Black August Benefit Concert

Black August Benefit Concert

Date Observed: August
Location: New York, New York

The Black August Benefit Concert has been held since 1998 in New York City. A project of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), the concert celebrates "hip hop and freedom fighters" - African Americans jailed because of their activism on behalf of people of color - and remembers the death of George L. Jackson and others considered political prisoners by the group.

Historical Background

George L. Jackson was incarcerated from 1960 until his death in 1971. He had been convicted of armed robbery. During the first years of his imprisonment, Jackson earned a reputation for being violent. At some point, however, he was drawn to reading Communist works, such as those by Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Karl Marx, and others. He drew prison authorities' concern when he began to organize fellow prisoners to demand better conditions as well as encourage the revolutionary aims of the Black Panther Party, which he had joined.

In 1970 Jackson became nationally known as one of the Soledad Brothers after he and two fellow inmates were charged with killing a guard at the prison. Activists staged protests, arguing that he was accused because of his political activities. Educator and political activist Angela Davis led the movement to support the Soledad Brothers. Some scholars have agreed that the evidence in the case against them was unclear. But, on August 21, 1971, shortly before Jackson's trial, prison guards killed him during an apparent escape attempt.

Creation of the Observance

In August 1998, the MXGM sponsored its first Black August Benefit Concert to call attention to black political prisoners and to aid in their release, as well as to highlight the social and political issues which affect inner-city youth. The MXGM formed in 1992 when a group of young people in Brooklyn, New York, organized campus activities designed to create public awareness of black political prisoners and police brutality in New York's inner-city communities. A non-profit volunteer organization, MXGM also has created community programs to address needs of the homeless and indigent, such as legal services, youth development and leadership, and soup kitchens.

The group chose to hold the concerts in August because of the many significant historical events that have taken place during the month. In addition to containing the anniversary of Jackson's death, August was also the month that slaves in Haiti revolted, slavery was abolished in the West Indies, Nat Turner rebelled, Marcus Garvey was born, and Martin Luther King Jr. led the famous March on Washington (see also Haitian Flag Day; Marcus Garvey's Birthday; Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday; and West Indies Emancipation Day).

Observance

The Black August Benefit Concert is not just about performances. Audiences are reminded by some hip-hop performers or MXGM directors that the purpose of the concerts is to help finance campaigns to free political prisoners. Concertgoers learn about protesters who have been jailed and others who were killed while involved in political activities opposing the oppression of people of color. There also has been an emphasis on HIV/AIDS awareness.

While most Black August Concerts have been held in New York City, where the MXGM is based, the organization has also produced concerts in Cuba during the annual Cuban Rap Festival, and in South Africa and South America.

Contact and Web Site

Malcolm X Grassroots Movement 718-254-8800

Further Reading

Gissen, Jesse. "Mos Def, Black Moon, & More Hit Black August Concert for HIV/AIDS Awareness." SOHH.com, July 11, 2005. . "Jackson, George Lester." In Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, A Concise Reference , edited by Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2003. Kelley, Robin D. G. "Into the Fire: 1970 to the Present." In To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans , edited by Robin D. G. Kelley and Earl Lewis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Lee, Chisun. "Taking the Rap." The Village Voice, September 6-12, 2000. http://www .villagevoice.com/news/0036,lee,17912,1.html.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007