George Lester Jackson (September 23, 1941 – August 21, 1971) was an African-American activist, Marxist, author, a member of the Black Panther Party, and co-founder of the Black Guerrilla Family while incarcerated. Jackson achieved fame as one of the Soledad Brothers and was later shot dead by guards in San Quentin Prison following an unsuccessful escape attempt.
Born in Chicago, Jackson was the second son of Lester and Georgia Bea Jackson’s five children. He spent time in the California Youth Authority Corrections facility in Paso Robles due to several juvenile convictions including armed robbery, assault, and burglary.
In 1961, he was convicted of armed robbery (stealing $70 at gunpoint from a gas station) and sentenced to serve one year to life in prison.
During his first years at San Quentin State Prison, Jackson became involved in revolutionary activity, where he allegedly assaulted guards and inmates. Such behavior, in turn, was used to justify his continued incarceration on an indeterminate sentence. He was described by prison officials as egocentric and anti-social. In 1966, Jackson met and befriended W.L. Nolen who introduced him to Marxist and Maoist ideology. The two founded the Black Guerrilla Family in 1966 based on Marxist and Maoist political thought. In speaking of his ideological transformation, Jackson remarked “I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me.”
As Jackson’s disciplinary infractions grew he spent more time in solitary confinement, where he studied political economy and radical theory. He also wrote many letters to friends and supporters which would later be edited and compiled into the books Soledad Brother and Blood in My Eye, bestsellers that brought him a great deal of attention from leftist organizers and intellectuals in the U.S. and Western Europe. Jackson’s political transformation was seen as insincere by prison officials, with San Quentin associate warden commenting that Jackson “was a sociopath, a very personable hoodlum” who “didn’t give a shit about the revolution.” He amassed a following of inmates, including some whites and Hispanics, but most enthusiastically with other black inmates.
According to David Horowitz, Jackson joined the Black Panther Party after meeting Huey P. Newton in jail.
In January 1969, Jackson and Nolen were transferred from San Quentin to Soledad prison. On January 13, 1970, Nolen and two other black inmates were shot to death by corrections officer Opie G. Miller during a yard riot with members of the Aryan Brotherhood. Following Nolen’s death, Jackson became increasingly confrontational with corrections officials and spoke often about the need to protect fellow inmates and take revenge on guards for Nolen’s death in what Jackson referred to as “selective retaliatory violence.”
On January 17, 1970, Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette were charged with murdering a corrections officer, John V. Mills, who was beaten and thrown from the third floor of Soledad’s Y wing This was a capital offense and a successful conviction could put Jackson in the gas chamber. Mills was purportedly killed in retaliation for the shooting deaths of three inmates by Miller, the previous year. Miller was not convicted of any crime, a grand jury ruling his actions to be justifiable homicide.