assassinated on August 21, 1971 by San Quentin prison guards. T he assassination was a deliberate move on behalf of the US government to eliminate the revolutionary leadership of George Jackson. In the midst of the governments set up orchestrated to murder George, three prison guards were killed in a counter rebellion. T he government charged six Black
and Latino prisoners with the Young Jonathan Jackson (left) at the Marin County Courthouse 7 August 1970 guard’s deaths. T hese six
brothers became known as the San Quentin Six (who were later acquitted of all charges).  Khatari Gaulden, one of the key intellectual architects of the Black August commemorative tradition, was murdered by the malicious intent of the government to deny him medical treatment f ollowing a mysterious accident on the San Quentin Prison yard August 1, 1978.


To honor these f allen soldiers and the revolutionary vision and principles they embodied, brothers throughout the prison camps of Calif ornia united together to continue their revolutionary work. T he brothers and their f amily members, f riends and supporters who participated in the collective f ounding of Black August wore black armbands on their left arm and studied revolutionary works, particularly those of Comrade George Jackson. During the month of August the brothers did not listen to the radio or watch television.  Additionally, they didn’t eat or drink anything f rom sun-up to sundown; and loud and boastf ul behavior was not allowed.  Support f or the prison’s canteen was also disavowed. The use of drugs and alcoholic beverages was prohibited and the brothers held daily exercises to sharpen their minds,
bodies, and spirits in honor of the collective principles of self -sacrif ice, inner f ortitude and revolutionary discipline needed to advance the New Af rikan struggle f or self-determination and f reedom. Black August is therefore a commemorative time to embrace the principles of
communion, unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical training and determined resistance. A select f ew community members joined them in solidarity. T he intent among those who commemorated and practiced Black August was to create revolutionary consciousness and encourage the spirit of resistance among themselves and our communities.


T he tradition of fasting, studying, and educating during Black August was developed to help instill self -discipline amongst its’ observers. The fast is also intended to serve as a constant reminder of the sacrif ices of our fallen Freedom Fighters and the ongoing oppression of our people. T he commemorative f ast is f rom sunrise to sunset (generally f rom 6:00 am to 8:00 pm). T he f ast includes refraining f rom drinking liquids and eating f ood of any kind.  T he meal to break the f ast is shared whenever possible among comrades. Other f orms of sacrif ice are also encouraged to teach self -discipline and self -ref lection, such as abstaining f rom sex or needless consumption (i.e. drug and alcohol use), ref raining f rom listening to the corporate radio and watching corporate television . People are also encouraged to ref rain f rom patronizing and using corporate businesses, gas stations, department stores, supermarkets and grocery stores. Traditionally a “Peoples’ Feast” is held
on August 31st to honor the f allen and acknowledge our collective sacrif ices f or the greater good.  Early on, the Black August practice and tradition also observed not only the sacrif ices of the brothers in Calif ornia’s concentration camps, but to commemorate the acts of rebellion and resistance that occurred within the Calif ornia Prison Camps and by other Black/New Afrikan prisoners, prisoners of war and f reedom f ighters. Within the f irst year(s) of Black August the sacrifices and struggles of our ancestors against white supremacy, colonialism, and imperialism were also included in the observation.

It must be clear that the purpose of Black August as created by the f ounders was not to celebrate, but to observe by individual and collective f asting, studying, educating and community work, as well as political and cultural edutainment. Black August is a time to engage in self -reaf f irming action to advance our struggle f or self -determination and national liberation, and to commemorate actions of resistance, revolution and rebellion while promoting an understanding and awareness of active and proactive acts of resistance. During Black August the community is encouraged to join in the observation and commemoration. Not only are the actions of self -discipline suggested, but also community members and community organizations are encouraged to come together, study and educate one another about resistance and liberation past and present through studying, discussion, reading, DVD sharing, cultural edutainment, exercising, training and breaking f ast
together. Black August study groups are encouraged.  It is suggested to write and/or visit someone in prison, to f und raise f or and donate to the prisoners, political prisoners and prisoners of war. T

