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George Jackson by Bob Dylan

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.'"
  • See Jackson's mugshot in Song Images.
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Comments: 2

And this is the most ignorant answer I've ever heard. It's all the fault of the Great White Bigot, as usual. And the chimera of institutional "racism" is blamed.

Why did Chuck Berry get ten years and Jackson a life sentence? Because Jackson was a violent punk while Berry's crime was a one-off.

Jackson had a real chance; if he'd kept his head down for a few years and kept churning out his "literary" garbage, he would have been parolled and entered academe as one of the system's successes - bad boy made good.

Instead he graduated from punk to murderer. Grow up.

You'd think only blacks had low paid, menial dead end jobs or were dealt a bad hand by life. As I said, grow up.
Alexander - London, United Kingdom
That is the most willfully ignorant and malicious twisting of "song facts" I could even imagine.
When the assinine Alexander says Jackson's prison sentence "may sound unduly harsh" does he compare it to those of white convicts of similar offences? No, he compares it to Chuck Berry's, another African American's, saying it "was par for the course in California at the time". So was institutional racism.
Alexander, no doubt, thinks that African Americans should've been happy with their menial, low paying and necessarily, due to pervasive discrimination in hiring and promotion, dead end jobs and never turn to criminal enterprise to advance themselves. They should've just stayed happy slaves on the new urban industrial plantation.
Leaders of militant movements are commonly from the upper classes. Their educational backgrounds - as Jackson's - gives them a developed intellect helpful for such an undertaking.
Mark - Chicago, Il
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