How Black August Differs From Black History Month

This timely article spotlights the month-long events of Black History Month and Black August, what they are and how they differ.

Black History Month and Black August are similar, in that they are conversations about Black people. They differ, in that Black August is inclusive of other races. The spirit of Black History Month is to create dialogue and recognition of Black achievement, and to celebrate-in that achievement. The spirit of Black August is to mourn, and to reflect, upon those who fought, died, and continue to fight, against legalized forced labor in the United States, and the living conditions of these forced-labor camps we now call prisons.

Black History Month

Born in 1875, Carter G. Woodson, "the father of Black History," launched Negro History Week in 1926. A Harvard grad, the second African American to graduate from the prestigious University after W.E.B. DuBois, Woodson grew tirelessly frustrated by the lack of scholarly material on Black Americans and the history of Black people prior to slavery. His efforts in changing the so-called "Negro Narrative" paid off in 1926, when schools were willing to accept his academic material on Negro history.

While the term Negro is a pejorative today, it was not in 1926. African American leaders of that Era, such as Woodson, were proud members of the Negro race. Senior spokesperson to Woodson, Booker T. Washington is known to have demanded of White audiences to address him and his people as Negroes. Even as late as 2013, the forms on the United States census still classified African Americans as Negroes. Being a child born in 1965, I too was shocked and surprised to see my birth certificate for the very first time in 2022, and it classified myself and parents as Negroes.

On February 10, 1976, in the Bicentennial year of our Independence, 38th U.S. President Gerald R. Ford gave a speech urging Americans to join him in tribute to Black History Month. From this speech Negro History Week became Black History Month.

Black August

Born in 1941 in Chicago, Illinois, George Lester Jackson's 1971 shooting death at San Quentin State Prison by a prison guard became the impetus of the month-long in memoriam Black August.

At the age of 15, his family left Chicago to move to Los Angeles. While in L.A., George frequently had run-ins with law enforcement that led to his arrest and sentence to the notorious now-defunct California Youth Authority (CYA). Five years later, George was sentenced to 1 to life for the $71 gas station robbery at 4201 Washington Boulevard, where he was the getaway driver. 10 years later, George was martyred during a San Quentin uprising.

This writer, nor any other writer, cannot adequately give you an unbiased consensus as to who George Jackson was and how he lived both on the inside and the outside. I say that to say, if at every meal a prison guard spat in your food right in front of your face prior to handing it to you, and this one day leads you to attack that person, would the state write those mitigating facts in its reporting?

Many times, we have to be very, very, careful, as to the State's official versions on things; because they always seem to leave out their intentionality in creating conditions that would lead men or women to break out of their oppression via violence.

One thing is for sure, George read all the Communist Manifestos of his time and of earlier eras. What was Karl Marx's beef with capitalism? It revolved around labor!

One thing the dominant culture (Whites) will never understand, African-Americans have never been free. While the American Civil War ended involuntary servitude, slavery, whatever you want to call it, for private means, or by private individuals, it transferred this right to the public sector, sovereigns. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution has a slavery exception clause for criminals.

The so-called regulatory state was used as a bludgeon to re enslave African Americans. This re enslavement scheme was never taught to me during any of the K - 12 classes I ever went to. These predominantly former slave states, used vagrancy laws and private employment contract disputes to selectively enforce against African Americans to jail them.

These new post Civil War criminal statutes were nicknamed the Black Codes. According to Douglas Blackmon in his 2008 book Slavery by Another Name, "The defining feature of the Black Codes was broad vagrancy laws, which allowed local authorities to arrest free people for minor infractions and commit them to involuntary labor. This period was the start of the convict lease system."

The conditions of African American imprisonment under the "Convict lease system," was far worse than the slave plantation system. Under slavery, private citizens bought humans, and had a profit motive, in other words an investment motive towards the health and well-being of this property. Whereas the state got the human capital for free. The decision- makers, regarding the well-being of the worker had no skin in the game, since all upfront capital to make the system work came from taxpayers, and not the personal wealth of the government worker.

Another consequence for African Americans to the slavery exception clause, was the fact, in order for such a system to work (legalized slavery), you had to demonize your potential labor pool as criminals, since only criminals could be involuntarily servitude.

If one listens to conservative media hosts, Michael Brown was a monster. But right after his 2015 death in Ferguson, Missouri, government records revealed the spirit of the Black Codes is alive and well in the 21st century. "Policing for profit: How Ferguson's fines violated rights of African-Americans," written by CNN journalists, they write, "Just about every branch of Ferguson government - police, municipal court, city hall - participated in 'unlawful' targeting of African-American residents. The millions of dollars in fines and fees paid by black residents served an ultimate goal of satisfying 'revenue rather than public safety needs,' the Justice Department found."