To observe and commemorate Black August each individual is encouraged to:

  • Drink only water for a suggested prolonged period or if really disciplined until after sunset from the 1st until the 31st (Suggested hours are 8am to 6pm);
  • Eat only one meal a day after sunset; On days called flea days, (1st, 7th, 13th and 21st), fast 24 hours until next sunset.
  • Work out an exercise routine for each day either individually or in groups.
  • Do not use any drugs, mind altering herbs or alcoholic beverages during the entire month.
  • Do not go to any corporate store for anything other than medical or health related items.
  • Do not patronize fast food establishments or vendors.
  • Eat healthy, natural and nutritious foods and meals.
  • Observe Black August through educational study groups, events and commemorations.


In the early 1980’s under the leadership and practice of the Black August Organizing Committee (BAOC), the observance and practice of Black August spread f rom the concentration camps of Calif ornia and began being practiced by Black/New Af rikan revolutionaries throughout the country . In alliance with the BAOC, members of the New Af rikan Independence Movement (NAIM) began practicing and spreading Black August during this period. T he Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) inherited knowledge and practice of Black August f rom
its parent organization, the New Af rikan People’s Organization (NAPO). MXGM began introducing the Hip-Hop “generation” to Black August in the late 1990’s af ter being inspired by the Cuban based New Af rikan political exile Nehanda Abiodun to start “Black August Hip Hop” benef it concerts to raise awareness about our captured and exiled Freedom Fighters, our Political Prisoners, Prisoners of War, and Political Exiles like Hugo Pinell, Ruchel Magee, Mutulu Shakur, Sundiata Acoli, Sekou Odinga, the NY 3, the Move 9, Assata Shakur, and dozens more. T he benef its f rom these political/cultural events go to the political prisoner’s and their legal funds.

In the spirit of Black August, organizations are encouraged to have political, cultural and educational events and not celebrations or parties. Commemoration and observance is a totally dif f erent action than celebration and partying. Black August was designed and brought to our communities to educate, agitate and activate the spirit of revolution, resistance and rebellion in our people.  Along with the Black August Organizing Committee, MXGM and other organizations and individuals are now observing and commemorating Black August all over the U.S. and the Diaspora including Oakland, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston,Dallis, Austin, New Orleans, Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, Tanzania, South Af rica and Brazil.

A sampling of the “righteous rebellion” and “racist repression” that define this commemorative month include:

  • • The arrival of the f irst enslaved Af rikans to Jamestown, Virginia in August 1619;
  • • T he start of the great Haitian revolution in August 1791;
  • • Gabriel Prosser’s rebellion of August 30th, 1800.;
  • • T he rebellion of Nat “the Prophet” Turner on August 21st, 1831;
  • • T he call f or a general strike by enslaved New Af rikans by Henry Highland Garnett on August 22nd, 1843;
  • • T he initiation of the major network that conducted the Underground Railroad on August 2, 1850;
  • • T he March on Washington on August 28th, 1963;
  • • T he Watts rebellion of August 1965;
  • • T he def ense of the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Af rika (PG – RNA) f rom a FBI assault in Mississippi on August 18, 1971;
  • • T he bombing of the MOVE f amily by Philadelphia police on August 8, 1978.

Black August is also a commemorative month of birth and transition. Dr. Mutulu Shakur (New Afrikan prisoner of war), Pan-Africanist Leader Marcus Garvey, Maroon Russell Shoatz (political prisoner) and Chicago Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton were born in August. The great New Afrikan revolutionary scholar and theoretician W.E.B. Dubois died in Ghana on August 27, 1963. Khatari Gant the son of Original Black August Organizing Committee Members Mama Ayanna and Shaka At-Thinnin was murdered on August 4, 2007.


Portions of this writing were taken from historical articles written by:
T he Original Black August Organizing Committee
T he Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Mama Ayanna
Shaka At-T hinnin
Javad Jahi


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