I recently saw a documentary of the Black Panther Party that aired at the E Street Cinema in Washington, DC. It was the most compelling and accurate portrayal of the organization that I have seen. Many have sought to demonize the young Black activists and their efforts have gone largely unrecognized. The documentary is a collection of news clips and interviews with authentic voices. It puts to rest the contention that the Black Panther Party was a terrorist organization and/or a hate group. It was part of a greater movement which reflected the conditions of the times. Following is a summary of the organization and an interview with one of its activists: Dr. Ahmad Rahman. This article is part two of a series of articles on African American organizations which were part of the Black Power Movement.
Summary of the Organization
The Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPP) was not one organization but a coalition of organizations that grew out of local circumstances (Williams, 1998). The Lowndes County Freedom Organization, which was an Alabama-based group that used violence to retaliate against the barbarity perpetrated against Black people by the Ku Klux Klan, was the original Black Panther Party. It was organized by members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and local residents following a freedom ride for a voter registration campaign. In 1966, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the national office of the Panther Party in Oakland, California. Between 1966 and 1982, there were more than 32 chapters and 100 affiliates across the United States and abroad (Austin, 2006). The chapters differed based on cultural and regional influences. These differences were reflected in their ideology, methodology, and activities; however, the network of organizations (chapters, affiliates) ideologically embraced Marxism and advocated for the needs of the “lumpen proletariat” (the masses of people) (Williams, 1998, p. 65).
The Black Panthers recruited many of its members from colleges and universities. To expand their membership, leaders of the Black Panther Party gave presentations on college and university campuses. In Illinois, for example, the Chicago Police Department files listed the following higher education institutions as campuses where there was Panther Party activity: Chicago State University, Crane Junior College (now Malcolm X College), Illinois Institute of Technology, Northeastern Illinois University, Northwestern University, Roosevelt University, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Wilbert Wright Junior College, and Woodrow Wilson Junior College (now Kennedy-King College). In 1968, African American college students in Chicago organized students at college campuses across Illinois and formed the Congress of Black College Students (Williams, 1998).
In some states, activist groups were formed at higher education institutions and the activism of students flowed from the colleges to high schools. In Illinois, however, student activism began in the high schools and expanded to college and university campuses. The primary focus of college students was changing the curriculum while the advocacy efforts of high school students focused on community control of public schools. Support flowed both ways. University students helped high school students advocate for community control and high school students helped college students advocate for curriculum change.
The national office of the Black Panther Party network was located in Oakland, California. A majority of the chapters across the country replicated the operational structure of the national office. A collective called the Central Committee led the organization. The Committee was comprised of six people called ministers, three field lieutenants, and a chair. In some chapters, ministers were called deputy ministers; however, the responsibilities of their positions were the same. There was a Minister of Information, Minister of Communication, Minister of Defense, Minister of Culture, Minister of Labor, and Minister of Finance. Each minister was in charge of a cadre. Huey P. Newton was the National Chairman.
The overall mission of the Black Panther Party was to defend the Black community from police oppression and brutality. In 1971, after an initial focus on self-defense and arms, the organization decided to de-emphasize the military aspects of the Party and focus on the development and implementation of survival programs, community organizing, coalition-building, and electoral politics. The survival programs included a free breakfast program for public school children, medical research health clinics, a public awareness campaign on sickle cell anemia, free food for low-income families, free busing to prisons, free childcare centers, free clothing, a free ambulance service, and an emergency heating program.
The Party networked with diverse groups to combat racism. Some of the groups had White members and/or White leadership. The names of some of the organizations were Students for a Democratic Society, the Weathermen, the American Indian Movement, and the Puerto Rican Young Lords (Austin, 2006). The governments of North Viet Nam, China, Palestine, and Algeria also supported the Black Panther Party. Relative to electoral politics, a number of Panther Party members ran for elected office, several successfully (e.g. Bobby Rush, Bobby Seale). Some of the former members of the Party continue to serve as elected officials.
In 1968, then Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), J. Edgar Hoover, proclaimed that the Black Panther Party was the most dangerous group in America and began a public and covert campaign to destroy the organization. This initiative, which was established to destroy dissident groups, was called the “Counter Intelligence Program” (COINTELPRO) (Williams, 1998, p. 173). The activities of the Black Panther Party were monitored by law enforcement agencies across the country. In Chicago, the Red Squad (the intelligence arm of the Chicago Police Department), the FBI, and local media joined forces to discredit the Illinois Black Panther Party. During its existence, the Black Panther Party was the target of 223 out of 295 Black nationalist COINTELPRO activities (Stanford, 1986, p. 189). According to Williams (1998),
“The FBI’s secret war against the Panthers exhausted all of COINTELPRO’s methods, including a media offensive, silencing the Panther newspaper, attacking the free breakfast for children program, preventing coalitions, neutralizing Panther supporters, exacerbating intergroup/intraparty tensions, infiltrating the organization, sponsoring raids and pretext arrests, encouraging malicious prosecutions, and even assassinating Panthers” (p. 173).
