Commentary: Black August Should Be Recognized


by Cell Block 2 City Block

We call on State Representatives to recognize Black August as a time to commemorate an unbroken line of resistance to white supremacy and slavery that continues today as legalized by the 13th Amendment of the US constitution.

Black August or Weusi Agosti in Swahili, is a time for all people to commemorate past freedom struggles in history while refocusing on our own. Part of this is building solidarity with victims and survivors of mass incarceration and legalized slavery in recognition of the parallel between systematic oppression from cell block to city block.

The month acts as a reminder of the need to struggle in solidarity with all oppressed people for a more just and equal social system.

The Drug War has fueled mass incarceration and overcrowding of prisons around the country without reducing the impact and devastation that drugs cause in working class communities.  In California we have overcrowded jails and prisons in violation of 8th Amendment constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Incarceration has proven an ineffective deterrent for those engulfed by the criminal mentality of complete rejection of the prevailing social system and its values.  There are segments of youth that are conditioned to accept and look forward to prison as a natural part of their growth into an adult.

This criminal mentality is in fact fostered by the Prison Industrial Complex in the forms of mass incarceration, the school to prison pipeline, gentrification, and overpolicing by militarized law enforcement.  These policies are responsible for pushing kids out of school and into the streets. Crime rates may go down or up over time but incarceration is in constant growth.

It is necessary to transform the criminal mentality to a community-centered mentality concerned with the collective wellbeing of all community members.  Recognition of Black August at the state level would be a significant step towards combating mass incarceration and recidivism through the empowerment of directly affected communities.

Background on B.A.:

Black August is a time to recall this unbroken resistance to degradation, servitude and bondage.  In doing so we see that our ancestors were intimately linked with and inspired by the Afrikan culture passed down to them.

Preservation of culture was one of the first acts of resistance that enslaved Afrikans were forced to take in the new arrangement of oppression in the Americas where the stripping of name, language and family ties were seen as prerequisites to making a “good slave” out of a “rebellious Afrikan.”

Black August began in 1979 after a series of organized killings of Black prison activists and jailhouse lawyers by California State Prison staff.  The F.L.E.A. Days commemorate the four tragic events that led to the declaration of Black August as a month of reflection, commemoration and resistance to white supremacy.

The F.L.E.A. Days of August 1st, 7th, 13th, and 21st bring attention to racialized violence normalized by the Prison Industrial Complex in the period from 1970-1978.

From its inception, Black August was not considered a starting point, but a continuation of an unbroken tradition of resistance dating back to the first enslaved Afriikan being pushed through the Door of No Return to be shipped by way of the Middle Passage to the shores of the Americas.

This common historical experience of resistance to enslavement, bondage, cultural erasure and outright dehumanization is what united these new Afrikans as one people.

Black/New Afrikan history does not begin with the arrival of slaves to European colonies of the Americas like Jamestown or South Carolina.  The dominant narrative often presents Black/New Afrikan history as a history of enslavement and subjugation, contributing to the negative self-image that many Black/New Afrikan youth struggle with.

Sankofa means “to reach back and go get it” in the Twi language of Ghana.  It has become symbolic of the connection shared by all peoples of the Afrikan diaspora and is reflective of the central role that Ghana has played in the decolonization of Afrika following WWII.

When we reach back, we can see commonalities between the many different nations of people present on the Afrikan continent.  As we come back through the Door of No Return at Elmina in modern day Ghana, we are reminded that Afrikans from throughout the continent were marched here to be sold systematically as property for the highest bidder.

Many nations were made into one by their steadfast resistance to this new uniquely European institution that made no attempt to hide its claims of White superiority.  Preservation of culture was central to survival for those who had been targeted. Music, art, weaving and religion became vessels for cultural continuity under the cover of outward assimilation under fear of unrestrained racial violence.

Significant events in August bring to light this connection to Afrikan culture that has fueled Black/New Afrikan resistance since our documented arrival on the shores of Caribbean islands in the late 1400’s.

To name just a few:

  • The first Afrikans were brought to Jamestown as slaves in August of 1619.
  • Gabriel Prosser’s 1800 slave rebellion occurred on August 30.
  • Nat Turner planned and executed a slave rebellion that commenced on August 21, 1831.
  • Underground Railroad was started on August 2, 1850.
  • The March on Washington occurred in August of 1963.
  • The Watts rebellions were in August of 1965.
  • The MOVE family was bombed by Philadelphia police on August 8, 1978.

Further, August is the time of birth for figures such as Marcus Garvey, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, and Chicago Black Panther Fred Hampton. August is also a time of rebirth, W.E.B. Dubois died in Ghana on August 27, 1963.”

We invite the entire community to learn more about Black August throughout the coming month of commemorative activities and afterwards as we continue demanding freedom, justice and equality.

The authors are Jamier Sale and Shane Lester, two board members of “Cell Block 2 City Block,” founded by the late Musa Mat’a. Black August begins Saturday, August 1).

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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