Both a member of the Black Panther Party and one of the founders of the prison gang the Black Guerrilla Family, he was one of the three African-American Soledad Prison inmates (known collectively as the "Soledad Brothers") who murdered a Caucasian prison guard in order to violently emphasize the need for prison reform.
During his teenage years, he was convicted and imprisoned on burglary, assault, and armed robbery charges. While incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, he was introduced to Marxist ideology and devoted himself to a violence-based brand of activism that was further fueled by the murder of his Black Guerrilla Family co-founder W.L. Nolen during a prison riot involving a guard and several Aryan Brotherhood members.
He was killed in 1971 while attempting to escape from prison. He inspired saxophonist Archie Shepp's 1972 Attica Blues album.
One of five children born to Georgia Bea and Lester Jackson, he spent his early years in Chicago, Illinois, and later relocated to California. His younger brother George Jackson joined him in his violent brand of activism, brandishing an automatic weapon at the Marin County courthouse and freeing several prisoners who were being held there.
Bob Dylan's 1971 tribute single, "George Jackson," rose to number 33 on the U.S. Billboard 200.