The word “assassinating” referred to the case of the late Fred Hampton, who was Chair of the Illinois Black Panther Party. In 1969, police killed Hampton during a raid of his apartment. The Hampton family subsequently filed a wrongful death suit against law officials and, in 1978, the court found the FBI, Cook County government, and the city of Chicago guilty of abuse of power and misconduct (Williams, 1998, pp. 215-216). In 1983, the Hampton family was awarded a $1.85 million settlement.
The Black Panther Party officially closed in 1982. The legacy of the Black Panther Party can be summarized into three areas – survival programs, formation of the original Rainbow Coalition, and the martyrdom of Fred Hampton. The most popular of the survival programs was the free breakfast program for schoolchildren. This program, which was adopted and institutionalized by public school systems across the country, continues today. Government also replicated the Panther Party’s community health centers. The Panther Party established the original Rainbow Coalition predating Jesse Jackson’s organization. The coalition is recognized as being responsible for the election of the first Black mayor (Harold Washington) in Chicago. The name, Fred Hampton, continues to be a catalyst for community organizing and development in Illinois.
1. What are your memories of the Black Power Movement during the 1960s and 1970s?
I have very strong memories of the Black Power Movement in that in 1963, three or four girls were bound and killed in Birmingham, Alabama. I remember very clearly that Martin Luther King said that, “No matter what they do, we’re going to keep on loving them.” I remember my friends and I, I was about 12 years old at the time, had just witnessed something disgusting. We said, “You know, keep on loving them?” They killed those four little girls that very Sunday I had been in my family’s Baptist Church. I was the same age as those girls that’d been killed and I identified with them. I just thought Dr. King’s response was so weak. So, when my mother’s friend said that she saw a man named Malcolm X speak at the Nation of Islam Temple in Chicago and heard him said that Black people should get their own army and should go down South and protect our churches and people from being abused by the Klan and these racists... when I heard my mother’s friend say that she had heard this man Malcolm X say that we should get our own army, I said right then that whenever that army started, I want to be in their army. I didn’t care if they just let me stir grits or carry water, I want to be in that army. They’re protecting Black people from the Klan and having our little kids blown up. So that was the first time I realized that there was a different way of thinking than Martin Luther King’s way. Because the whole media focused on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and nobody else got any play. Every magazine rejected Malcolm X and the other way of thinking never got any respect from them. So we didn’t think there was anything else. Really, there was but one Civil Rights Movement. We didn’t know there was another way. So when Stokely Carmichael in 1966 shouted “Black Power,” it resonated with those of us who were young in Chicago, and, I believe, in the North in general. When I was in the Panther Party, I got a chance to go to the West Coast, New York, Detroit, and Chicago. Young African-Americans, for the most part in the North, were knocked down with the Dr. King stuff. We respected him, but letting White people spit on you and kick you and you just keep singing and talking about you going to keep loving them and all that; most of the young people and teenagers in the North, we just were disgusted by that. We didn’t support him. So, when Stokely Carmichael said, “Black Power,” and we heard about Malcolm X as 15 and 16-year olds, that is what we identified with. That was my first encounter with the Black Power Movement.
2. Please share any information you have on the goals and the plans emanating from the Black Power Conference in 1967 that took place in North New Jersey. Were you aware of that one?
Yes, I’m aware of it. There was also one in New York.
KCS: Did you attend?
