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The Rise of the Black Guerrilla Family in 1974

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The Rise of the Black Guerrilla Family in 1974

On January 30, 1974, the FBI produced a report that chronicled the activities of the organization known as the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF).

The BGF, also known as the Black Vanguard, was a prison gang founded in 1966 by George Jackson and W.L. Nolen while they were incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison.


“The BGF is the most ‘politically’ oriented of the major prison gangs. It was formed as a Marxist/Maoist/Leninist revolutionary organization with stated goals to eradicate racism, struggle to maintain dignity in prison, and overthrow the U.S. Government.”

It was this idea of overthrowing the U.S. government that sparked the FBI to investigate the prison gang.

Overthrowing the Government

Even though the BGF was not the only prison gang, it was one of the few that was bent on government overthrow. It not only had members in prison, but also maintained a strong presence outside of correctional institutions.

The ’74 report stated:

“It appears that their influence over numerous criminal areas will pose a major problem in the future to both the prison correctional officer and the on-the-street law enforcement officer.”

The report goes on to characterize what the FBI believed was the “typical member” of the Black Guerrilla Family.

“The BFG is formed from members of the Black Panther Party, the Black Muslims, and the Republic of New Africa within the California Department of Corrections who thought that their groups were moving too slow.”

The FBI investigation discovered that the BFG was like many other gangs – when someone joins, they join for life.

“Persons who turn against the New Familyor the [BGF] are considered as
enemies and are marked for attack and death whenever possible.”

Though the FBI believed the membership of the gang reached upwards of 1,000 individuals in 1974, they did not have a membership list.

They had several names of individuals who they believed were members and even leaders. However, those names have been edited out of the declassified documents that were released in the FBI Vault.

The FBI investigation also turned up a wide variety of criminal activities commonly executed by the BGF. Some of these activities included narcotics, extortion, and prison murders. However, the Bureau did not turn up any evidence that led them to believe that the BGF was making any significant progress in overthrowing the U.S. government.

“After reviewing the information concerning the captioned groups and their activities within the state’s penal institutions with the officials at the California State Department of Corrections, Sacramento suggests that they not be worked as Extremists Matter (EM) cases, but as Anti-Racketeering (AR) matters.”

The FBI sought to look at the Black Guerrilla Family as more of an organized crime organization rather than an extremist or terrorist organization.

The released files also contain a large number of court documents; however, these documents do not shed much light on the organization because they are also heavily redacted.

The BGF Oath

An interesting fact that the documents do reveal is the actual oath taken by new initiates being inducted into the gang.

The oath was roughly 50 passages long and consistently made references to revolution, secrecy, and liberation.

If interested, you can read the oath in its entirety at the FBI Vault located on page 28 of the Black Guerrilla Family file.

The FBI files focuses on the organization and its activities during the 1970s through the 1980s; however, the Black Guerrilla Family is still making headlines today.

As recently as June 10, 2011, the Baltimore Sun reported, “A corrections officer who was associated with the Black Guerrilla Family gang has been sentenced to 37 months in prison.”

The accused corrections officer was convicted of helping to smuggle heroin and cell phones into a downtown Baltimore prison through the laundry.

Originally published on

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Mark R. Whittington, from Houston, Texas, frequently writes on space, science, political commentary and political culture.

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