Prison activists speak about Black August

(Left to right) Chris Venn interviews prison activists Ernest Shujaa Graham and Willie Sundiata Tate about the meaning of Black August.


LOS ANGELES, CA — This is an interview following an event in Los Angeles, CA during the month of August, which is referred to as Black August, that commemorates the loss of many prison activists in the 1960s and 1970s and acknowledges historical events affecting the lives of African people during the month of August such as the arrival into the US of enslaved Africans; slave uprisings in the US South, and more. I’m joined by Ernest Shujaa Graham (Death Row Survivor) and Willie Sundiata Tate (San Quentin Six Member).

“My name is Ernest Shujaa Graham and I am a death row survivor. I went off to prison when I was 18; it was in prison that I joined the prison movement for social justice and human rights. After being a part of that movement for over three years, in 1973 an uprising happened in Tracy prison and I was accused of leading the uprising. A guard was murdered during that uprising and I was charged with his killing. I had four trials; in my second trial they convicted me and sentenced me to die. The Supreme Court overturned my conviction and in my fourth trial I was acquitted.

“Black August is an organized entity that started in prison as the consequence of different prisoners being killed and we wanted to honor those who made the supreme sacrifice, in prison. Since most of their deaths occurred in August we decided to create a month-long commemoration called Black August and we are here today to continue to reflect on that and pay our tribute to those like George Jackson, Jeffrey Khatari Gaulden and Hugo Pinell, a member of the San Quentin 6, and others who made the supreme sacrifice. And we just want to make sure today that their names and their sacrifices won’t be forgotten.”

Willie Sundiata Tate: “The formalization of Black August occurred after I had left prison. It developed primarily among younger prisoners who were involved in the struggle inside prison and they wanted to honor some of those in that struggle; and for me, you know, I think it is a good tradition. I think it is a wonderful thing to do.”

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