No, I didn’t but I know people who did attend it. My understanding of the goals of Black Power, in general, were for us to have community control, first of all, of our economics, of our education, and of self-defense. Those three things to me were keys - economics, controlling education, and self-defense - because those were the three things that we actually lost when we were enslaved and never really regained. Others control our economics. Others control our education systems. Others control our defending ourselves. What is called “Second Amendment manhood” by Whites - that they had the right to own guns to protect themselves from being lynched and killed - we didn’t have those rights. If we asserted those rights, then we were called Black hate mongers and ex-extremists. If I got a gun to protect myself from you, I’m an extremist, right? But if you have guns, you're a man. You’re a Minute Man. You’re carrying on the traditions of the Patriots. You see? The Black Power Movement overcame that paradigm, where we felt guilty to assert ourselves. They were the key things - to assert our own economics, to assert our own history, to assert our own defense of our own community, and to assert control of ourselves; not others. We overcame that guilt. I’ll never forget when we pressed for Black education in schools and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) denounced the effort as separatist. Almost all the pressure of the movement on college campuses that happened at that time, in ’68 to ’69 with Cornell, Columbia, and Northwestern, to get Black professors to teach Black history was denounced by the non-violent Civil Rights Movement as separatist. You know, that connected us with Black extremism. Never-mind they have a Judaic Studies Department. You know, what I’m saying? They have a Department of Russian History, a Department of Chinese Languages, and all that. We asked for African-American studies and we were separatists and hate-mongers. You see? The Black Power Movement overcame that. I really appreciated that whole spirit. They came out of 1967. In ’67, there was a number of of Black Power conferences. That was the big one. But there were Black Power conferences taking place all over the country. Brothers and sisters getting together saying, “Hold on. We’re done with this.” In Detroit, you had the Republic of New Africa and the Black Panther Party. We had the Revolutionary Action Movement and other groups coming together, and saying, “This is a new day.”
3. Were you active with any organizations, and if so, what organizations, in what capacity and for what period of time?
I started out as a teenager in 1967 and ’68 with an organization in Chicago called the Malcolm X Black Hands Society. I was just a teenager then. This was around ’67. And then the Republic of New Africa came. That was around ’68. But one of the things about the Republic of New Africa is their philosophy was five states in the south that Black people had built as slaves should be ours. We should have an independent state - an independent country; and, that Blacks, we, should go back down south. I used to go down south and visit my family every summer and I know my family, who migrated up north, wasn’t moving back down there. I knew that the only way we were going to get that land from those rednecks in Mississippi was by revolution. Just because you got justice on your side doesn’t mean they’d give you anything. So when the Black Panther Party started talking about a revolution - a socialist revolution - overcoming, overthrowing capitalism and imperialism, I also identified with that. That was in ’69. I was in the Panther Party in ’69, roughly to around ’72.
KCS: Three years?
Yes, three years.
KCS: Was it the one in Michigan?
It was. It started in Chicago. In Detroit, the Detroit Panther Party. Everybody knows about Fred Hampton in Chicago. The leader who founded the Panther Party in Detroit, Michael Baynham, was found shot in the head before Fred Hampton was killed. What happened was he was in a building and there were Panthers in the building. They heard the gunshot and ran downstairs. He was dead, a bullet in his head, and the door was open. Somebody heard footsteps. Somebody was getting away. The office in Oakland didn’t say who killed him. They felt there was an infiltrator in the party. There was and I found out later who it was. But, they didn’t know who the infiltrator was. So they (the police) said, “We’re going to place you all under the authority of Chicago.” It was in that capacity that some people in Jackson, Michigan started a chapter, the Black Panther Party of Jackson, Michigan. I got commissioned in Chicago to go to Jackson, Michigan to help set up the chapter of the Black Panther Party. We didn’t know about the FBI’s infiltration and the program called COINTELPRO. We didn’t know any of that stuff then.
KCS: We’re going to discuss COINTELPRO in more detail.
Okay. All right. Well, I’ll tell you how I got from Jackson to Detroit.
Jackson, Michigan already had an organization called the Black Messengers who wanted to become members of the Black Panther Party. We trained them, then they became members of the Black Panther Party. One of them, who was the leader of that organization, had given orders for guys to rob the Western Union; and as soon as they committed the robberies, they went to jail. The police were waiting for them at home. Now, when I got there, this stuff was already happening, and I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know who was who. All I knew was these guys went to jail and nobody’s telling who gave them the order to rob the place because that’s like snitching. You don’t tell anybody that. I couldn’t put this together, that this guy gave these people these orders, that they committed this crime, and they immediately got locked up with the police waiting at their homes. The same guy, a member of a big Black Baptist church, the biggest Black Baptist church in Jackson, Michigan, gave them (members) an order to go paint “Fuck Jesus” on the wall in big, bold letters - so big and bright that when they tried to paint over them, you could still see them. That totally alienated the community against us - totally alienated the community. We tried to organize the community with breakfast programs. There was a Catholic priest, who wanted to work with us. After that, we couldn't get anybody to work with us. I said, “We've got to go to Detroit, and we’ll let this calm down here. We’ll go to Detroit and we’ll all work in Detroit.” I said, “This is ruined.” I don’t know if this guy is the same one who gave the orders - if he is the same one who was an FBI infiltrator. That was the kind of stuff that the FBI was doing to destroy the (Panther) Party. That was a successful distraction, a successful counter-operation. People don’t know the kind of stuff that the FBI did. That’s what they did.
