Black August will not be on your average primary or secondary school calendar in the United States. At the beginning of the Fall semester, you will not see “Happy Black August” on college and university marquees or “Welcome” messages for first-time and returning students.
Unless you are inside a Black liberation school, you will not see red, black, and green banners nor pictures of political prisoners and martyrs of the African liberation struggle displayed on teachers’ doors and hallway walls.
There will not be school-wide programs and celebrations in the name of Black August primarily because, unlike Black History Month, it has yet to gain national awareness and thus recognition in the larger consciousness of American society.
Although both month-long annual celebrations began in the 1970s and serve to memorialize prominent figures and events in Black History, they are not the same.
One fundamental difference is that Black History Month has been officially recognized and designated as a month of observance by the U.S. government. Thus, Black History Month has become palatable, and many “African American” inventors, thinkers, and activists have been sanitized and depoliticized for mainstream American consumption.
Black August, on the other hand, came into existence to challenge and dismantle anti-Black racist systems deeply entrenched within and sanctioned by the government. It began as a commemoration of the lives and deaths of freedom fighters, including Black Panther, author, and revolutionary George Jackson, who was assassinated during a prison rebellion at San Quentin prison in California on August 21, 1971.
Black August is rooted in both a radical history and present resistance against the prison industrial complex and all forms of state repression and control via policing, mass criminalization, surveillance, and disruption of Black liberation movement building.
Historically, the U.S. government has identified those who question its practices as threats. Through its entities, like the FBI and CIA, these “threats,” whether they be movements, organizations, and/or individuals, become targets to discredit, criminalize. and destroy.
As the Dead Prez song “They Schools” articulates, “the same people who control the school system control the prison system and the whole social system ever since slavery, know what I’m sayin’?”
Therefore, it is no surprise that Black August is not included in most school curriculums from primary to the university level. The recent national debate and political uproar around Critical Race Theory in American K-12 classrooms was revealing for some, and for others, served as a reminder of what was already known. An education that is not only inclusive of but centered within Black perspectives, history, resistance to white oppression, and culture is unwelcomed and feared in the United States of America.
Despite its lack of inclusion in mainstream American media, culture, history, and education Black August continues to gain more recognition each year. The murder of Breonna Taylor, the public lynching of George Floyd, and the continued killing of unarmed Black people at the hands of police has forced new generations to question the status quo, study radical history, and seek new ways of being.
Black August reminds us to make this a part of an ongoing everyday practice. The month of Black August is a time to unlearn, learn anew and to teach within “they schools” and beyond. It is a time to discipline your mind through fasting, train in self-defense, and study history to better understand and operate within the present.
While we celebrate the recent release of long-held political prisoners and freedom fighters like Sundiata Acoli, Jalil Muntaqim, and Russell “Maroon” Shoatz (who passed away shortly after being released), Black August encourages us to remember those in political exile and to fight for the liberation of those who are still incarcerated including Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Veronza Bowers to name a few.
It is a time to honor the rich history of Black resistance inside and outside of prison walls, including the Haitian Revolution, March on Washington, Ferguson Uprising, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, and Watts Rebellion. It is a celebration of the birthdays of Black freedom movement builders like Chokwe Lumumba, Marcus Garvey, Fred Hampton, and Dr. Mutulu Shakur.
Above all, Black August is a call to continue the Black liberation struggle in unity and solidarity with freedom fighters worldwide.
To learn more, I recommend the following readings and resources:
- Black August: The True History, Culture and Practice by Ayanna Mashama
- Black August 2022 Study Series
- Black August Organizing Committee
- Inaugural Black August Film Festival 2022
- Black August: 1619-2019 by Gloria Verdieu
Dr. Asantewa Sunni-Ali is an Associate Professor in the Department of Africana Studies at Kent State University. She produces and directs research and documentary film series, Seedz of Revolution and is the author of various publications and plays which explore her intersecting research interests: Black childhood, performance, agency, identity and liberation.