Black August and the Ware State Prison Riots

Black August flyer
Photo credit: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

This year seems like the most suitable time to celebrate Black August in recent years. Black August is the month where Black resistance and revolution are honored for all they’ve struggled through and accomplished throughout history. Critical Resistance—one of the most revered abolitionist national organizations founded by Ruthie Wilson Gilmore and Angela Y. Davis—shared an article about Black August and its meaning in 2012, writing, “he month of August bursts at the seams with histories of Black resistance–from the Haitian Revolution to the Nat Turner Rebellion, from the Fugitive Slave Law Convention and the foundation of the Underground Railroad to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, from the March on Washington to the Watts Uprising, from the births of Marcus GarveyRussell Maroon Shoatz, and Fred Hampton to the deaths of W.E.B du Bois and George Jackson’s own younger brother Jonathan killed while attempting to free the Soledad Brothers from prison.  We celebrate Black August, commemorating the anniversary of George Jackson’s death while understanding his life as a revolutionary in a long and unbroken line of resistance and sacrifice of Black people throughout history.” The tradition began in California prisons in the 1970s after George and Jonathan Jackson’s deaths as the former activist was killed (he was incarcerated for stealing $70 from a gas station) while trying to escape the barbaric conditions at San Quentin State Prison (which is currently in the news for its truly horrific treatment of its people inside and for having the most COVID cases of any facility in America) and the latter was killed after holding a judge hostage in exchange for his brother’s freedom. Following the brothers’ murders, incarcerated people across America mourned their deaths in what we know now as Black August. The number of revolutionary Black figures and events in August make the month as significant as it is. Black people are already disproportionately policed, incarcerated, and disappeared by the criminal legal system, and they’re also made into political prisoners. One of the most important parts of Black August is remembering and celebrating the Black figures who fought for liberation and were targeted and killed or incarcerated by the State. A website called New Afrikan 77 has a list of currently imprisoned Black leaders with their contact information and one of the best ways to honor this month is by writing letters to them. I plan on doing just that.

We can’t recognize Black August without discussing the Ware State Prison riots that occurred on August 1 at the Georgia facility. That night, two guards were stabbed, one guard was tied up, facility windows were smashed, and parts of the prison were set on fire (seen here). According to a website called It’s Going Down, “at least 1,546 people inside are regularly vulnerable to possible exposure, medical neglect and state sanctioned executions via COVID-19. Two people incarcerated at Ware State Prison have died due to COVID-19, while at least 22 have tested positive, as well as 32 employees.” The people inside have suffered through extreme medical neglect as they’ve been denied medical attention and care throughout the entirety of COVID. All of the incarcerated people have only been provided up to two sandwiches a day, aren’t allowed to take showers, can’t talk on the phone, are being beaten by guards, don’t have access to air circulation or essential medications, and are living in filth. In order to actually receive attention for their living conditions, they finally revolted and took control of the prison. Similar to that of the uprising George Jackson participated in during the 70s, the people who fought back at Ware State Prison are demanding their humanity be acknowledged. And yet 50 years later, Black people in Black August are still being murdered by cops, incarcerated more than any other group based on population, and are disproportionately dying from health concerns (this year it’s COVID). Those who took over Ware State Prison deserve to be heard, respected, and taken care of. Their lives matter. I hope we remember them just as we commemorate what George and Jonathan Jackson did 50 years ago and all of the other Black freedom fighters throughout America’s violently racist history.