4. What global events influenced the formation and activities of the Black Panther Party?
At that time, there were liberation movements going on. The main one was the anti-Vietnam War Movement. We all opposed America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Our leaders went to Vietnam. Eldridge Cleaver went to North Vietnam with Jane Fonda and broadcasted to the troops to let them know we have solidarity with the so-called Viet Cong. And, Eldridge, I remember, repeated to them what Mohammed Ali said. Mohammed Ali was the most outstanding example of Black manhood that we had. Mohammad Ali stepped up and refused to go into the military and said, “No Viet Cong has ever called me nigger.” He was speaking for all of us.
KCS: Was that when Eldridge went to Viet Nam with Jane Fonda?
Yes, that was when the Jane Fonda thing blew up in the media. She was put on a Black list. While Vietnam was going on, there were liberation movements going on in Africa - Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau. There had been a liberation movement that was successful in Algeria. Che Guevara was in Bolivia trying to get them to liberate themselves. There were movements in Brazil and socialist national revolutionary movements all over the world. We were aligned with the Revolutionary Communist Movement at that time.
KCS: Was that different from what Nyerere promoted or are you talking just about communism?
Well, we wanted it (the Party) to be like the Communist Party of the United States that Angela Davis was a member of. Their basic philosophy was that the working class would have to overthrow the bourgeoisie, the upper class, and there would be a socialist revolution. But, we did not believe that the White workers were going to unite with Black workers or they would do anything because they gained so much from capitalism and racism that they identified with the bourgeoisie. They didn’t identify with Black workers. So we did not think that the Communist Party’s philosophy would work for us. We believed that, with community control, for the purpose of us controlling our own community and fighting back against police brutality and racism, we had to organize what was called the Lumpen - the brothers on the street, the brothers in the hood. So that was a different philosophy, but we all believed that socialism was a better system than capitalism. That’s what linked Mao Tse-tung, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and Emil Cabral. What linked us all was the common belief in a socialist transformation.
5. What do you consider the strengths and the challenges of the Panther Party?
The strength of the Panther Party was we were young, energetic, dedicated, and somewhat fearless. The challenges and weaknesses were our leadership did not foresee the opposition that we had and, they did not know how to counter it. J. Edgar Hoover said in 1970 or ’69, “The Black Panther Party is the number one internal threat to the security of United States.” We’re all 17 and 18 years old. I said, "You guys, I don’t know about that. Us?" It was unbelievable. But he was serious. Now, White radicals had blown up the capital and had planted bombs in the US Capital. White radicals had blown up and started killing people. There were 500,000 soldiers in Vietnam. A 100,000 soldiers had come back to America crazy as loons, shooting dope and killing people, but we were the number one threat to the security of United States. When J. Edgar Hoover said that, he put a tag on all of us. At that point, Huey, who embodied the leaders of the movement, should have said, "Step back." We needed some kind of counter-espionage, counter-intelligence program. Because in any liberation movement, you are going to be infiltrated. We should have infiltrated other liberation movements too. We were all using a book called the Mini-manual of the Urban Guerilla written by Carlos Marighella. You can read the whole thing online. Look it up - The Mini-Manual of the Urban Guerilla. The police tried to infiltrate the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA had their members join the police. Their members also infiltrated the FBI. We should have been on that level. We should have had our members become prison guards, police officers, and the FBI because the battle for the destruction of the Panther Party was on a physical level, was on a counter-intelligence versus intelligence level. It was a spy game. They had played this game for 50 years and had destroyed so many organizations.
I went to the FBI headquarters, the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C., and read the COINTELPRO files in the reading room of the FBI. All the techniques used against the Panther Party were used against Marcus Garvey’s Movement (UNIA). The first Black person ever hired by the FBI was hired to infiltrate the UNIA. The letter is in the files. He wrote to Hoover and said, “We can’t get anything on this guy.” Hoover replied, “Keep on, we’ll get something.” That exchange in the FBI’s file, that Garvey was the first Black person ever spied on by the FBI. The federal government pressed charges against him. They infiltrated Garvey’s organization. All that stuff about White fraud, Garvey didn’t even deal with paperwork. His underlings dealt with that, but because he was in-charge, the federal government was able to prosecute him (Garvey) for that. You can see it in the FBI files. J. Edgar Hoover plotted that stuff from the very beginning. So Hoover did the same thing to the Panther Party. Huey and Bobby didn’t have the smarts to recognize the battle so that we could win and counter that stuff. And that was one of the real shortcomings because people got killed. People I know got caught and a number were killed. I’m lucky to be alive myself. Oh, you don’t know. I spent 21 years in prison. I’m a former inmate. I have a PhD. I’m a professor and was director of all of kinds of studies. I spent 21 years in prison because Huey and the Panthers could not counter the FBI’s program to destroy it.