According to a New York Times headline, "Philando Castile Was Pulled Over 49 Times in 13 Years"; yet, according to a 2022 Minneapolis Post headline, "Four years after Philando Castile, St. Anthony police continue to pull over Black motorists at disproportionate rates," nothing has changed. These selective enforcement campaigns corrupt police departments, and jails African Americans.

In what some are calling the criminal justice Bible, Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, she reports:

One notable example is the successful challenge led by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to a racist drug sting operation in Tulia, Texas. The 1999 drug bust incarcerated almost 15% of the black population of the Town, based on the uncorroborated false testimony of a single informant hired by the sheriff of Tulia.

Imagine that. We only hear about the police murders of unarmed African Americans, we hear nothing about the other ways police terrorism is uprooting Black Lives. In my own city, Los Angeles, over 100 convictions were overturned, or active court cases dismissed, due to false arrests.

Here is another excerpt from her book, written over a decade ago, now tell me doesn't this sound familiar:

"Once again, vagrancy laws and other laws defining activities such as 'mischief' and 'insulting gestures' as crimes were enforced vigorously against blacks. The aggressive enforcement of these criminal offenses opened up an enormous market for convict leasing, in which prisoners were contracted out as laborers to the highest private bidder. Douglas Blackman in Slavery by Another Name, describes how tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested during this period, many of them hit with court costs and fines, which had to be worked off in order to secure their release."

Sounds familiar to the behavior of law enforcement, and other agencies within municipalities that were discovered to be taking place after the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri, and Philando Castile in Minnesota.

George's death was about prison conditions. Three weeks later, the Attica uprising was about prison conditions. In 2022, according to the reporting by the Clarion Ledger, the Mississippi Department of Corrections reported 102 prisoners dying in 2020.

While California's oldest prison, and location of George's death, San Quentin State Prison was fined nearly $500,000 for the largest single penalty in the state over workplace safety violations for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This resulted in the deaths of 28 inmates, one correctional officer, with a total of 2,200 confirmed Covid cases.

As a prisoner nearly turning 60, last week I was given a ducat to report for work in the kitchen. These are called Support Service jobs, the kitchens, porters doing daily cleaning maintenance inside the cell blocks, and working outside doing daily cleaning maintenance on the prison yards. §3040(a) of our rules state, "Every able-bodied person committed to the custody of the secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is obligated to work!"

I have taken a stance, and refuse to give my life force doing these physically demanding, labor intensive jobs. I will face consequences detrimental to the normal rigors of prison conditions. Slavery is alive and well in the United States, you only have to convict a person. This was by design, as a part of the Thirteenth Amendment's slavery exception clause.

Black August is about reflection on the lives lost in the fight against legalized slavery in the United States. While African Americans participate in this struggle, other Americans are doing so as well.

It's okay for Whites to do all the atrocities they did against African Americans to maintain their system of slavery, but let one slave revolter be African American like Nat Turner was in August of 1865, and they're vilified.

Where was the United States support for the island nation of Haiti when they forcibly threw off the yoke of slavery by the French in August of 1791; just as colonial settlers here, threw of the yoke of British tyranny 25-years earlier?

To get a better picture what Black August is about regarding the mourning of those who have died, are dying, and will die in the struggle to change the conditions, change the narrative (propaganda), and end the system that set a condition for arrest and incarceration, these are artworks I have been forced to create to raise awareness of the horrible conditions inside prisons.

Capitalizing on Justice, 2018

One of the great kept secrets of America's mass incarceration crisis, the over prescribing of psychotropic drugs to prisoners.

Today We Are Sisters, 2018

In prisons all across America, women are being forcibly sterilized.

Strange Fruit, 2017

Abnormal suicide rates amongst women prisoners. Again, an issue of mental health.

During the Flood, 2017

No one is allowed to take photos inside of our Gulf Coast States' prisons or jails of the aftermath of a Category 4 or 5 Hurricane.

To see more of my imprisonment subject matter art, check out Free Virtual Art Exhibition (1-Artist; 1-Subject; 21-Works).

Also check out "Black August Through the Eyes of Incarcerated Artist Donald 'C-Note' Hooker," which includes visuals, as well as my poems on mass incarceration.

Donald "C-Note" Hooker

C-Note has written for Mprisond Thotz, California Prison Focus, Inmate Blogger, Prison Journalist Project, and many more...