Suggest a Songfact / Artistfact
Album: The Essential Bob DylanReleased: 1971
George Jackson was a black militant born in 1941. Music and political historian Alexander Baron writes: "While Dylan has a well deserved reputation for writing protest songs, he should have put more thought into this one. Even today there are people who are foolish enough to idolize George Jackson, who in the final analysis was little more than a crook, a petty thug, and ultimately a murderer.
Like so many radicals, Jackson came from a good family. His parents were working class blacks who did their best for their son. The young George was sent to a Catholic school but was soon running with street gangs. At the age of 18, he was sentenced to one year to life for robbing a gas station. Although this sounds unduly harsh it was par for the course in California at the time. It is worth bearing in mind too that a youthful Chuck Berry received a 10 year sentence for armed robbery in 1944, and served a third of that sentence before being paroled. Like Berry, Jackson's time in prison was not entirely wasted; as well as practicing thuggery and general troublemaking, he set about furthering his education. Part of that education was the usual radical politics; blaming the racist system rather than himself for his incarceration, he joined the Black Panthers. All may not have been lost, because the racist system permitted the radical Jackson to publish a critically acclaimed book of prison letters, Soledad Brother. All was lost though, because in addition to critical acclaim, Jackson won himself an indictment (along with 2 other inmates) for the murder of a prison guard. Shortly before standing trial for that alleged murder, and still only 29, he was shot dead in a bizarre escape attempt from the infamous San Quentin Prison in August 1971. During this attempted break out, 5 people were murdered by other inmates: 3 prison guards and 2 inmates, all of them white. Dylan writes with misguided sincerity rather than irony that prison guards shot down Jackson because 'They were scared of his love.'"