6. What were the accomplishments of the organization?
I think the accomplishments of the Black Power Movement in general, and the Panther Party being just part of it, was pride. To be Black was so shameful when we were kids. So, you blow off the Black thing. I remember, we would go to parties and everybody wanted to dance with the light-skinned girls. The Black-skinned girls couldn’t get a dance. Just the fact that we now have pride in ourselves... Franz Fanon said, “Sometimes people must fight back even if they can’t win. They must fight back just for their own self-respect.” The fact was we fought back. And I think that time (the 60s) affected our development as human beings. The fact that we made the police reform themselves. At a certain time, I remember in Chicago, they talked to my dad, calling him “boy.” They called my mother “girl.” Some brother named Spurgeon Jake Winters, who I went to high school with, was in the Panther Party. Now 10 days before Fred Hampton was killed, nobody knows it, Spurgeon Jake Winter transported Black Panther Party guns from one building to another. The police came and attacked the Black Panthers with guns. They wanted to kill us anyway so we might as well fight because they were going to kill us. He knew he was dead so he shot it out. He killed three of them and wounded seven before they withered him with bullets. After that, the police started dealing differently in Chicago. It was "sir" and "ma’am". It wasn't “boy” and “girl” once they saw that we would fight them. The Panther Party led that movement. It wasn’t just us. The brothers in the hood said, “Wait a minute. We ain’t taking this ass kicking no more,” and they started fighting back with their fists or whatever. Once they saw that we would fight back, they changed their behavior. Huey Newton said, “Nobody knew we could make them back down.” They had the image of power and strength. In Chicago, they would ride around on big horses. They had tough looking leather jackets with big old guns and they were burley, big, old bullies really...Polish and Irish guys. They treated like us punks. I remember they’d just beat us and treat us like punks. Everybody was full of fear of them. Now we are full of fear of each other because we are in gangs. We're even shooting each other with no problem. But then, when we saw the police we would run like rabbits. We didn’t know we could make them back down because of our history of slavery. Their image was one of total power and we were powerless. Somebody had to risk his life first to show us that we could make them back down and that was Huey P. Newton. He had some serious problems later. I and my other brothers who dealt with the guns in the Panther party always respected Huey because he was the first one to show us that we could make them back down. Now the thing about it is, we got a little reckless. Then I, I don’t know if I told you about the incident. You saw the picture of me and Huey right?
Huey was speaking at an urban mission. Every cop in the world was lined up in front of this theatre and there were four of us who were Huey’s bodyguards. We had to scout the situation to make sure there were no bombs and there were no snipers. Before Huey came, all of these cops were there because they thought we were going to riot because Huey was speaking. There were mainly White students from the University of Michigan at the mission. But, I had two guns. I had a 9 millimeter gun and a 38. One of the other brothers had a shotgun, a sawed off shotgun, which is illegal. He had it strapped to his arm under a big coat and a pistol. Others had different guns. There were four of us. This brother named Larry, he said, “Cover me.” And I said, “What do you mean cover you?” He said, “Just cover me.” I say, “Okay.” I didn’t know what he was going to do. All these cops were lined up. He walked up to them, opened up his coat, and put his hand on his shotgun as if he was going to draw. He didn’t draw. I. thought, “Oh my God. Negro, what?” So I put my hands on my guns. I had two guns. I was ready to come out and the thing is none of them (the police) would budge. They wouldn’t even flinch. They didn’t want us to think they were moving because the first one who moved was going to die. Now they didn’t kill us. They had more guns than us but not one of them wanted to be the first one to die. They didn’t touch their guns. Having that shotgun was a federal crime. You couldn’t have a sawed off shotgun. He had a double barrel shotgun and they were scared. They turned all kinds of colors of red and green. That was because of Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party. The slave master would back down. We didn’t know that. And the fact is, it was after the Black Panther Party and the Black Power Movement they began to integrate police departments around the country. When brothers started shooting them in Detroit, the White cops did not want to drive in the Black community without a Black cop in their car. The same White cops who didn’t want to integrate before, now they wanted to integrate the police department. So it was not marching and singing or whistle blowing that integrated these police departments in the Northern cities. It was the fact that Black people were shooting these cops. They just killed that boy in Brooklyn. You see that the other day?
