The Saturday was August 21, 1971 and the headline read ""George Jackson, 5 Others Slain in San Quentin."" Howard's account...



The Saturday was August 21, 1971 and the headline read ""George Jackson, 5 Others Slain in San Quentin."" Howard's account traces the careers of the inmates and guards whose lives converged and ended that day, but focuses on the pivotal figure of Jackson himself, whose botched escape attempt--just before his scheduled trial in the ""Soledad Brothers"" murder case--led to a gory riot in which three guards, two other (white) inmates, and Jackson himself were killed. Ironically, Howard grew up as a poor white a block away from Jackson on Chicago's lower West Side; and he takes pains to point out that Jackson was not a stereotype ghetto youth--he had a solid two-parent family, a strong father (who, Jackson claimed, wanted him to be a ""nice, tranquil nigger""), and a Catholic school education. Nonetheless, Jackson wound up a thoroughgoing badass; he ultimately spent more than ten years in various prisons for one $70 robbery, and reveled in his reputation at Soledad and San Quentin as ""the heaviest dude in the prison."" In prison he turned ""political"" and racist (""white people . . . don't give a fuck about black people in America and never will. Not until we cut all the motherfuckers down to size with bullets and blades . . .""); and his instant fame surprised him--""There must be more to me than I even realize myself."" Probably not, Howard suggests, stressing Jackson's feet-of-clay side: in prison he was a gang rapist and extortionist; his ""inside"" image didn't live up to his public image (fellow cons saw him as bad, not political); his published prison letters were heavily edited and rewritten to make him sound literate; and, Howard suggests, he may have decided on an escape attempt because he feared he'd look like a fool at the Soledad Brothers trial. Extensively researched and vividly written (especially the blood-curdling description of the San Quentin riot), but a book that, with its revisionist view of Jackson, may have trouble finding itself an audience.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Marek--dist. by Putnam

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1981