[Ppnews] Marin Courthouse Slave Rebellion of August 7, 1970
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 7 10:35:20 EDT 2008
Ruchell Cinque Magee and the August 7th Courthouse Slave Rebellion
By Kiilu Nyasha
"Slavery 400 years ago, slavery today, it's the same but with a new
name".-- Ruchell Cinque Magee
I first met Ruchell Cinque Magee in the holding cell of the Marin
County courthouse in the Summer of 1971. I found him to be
soft-spoken, warm and a gentleman in typically Southern tradition.
We've been in correspondence pretty much ever since.
I had just returned to California from New Haven, Connecticut, where
I had worked as an organizer and a member of the legal defense team
of three Black Panthers, including Party Chairman Bobby Seale, on
trial for murder and conspiracy. The second trial resulted in a true
people's victory, May 24, 1971. We had kept the New Haven courtroom
jam-packed throughout the joint trial of Seale and Ericka Huggins
that resulted in a hung jury. But the obviously racist judge had to
dismiss it due to the enormous publicity and state expense incurred
due to huge crowds and tight security.
In my correspondence with George Jackson, author of the bestseller,
Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson, he had advised
me to seek a press card in order to visit him at San Quentin. In so
doing, I wound up working for The Sun Reporter, a local Black
newspaper (byline Pat Gallyot), and covering the pretrial hearings of
Angela Davis and Magee.
Already familiar with courtroom injustice, racism and bias against
Black defendants witnessed in two capital trials, it didn't come as a
surprise that Ruchell was getting a raw deal in the Marin Courtroom
where he was frequently removed for outbursts of sheer frustration.
By 1971, Ruchell was an astute jailhouse lawyer. He was responsible
for the release and protection of a myriad of prisoners benefiting
from his extensive knowledge of law, which he used to prepare writs,
appeals and lawsuits for himself and many others behind walls.
Now Ruchell was fighting for all he was worth for the right to
represent himself against charges of murder, conspiracy to murder,
kidnap, and conspiracy to aid the escape of state prisoners.
Although critically wounded on August 7, 1970, Magee was the sole
survivor among the four brave Black men who conducted the courthouse
slave rebellion, leaving him to be charged with everything they could
throw at him.
"All right gentlemen, hold it right there.we're taking over!" Armed
to the teeth, Jonathan Jackson, 17, George's, younger brother, had
raided the Marin Courtroom and tossed guns to prisoners William
Christmas and James McClain, who in turn invited Ruchell to join
them. Ru seized the hour spontaneously as they attempted to escape by
taking a judge, assistant district attorney and three jurors as
hostages in that audacious move to expose to the public the brutally
racist prison conditions and free the Soledad Brothers (John
Clutchette, Fleeta Drumgo, and George Jackson).
McClain was on trial for assaulting a guard in the wake of Black
prisoner Fred Billingsley's murder by prison officials in San Quentin
in February, 1970. With only four months before a parole hearing,
Magee had appeared in the courtroom to testify for McClain.
The four revolutionaries successfully commandeered the group to the
waiting van and were about to pull out of the parking lot when Marin
County Police and San Quentin guards opened fire. When the shooting
stopped, Judge Harold Haley, Jackson, Christmas, and McClain lay
dead; Magee was unconscious (See photo)and seriously wounded as was
the prosecutor. A juror suffered a minor injury.
In a chain of events leading to August 7, on January 13, 1970, a
month before the Billingsley slaughter, a tower guard at Soledad
State Prison had shot and killed three Black captives on the yard,
leaving them unattended to bleed to death: Cleveland Edwards, "Sweet
Jugs" Miller, and the venerable revolutionary leader, W. L. Nolen,
all active resisters in the Black Liberation Movement behind the
walls. Others included George Jackson, Jeffrey Gauldin (Khatari),
Hugo L.A. Pinell (Yogi Bear), Steve Simmons (Kumasi), Howard Tole,
and the late Warren Wells.
After the common verdict of "justifiable homicide" was returned and
the killer guard exonerated at Soledad, another white-racist guard
was beaten and thrown from a tier to his death. Three prisoners,
Fleeta Drumgo, John Clutchette, and Jackson were charged with his
murder precipitating the case of The Soledad Brothers and a campaign
to free them led by college professor and avowed Communist, Angela
Davis, and Jonathan Jackson.
Magee had already spent at least seven years studying law and
deluging the courts with petitions and lawsuits to contest his own
illegal conviction in two fraudulent trials. As he put it, the
judicial system "used fraud to hide fraud" in his second case after
the first conviction was overturned on an appeal based on a falsified
transcript. His strategy, therefore, centered on proving that he was
a slave, denied his constitutional rights and held involuntarily.
Therefore, he had the legal right to escape slavery as established in
the case of the African slave, Cinque, who had escaped the slave
ship, Armistad, and won freedom in a Connecticut trial. Thus, Magee
had to first prove he'd been illegally and unjustly incarcerated for
over seven years. He also wanted the case moved to the Federal Courts
and the right to represent himself.
Moreover, Magee wanted to conduct a trial that would bring to light
the racist and brutal oppression of Black prisoners throughout the
State. "My fight is to expose the entire system, judicial and prison
system, a system of slavery.. This will cause benefit not just to
myself but to all those who at this time are being criminally
oppressed or enslaved by this system."
On the other hand, Angela Davis, his co-defendant, charged with
buying the guns used in the raid, conspiracy, etc., was innocent of
any wrongdoing because the gun purchases were perfectly legal and she
was not part of the original plan. Davis' lawyers wanted an expedient
trial to prove her innocence on trumped up charges. This conflict in
strategy resulted in the trials being separated. Davis was acquitted
of all charges and released in June of 1972.
Ruchell fought on alone, losing much of the support attending the
Davis trial. After dismissing five attorneys and five judges, he won
the right to defend himself. The murder charges had been dropped, and
Magee faced two kidnap charges. He was ultimately convicted of PC
207, simple kidnap, but the more serious charge of PC 209, kidnap for
purposes of extortion, resulted in a disputed verdict. According to
one of the juror's sworn affidavit, the jury voted for acquittal on
the PC 209 and Magee continues to this day to challenge the denial
and cover-up of that acquittal.
Ruchell is currently on the mainline of Corcoran State Prison doing
his 46th year locked up in California gulags - many of those years
spent in solitary confinement under tortuous conditions! In spite of
having committed no physical assaults or murders. Is that not political?
Write him at: Ruchell Magee # A92051, 3A2-131 Box 3471 , C.S.P.
Corcoran, CA 93212
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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