Yes. That’s stuff is big news now. That stuff happened everyday back then. And nobody did anything about it. Now it happens like once a year and it’s a big blow up. Back then it was every day and nobody paid any attention to it. It was justifiable homicide. If you look at the Black Panther Party platform on the issue of education, it said that we must control our own people’s education...that those who do not treat you right will not treat you right. The fact is the movement taught Blacks to educate ourselves and the community, and to control our education.
Our free breakfast program for children shamed the US government. There were no free breakfast and no free lunch programs in any public schools. It shamed the US government into doing what they do now so that my little boy can go to school and have a free lunch if he wants it. He doesn’t want to eat that stuff. He wants us to fix his lunch. But for the kids whose families don’t have the money to fix their lunch, they get free lunch and free breakfast in these schools now. And I think that was one of the great things that have benefited our children because you know a hungry child can’t run, right?
7. What do you know about COINTELPRO?
I know a lot about COINTELPRO. As a matter of fact I’m going to send you an essay that I wrote that was published about Detroit. It’s called The Rise and Fall of the Black Panther Party in Detroit. It deals essentially with COINTELPRO and some of the stuff, for example, in Detroit. The main thing that the FBI wanted to stop was our newspaper, the Black Panther newspaper. I understood later that it was not our guns that were the number one threat. It was our ideas. And, one of the main problems, particularly why they killed Fred Hampton, is that he was trying to make the gangs stop killing each other and turn their aggression and attention against the government. The FBI saw that as one of the most dangerous things to the security in the United States. Think if the Cripps and Bloods with all those guns became revolutionary and start free breakfast for children programs, started acting like Panthers, started fighting back against the police, and started trying to change the government. This is the vision that the Panther Party had but J Edgar Hoover was seeing ahead of us. And he said, “That must never, ever happen.” And that was the most dangerous thing, the real danger that the ideas would spread. The Black Panther newspaper was the vehicle for spreading these ideas. Hoover made sure that Sam Napier, who started the Black Panther newspaper, was shot, killed, and set on fire in New York. I worked with that brother in San Francisco. Beautiful brother. Always smiling. He was shot, killed, and set on fire in New York. I’ve got the FBI files where J Edgar Hoover gave an order to do two things: stop the free breakfast program and stop the newspaper. The agents in Detroit came up with an idea for our newspapers that arrived at the Detroit airport. They said, “We have this foul smelling spray that smells like the worst smelling species. We’re going to spray it on them.” I remember going to the airport to pick our newspapers, like 10,000 newspapers, and they all smell like that urine just like the whole plane had peed on the newspapers. I said, “How can they smell like pee?” Evidently, for the airport, the foul smelling stuff was too potent so they wanted them to spray them with stuff that smelled like urine. They (the papers) were ruined. This was the kind of stuff that the FBI did. In addition to painting those words on the church. Just undermining us in every way they could including misdirecting us saying, “Okay. We need to rob a bank for the revolution.” You go rob the bank and as soon as you come to the bank the police are waiting on you. You’ll be in prison for the next 10 to15 years. That was the kind of stuff that they did to through infiltration.
8. What is the status of the organization today? Is it gone altogether?
Oh, it’s gone. Now, there’s like a loose association and we have a reunion every five years. But, it has no any affiliation with the organization called the New Black Panther Party because they frankly do not have an ideology similar to the Black Panther Party. There’s a conflict between the New Black Panthers and the brothers in the original Black Panther Party. Some brothers in the Party tried to sue them or stop them using our name because of some of their bizarre behavior. It’s bizarre. Let me give you an example. The leader was a guy name Khalid Muhammad, who passed away. He died. After Bush’s first election when he stole the election in Florida, he had his inauguration in D.C. I lived in D.C. at the time. I was going to the Capitol to a demonstration where he was going to take the oath for office and drive down the street to the White House. I went down to demonstrate against him. There were hundreds of thousands of people from all over. People come from as far as Hawaii. They were so pissed off that he stole this election. And we were all there - White, Black, thin, thick, everybody. There were actually more people around opposing Bush than were applauding him. All of us formed this chain then here comes the so-called New Black Panthers. And the White boys said, “Oh, right on. Here comes the Black Panthers.” So we were all facing the street and Bush’s motorcade was coming our way. The New Black Panthers got in front of us with a bullhorn and one of them said, “Just because that White racist Jew was standing next to you doesn’t mean he’s your brother or your friend,” and started attacking Jews. And, I experienced contradiction for a moment. Do you understand what I’m saying? Every race was there. What did the Jews have to do with this stuff? You see? That was just the most bizarre behavior and inappropriate really. What did Jews have to do with this? We were all together against Bush. But those are the kind of divisive tactics that the FBI used. I never trusted that method. One of the guys there from the New Black Panther Party recognized me, “Oh, we’ve got a real Black Panther here…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” They asked me to come to a meeting. They were having a meeting the next day. Khalid Muhammad was going to speak at their meeting. I went to the meeting, me and this other brother. He said, “Let’s go to the meeting.” Okay, we’re going to the meeting. It must about a hundred or so people in the meeting. Khalid Muhammad got up and said, “I want you to go in that White man’s house and. …I never trusted any of them after that - none of them. That’s the new Black Panther Party
KCS: Where are they based?
