August 7: Anniversary of the Marin County courthouse rebellion
“On Aug. 7, 1970, just a few days after George [Jackson] was transferred to San Quentin, his younger brother Jonathan Jackson, 17, invaded Marin County Courthouse single-handed, with a satchel full of handguns, an assault rifle and a shotgun hidden under his raincoat. “Freeze,” he commanded as he tossed guns to William Christmas, James McClain and Ruchell Magee. Magee was on the witness stand testifying for McClain, on trial for assaulting a guard in the wake of a guard’s murder of another Black prisoner, Fred Billingsley, beaten and teargased to death.
A jailhouse lawyer, Magee had deluged the courts with petitions for seven years contesting his illegal conviction in ‘63. The courts had refused to listen, so Magee seized the hour and joined the guerrillas as they took the judge, prosecutor and three jurors hostage to a waiting van. To reporters gathering quickly outside the courthouse, Jonathan shouted, “You can take our pictures. We are the revolutionaries!”
Operating with courage and calm even their enemies had to respect, the four Black freedom fighters commandeered their hostages out of the courthouse without a hitch. The plan was to use the hostages to take over a radio station and broadcast the racist, murderous prison conditions and demand the immediate release of The Soledad Brothers. But before Jonathan could drive the van out of the parking lot, the San Quentin guards arrived and opened fire. When the shooting stopped, Jonathan, Christmas, McClain and the judge lay dead. Magee and the prosecutor were critically wounded, and one juror suffered a minor arm wound.
Magee survived his wounds and was tried originally with co-defendant Angela Davis. Their trials were later severed and Davis was eventually acquitted of all charges. Magee was convicted of simple kidnap and remains in prison to date – 46 years with no physical assaults on his record. An incredible jailhouse lawyer, Magee has been responsible for countless prisoners being released – the main reason he was kept for nearly 20 years in one lockup after another. Currently at Corcoran State Prison, he remains strong and determined to win his freedom and that of all oppressed peoples.
Kiilu Nyasha, “Black August: A story of African freedom fighters”