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Soledad Brother
Cover of Soledad Brother
Soledad Brother
The Prison Letters of George Jackson
A collection of Jackson's letters from prison, Soledad Brother is an outspoken condemnation of the racism of white America and a powerful appraisal of the prison system that failed to break his spirit but eventually took his life. Jackson's letters make palpable the intense feelings of anger and rebellion that filled black men in America's prisons in the 1960s. But even removed from the social and political firestorms of the 1960s, Jackson's story still resonates for its portrait of a man taking a stand even while locked down.
A collection of Jackson's letters from prison, Soledad Brother is an outspoken condemnation of the racism of white America and a powerful appraisal of the prison system that failed to break his spirit but eventually took his life. Jackson's letters make palpable the intense feelings of anger and rebellion that filled black men in America's prisons in the 1960s. But even removed from the social and political firestorms of the 1960s, Jackson's story still resonates for its portrait of a man taking a stand even while locked down.
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  • Soledad Brother

    June, 1964

    Dear Mother,
    Try to remember how you felt at the most depressing moment of your life, the moment of your deepest dejection. You no doubt have had many. That is how I feel all the time, no matter what my level of consciousness may be, asleep, awake, in between. The thing is there and it keeps me moving, pins my eye to the ball, up tight twenty-four hours a day. Our general situation and mine at present especially the inadequate response, the absence of genuine remedial thought and action, these are why I am as I am.

    I had a letter from Robert this morning professing a heartfelt sorrow at the passing of one of our strongest enemies, a slick-tongued, opportunistic, demagogic falsifier. What a prodigal waste of affection! Especially when we consider that Robert felt only relief at the time of the last political kill (M.L. King). I can’t reach Robert, he has a natural slave mentality like so many other black men of his generation. I understand why the mindless pursue the favor and affection of an insensitive and implacable opponent, but I cannot understand why they insist on planting those ideals in the minds of their sons. They go through life discovering that this enemy cannot be appeased, that he is relentless, calloused beyond repair, dedicated to personal financial success, heedless to its cost in human suffering. Yet when the son comes along, instead of acting upon these discoveries in a positive way, they lie, pretend, defend their inaction and collaboration, head down, shoulders bent, nose stained brown. I tolerate Robert because he stuck with us or you pretty faithfully (no small qualifier when one looks around at other families in the black community), but he has to go through many a change before I can really accept him. It may be too late for us to establish a relationship conducive to the remedying of our physical and material problems. I hope not. As I have stated before you can help us both. Just as those regressive ideals were sneaked into his consciousness so we can sneak some progressive ones in. Propaganda works both ways, but one must be subtle. He is sensitive about being bossed (by blacks anyway).

    I have wanted to write this letter for two weeks now, but I have been preoccupied. I wanted to enlarge upon some of the things we discussed when you were here. First, all men want to own things, to possess material goods to make themselves comfortable today, and to secure themselves against the unpredictable tomorrows. This is self-preservation, a natural thing found in all animals. It is only latent in some men but it is still there all the same. When this instinct works on a man without his full understanding, he does radical things. Now read carefully, Georgia. When the peasant revolts, the student demonstrates, the slum dweller riots, the robber robs, he is reacting to a feeling of insecurity, an atavistic throwback to the territorial imperative, a reaction to the fact that he has lost control of the circumstances surrounding his life. Whether he knows it or not, it is all the same. This system, its economics, its politics, was formed around an age that is past. It was inadequate even then. Men can no longer stake out land or section off a part of the earth and say to themselves, “I will use this as a guarantee,” mainly because of the monopolistic stranglehold of those who have already established themselves and who pretend to know what is best for the rest of the world...

About the Author-
  • George Lester Jackson (September 23, 1941 – August 21, 1971) was an American convict who became a left-wing activist, Marxist, author, a member of the Black Panther Party, and co-founder of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang. Jackson achieved fame as one of the Soledad Brothers and was later shot to death by prison guards in San Quentin Prison during an escape attempt.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    January 1, 1995
    Jackson gained notoriety shortly before his death in 1970 when his younger brother unsuccessfully tried to free him at gunpoint when Jackson and two others were on trial for killing a guard. Written between 1964 and 1970 while serving time in Soledad Prison for robbery, the letters reveal the brutality and racism faced by prisoners and call for unity among African Americans. This edition contains a new foreword by Jackson's nephew Jonathan. Soledad Brother remains "recommended for most libraries" (LJ 12/15/70) and is a solid title for Black History Month in February.

  • Julius Lester, The New York Times Book Review “The most important single volume from a black since The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”
  • Howard Zinn, author, A People's History of the United States "The power of George Jackson's personal story remains painfully relevant to our nation today, with its persisten racism, its hellish prisons, its unjust judicial system, and the poles of wealth and poverty that are at the root of all that. I hope the younger generation, black and white, will read Soledad Brother."
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    Chicago Review Press
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