They’re in a number of different places. In DC. There’s a guy named Malik Shabazz. There’s another man in Detroit named Malik Zulu Shabazz. I don’t know where they’re based. I just don’t trust any of them.
9. How did the activities of your organization, of the Panther Party affect colleges and universities on campuses and in the community?
I think, at the time, it helped influence the movement for Blacks toward Black Studies. Not just the Black Panther Party, but look at the Black Panther Party as part of the Black Power Movement and this movement for Black Studies on campus. If you look at the movement that took place on Howard University’s campus, where you got E. Franklin Frazier and all of them arguing against Black Studies. “You see, you got to assimilate. You don’t need Black Studies.” You got Amiri Baraka and all of them running around on campus. I remember, Amiri Baraka got so tired of Blacks were putting on airs at Howard University. One day, he and his partners got big watermelons and just sat right down and ate their watermelon with no forks. It sounds amazonic, but that was the movement. And there were students like Huey. Huey was a college student as well as Bobby Seale. Stokely Carmichael was a graduate of Howard University. There was this whole movement on these campuses for Black Studies, for Black identity, for Black pride, for hiring Black Professors on White college campuses, for establishing Black Studies Departments, and African Studies Departments, All of that was part of the Black Power Movement on campus. They had Black Power in the community and the Black Power Movement was in the military. One Black soldier said when Dr. King was in Vietnam, he asked the captain if they could have the Blacks attend so they can see Dr. King. The captain told him, “Hell, no.” The captain and his other good old boys that night strung up confetti with a flag and had a party to celebrate the assassination of Dr. King. Somebody threw a hand grenade in there, killed the captain, and blew up some others. The guy who had asked for a memorial was arrested him for the killing. Since hand grenades don’t leave any fingerprints, they couldn’t prove it. But, they locked him up for nine months and he didn’t get an honorary discharge from the military. That was the Black Power Movement in the military. There was a strong Black Power Movement in the military, particularly in Vietnam, among brothers who opposed that war.
10. You mentioned Black students. How else did the Panther Party and the Black Power Movement affect campuses? What about the development of Black student unions?
I think the development of Black Student Unions was influenced by the Black Power Movement. It was the students who organized other Black organizations, for example, the National Council of Black Lawyers. Now there is the Black Bar Association, the official one, but the National Council for Black Lawyers were the legal wing of the Black Power Movement. They became the main lawyers defending Angela Davis, H. Rap Brown, and members of the Black Panther Party. They still exist as a matter of fact. They are strong, still a strong organization. The Black student unions were the Black college and high school wings of the Black Power Movement. So, we don’t, we see organizations in the Black Power Movement quite often as the Black Panther Party. We don’t see that members of the Black Panther Party were college students and in high schools and were organizing and helping to organize Black student unions, or were influencing young people who are there to do it.
11. Did the Panther Party affect the development of the Black Studies Departments at higher education institutions? And if so, how?
I just think that the Black Panther Party was part of the Black Power Movement in general. Even if there wasn’t a chapter of the Black Panther Party on campus, quite often the people would identify as being a Black Panther. I’ve met many people who said, “I identified myself as a Panther.” By being a college student and identifying yourself as a Black Panther, what did you do? College campuses did not have a chapter of the Black Panther Party. But Black students identified with the Panthers anyway. So what did they do? Well, they started a Black student union. They demanded establishment of a Black Studies department. They demanded in your high school that students get books that are relevant to the Black experience. When I went to K-12, I never had a Black book except for one in the fourth grade and that was “Little Black Sambo.” There was a White teacher from North Carolina who used to call us “Darkies,” and she made us read “Little Black Sambo.” So, there was a movement in high schools. We needed education that was relevant to us. Young people who felt like they were Panthers in spirit began to effect these changes on college campuses and in high schools.
