Jonathan Jackson, the 17-year-old brother of imprisoned Black Panther and activist George Jackson, was killed on this day in 1970 in an attempt to negotiate the freedom of his brother and his compatriots. Entering the Marin County Courthouse in San Rafael, Calif., Jackson kidnapped a judge and temporarily freed a number of prisoners before he was gunned down.
For much of the year, tensions were high between the white guards and Black prisoners, at the San Quentin and Soledad prisons. Many prisoners had become politically active, with 22-year-old W.L. Nolen leading a petition at Soledad that essentially stated prison officials were conspiring to create a racist environment. Nolen wrote that mixing their group with white prisoners was inciting a race war.
Nolen and two other inmates were killed January 13 of that year, and days later, a white guard was killed in what may have been a retaliatory murder. Fleeta Drumgo, John Clutchette and George Jackson, collectively known as the Soledad Brothers, were accused of the guard’s murder and transferred to San Quentin, despite a lack of evidence. Nolen and Jackson were co-founders of the Black Guerrilla Family, a Marxist prison group.
Several other incidents took place within the prisons, leading to the plan hatched by the younger Jackson brother. John McClain, a San Quentin prisoner on trial for stabbing a guard, was inside the Marin County Courthouse waiting to have his case heard by Judge Harold Haley. Jackson entered the courtroom, tossed McClain a pistol and put a shotgun to Judge Haley’s head. Ruchell Magee, another San Quentin prisoner set to testify, freed three other prisoners.
The group took the judge and a handful of hostages out of the building into a parked van outside, telling the authorities to free the Soledad Brothers at 12:30 p.m. Police gave chase and in the mayhem, Judge Haley was killed by a shotgun that was taped to his neck.