State College leaders reflect on the history and meaning of Black August | Penn State, State College News

Black August seeks to specifically celebrate parts of the Black freedom movement that Black History Month and Juneteenth do not, and for Tierra Williams, Black August is “a celebration where we recognize the different achievements, revolutions and situations that have occurred during this month”.

Williams, chairman of the 3/20 Coalition, said Black August began in 1971 with the death of prominent political prisoner and activist George Jackson.

“Black August was invented when George Jackson and his brother were killed in California prisons after being incarcerated for an insignificant amount of money,” Williams said.

Jackson’s death in August 1971 launched what became known as Black August. Originally arrested and convicted for stealing $70 from a gas station, Jackson was sentenced to a year to life in prison, according to The New York Times.

According to the Times, this “arbitrary” sentence led to him remaining in prison for the next and final 11 years of his life. His years in prison ignited his political ambition and he became a leader and inspiration for the Black Liberation Movement.

From prison, Jackson and other inmates dedicated themselves to raising the political awareness of their fellow inmates in the California state prison system. Jackson and others started the San Quentin State Prison chapter of the Black Panther Party, of which Jackson was a marshal.

Jackson was murdered on August 21, 1971 by a prison guard, but the facts surrounding his death are widely debated. Law enforcement authorities at the time said Jackson smuggled a gun into the jail and was killed while trying to escape.

According to the Times, Jackson became a symbol of the movement after he and two other black prisoners killed a white guard at Soledad State Prison in 1970. The Black Liberation Movement was not concerned with the morality of murders, but rather by the fact that black prisoners were “treated like subhumans,” The Times reported.

The movement also believed that too many black prisoners were not being held as criminals, but rather as political prisoners. This has led the Black August celebration to focus specifically on certain issues such as political imprisonment.

Angela Davis, a political activist, wrote in her essay “Political Prisoners, Prisons and Black Liberation” that minority prisoners “maintain that they are political prisoners in the sense that they are largely the victims of an oppressive political-economic order, quickly becoming aware of the underlying causes of their victimization.

This is the message Jackson and his fellow inmates have chosen to capitalize on and teach their peers.

According to Liberation School and The Black Collective, Black August is a celebration to honor “the fallen freedom fighters of the Black Liberation Movement, to call for the release of political prisoners in the United States, to condemn the oppressive conditions of American prisons, and to emphasize the continued importance of the black liberation struggle.

Williams and Lorraine Jones, president of the State College National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, reiterated that sentiment.

“It’s very important to highlight the black resistance within the movement,” Jones said. “It really is a moment for us to reflect, especially for those who work with the movement within social justice.”

Although Black History Month and June 16 have been publicly known and celebrated for many years, Black August is a celebration and commemoration many have yet to hear of, and Jones said that this month was not “at the peak of our history”.

“It’s another way for us to educate people about a part of history that has been suppressed over the years,” Jones said.

Williams said the public’s lack of knowledge about Black August comes from “people [not wanting] acquaint you with some history regarding black or African people in America.

“I believe a lot of our history has been buried,” Williams said. “But it’s starting to get a kind of traction because people are forced to pay attention to this stuff. There’s still more to come.

Over the years, the month of August has remained symbolic for the black community. Historic events such as the Watts Rebellion, the Haitian Revolution, the Nat Turner Rebellion, the Fugitive Slave Law Convention, and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom all happened in August.

Even celebrities and symbolic figures of the Black Liberation Movement were born or died in August, such as Marcus Garvey, Marsha P. Johnson and Fred Hampton who were born in August, and Emmett Till, Chadwick Boseman and George Jackson who died.

However, there is more to the Black August story. According to Liberation School and The Black Collective, Black August fosters commitment to “higher levels of discipline.”

This may include fasting, physical exercise, political study, and political engagement.

Guests attend the Black August Vegan Feast hosted by the Chakras Cafe on August 28, 2022 at the Webster Bookstore at State College, Pennsylvania. Charkas Cafe is owned by Tierra Williams.

Latisha Franklin said Black August is not just about education today, but also about fasting. The Black August Fast Breaker was hosted by Black 2 Reality, owned by Franklin and Williams to “inspire black excellence” at Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe in downtown State College.

“During the month of August, you’re supposed to not eat from sunrise to sunset,” Franklin (a graduate in biochemistry, microbiology, and molecular biology) said. “You are also supposed to eat healthy things; so there’s no alcohol, no tobacco, and you break the fast with a unity party.

Black 2 Reality held a Black August quiz at the beginning of August as an “educational play”, then at the end of the month “we get together, share more information and break this fast as community,” Franklin said.

The Black 2 Reality quiz and breakfast feast helped bring the communities of Penn State and State College together, or, as Franklin puts it, “town and dress.”

“We try to bring communities together, as well as educate communities and bring black knowledge to life,” Franklin said.

As leaders of the State College and black communities, Franklin, Jones and Williams each said Black August meant something different to them.

For Franklin, Black August represents “the ability to use [her] voice.”

“Being able to speak and have people come in and want to listen means a lot,” Franklin said. “We have the opportunity to do what we love to do.”

Jones said for her, this month is “a moment of reflection.”

“It’s really a time to reflect on the struggles of people who have made a lot of sacrifices to make a lot of instrumental things happen,” Jones said. “It’s a time to reflect on how many people lost their lives in this struggle for people to have the opportunities we have now.”

And for Williams, Black August means revolution.

“There is a better future. Every year, not just in America, someone did something to challenge the status quo or what the mainstream media says they shouldn’t be doing,” Williams said. “I’m starting to realize that it’s okay to stand up for what’s right, even when you’re alone.”

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