12. Are you aware of any activities, programs, or benefits to higher education resulting from the activities of your organizations or other organizations in the Black Power Movement?
I think that the ongoing benefit is the fact that we successfully got Black Studies departments established. The fact is the non-violent Civil Rights Movement opposed the movement for advocating for Black/African Studies departments because they said it was Black separatism. Roy Wilkins gave a speech against it. I remember Roy wrote about it saying, “I have a red, black, and green thing. The flag that represents me is the red, white, and blue.” This is what I witnessed at the NAACP. So, there was a clear dichotomy in the Civil Rights Movement where those who were fighting for racial integration felt that they could not at the same time fight for racial integration and fight for Black Studies Departments. They felt that we should integrate our history into American history. They did not see that if we did that, then it’s going to always be at the back of the bus of American history. It was the Black Power Movement that pushed that. And, unfortunately, on most of these campuses where you have Black Studies Departments, they have selected leadership who don’t appreciate that their jobs were created by the Black Power Movement. I was on a campus that dealt with the history of Black Studies. The chair of the department got up and gave a speech thanking the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King for the fact that they had a Black Studies department. I remember when the battle was started for an African American and African Studies Department at that university, it was students with the big Afros and all that who were protesting and sitting there. They had never crossed paths with Dr. King. But, they have assigned people to those positions, who don’t have the philosophy of those who fought to get those studies there.
KCS: Do they have the knowledge?
Like I said, this person who spoke didn’t have the knowledge about things like the history of Black Studies and, in this particular situation, African Studies. Quite often the professors hired don’t come to college campuses with a historical knowledge. They don’t know our history.
13. Are there other persons you feel would be helpful and will provide information on this topic that I need to talk with?
Are you talking about the Black Panther Party or the Black Power Movement?
KCS: The Black Power Movement.
Black Power. Yes, well, I know one sister was at that meeting in ’67. As a matter of fact, Stokely and Rap, elected her to represent SNCC. Her name is Gloria House. You know her? Gloria House. She’s a professor at my university now. And there’s this book about women and SNCC. I think it’s Hands on the Fleet of Flowers, something like that. She has a chapter in that book. She would be a good person to interview. She was at the Black Panther conference and was elected by Stokely and Rap to represent SNCC at the Black Panther Party.
14. I’m collecting information on the sequence of the events leading to the development of the first Black Student Union and the first Black Studies Department at San Francisco State University. Are there experiences at other colleges that you feel would be informative as well?
Yes, Northwestern. What’s that brother’s name? Bracey? I think it’s John Bracey. He’s in Massachusetts now. He was part of that at Northwestern. There’s a great book out now called, the Revolution on Campus by Martha Biondi, B-I-O-N-D-I. You can go to her website, see the bibliography and see the people she interviewed. Look up her name, Martha Biondi. She’s a professor at Northwestern. That’s a great book.
Comparison of Black Student Union and Black Panther Party Platforms
Black student union (February1969)
Black panther party (October1966)
|1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our school.|
1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black community.
|2. We want full enrollment in the schools for our people.|
2. We want full employment for our people.
|3. We want an end to the robbery of the White man of our Black community.|
3. We want an end to the robbery of the White man of our Black Community.
|4. We want decent educational facilities, fit for the use of students.|
4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
|5. We want an education for our people that teach us how to survive in the present day society.|
5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.
|6. We want racist teachers to be excluded and restricted from all public schools.|
6. We want all black men to be exempt from military service.
|7. We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people. We want all police and special agents to be excluded and restricted from school premises.|
7. We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.
|8. We want all students that have been exempt, expelled, or suspended from school to be reinstated.|
8. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county, and city prisons, and jails.
|9. We want all students when brought to trial to be tried in student court by a jury of their peer group or students of their school.|
9. We want all black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
|10. We want power, enrollment, equipment, education, teachers, justice, and peace.|
10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace. And, as our major political objective, a United Nations supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the Black colony in which only Black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate for the purpose of determining the will of Black people as to their national destiny.
Note: From Up against the wall: Violence in the making and unmaking of the Black panther party (p. 353), by C. J. Austin, , 2006, Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press and Mutiny does happen lightly: The literature of the American resistance to the Vietnam war(pp. 1-3),by G. L. Heath, 1976, Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.
© Sokoya Enterprises