Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Black Panther Party For Self-Defense Commemorated 40th Anniversary in Oakland
Oakland event marks 40th anniversary
By ANDRE BRISCOE
Herald Staff Writer
For a few hours Sunday afternoon, DeFremery Park at 16th and Adeline streets became what many in Oakland's black community want it to become -- Li'l Bobby Hutton Park.
Hundreds gathered during one of the final events at the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party, bringing to an end three days of panel discussions, lectures and chapter reports. Steven Levinson, 47, a teacher at CSU-Monterey Bay whose parents were involved with Panthers, said the event was important in showing that the work of the group still continues.
Levinson's mother and father were part of the Panthers' National Committee to Combat Fascism. He said the group was important to his development as a child.
"Basically, when I was about 10 years old, I was meeting Panthers," said Levinson, who teaches television production at the college. "I remember Bobby (Seale), I remember Huey (Newton), Eldridge (Cleaver) a little bit. For some very critical years of my life, they were a big part of it. It was just such a critical element in my development as a human being.... Social justice is not an academic form for me, it's an inherent part of my skin."
The Black Panther Party was founded by Seale and Newton on Oct. 22, 1966, and is remembered primarily for the images of armed Panther members carrying shotguns into government offices. The party formed its ideology from the works of Frantz Fanon, Mao Tse-Tung, Malcolm X and Che Guevara.
The organization is renowned for its members' black leather jackets and black berets, carrying shotguns and confrontations with police -- including the 1967 shooting of an Oakland police officer by Newton after a traffic stop. Newton was convicted of manslaughter in the case, a verdict overturned a few years later. Seale was also charged with conspiracy to commit murder. In 1969 alone, 19 Panthers were killed and another 745 jailed or arrested.
But while the group is remembered for its posture of self-defense, which to many was interpreted as aggression, it was its social programs, including providing transportation for the elderly and furnishing children with free lunch and breakfast that also brought it attention, said Panther Party member Gail Shaw.
Shaw was a member of the Committee to Combat Fascism. She is also an organizer of It's About Time, formed to maintain connections and promote the Black Panther Party's legacy. That networking resulted in the formation of www.itsabouttimebpp.com.
"We represent what we call the rank and file," said Shaw. "People who did the work of the party, the grunts out there every day, running the programs, keeping it going."
The programs inevitably fed thousands of children across the United States, Shaw said.
"The Black Panther Party started out as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. If you look at the history, it was always the police who raided the Panther offices, not the other way around. It wasn't like Panthers were going out looking for police to kill."
Bill Jennings became a member in 1968 after moving from San Diego to Oakland and taking classes at Laney College. The committee also holds Li'l Bobby Hutton Day events at the West Oakland Branch of the city library, Black Panther history month and a "Books Behind Bars" program that helps get books to people in prison. Younger adults came to the anniversary celebration to learn for themselves what the Panthers were about, he said.
Hutton was one of the first members of the Black Panther Party and was killed by Oakland police in 1968, while he was surrendering to them, Panthers.
"That showed us that our legacy still lives, because they want to find out what is happening," Jennings said. "They want to find out what's happening with the Blank Panther Party... there are so many myths about the party. They want to know what is true and what is not."
Mel Mason, president of the Monterey County branch of the NAACP, joined the Panthers in 1968 and spoke Friday on a panel discussion about Panthers serving prison sentences. He said while the overall event was "fantastic," the event was tempered by the absence of the 15 Panthers who Mason said have each served about 30 years in prison.
"These comrades got singled out by the government, which was trying to destroy the party," he said. "Three have died in prison. But the ones who are still alive are still politically active. That's heartwarming... so those of us who are on the outside forget. For those of us who believe in the party it will always be in our hearts and in our minds."
Andre Briscoe can be reached at 646-4436 or abriscoe@
Posted on Mon, Oct. 16, 2006
Black Panther Party holds 40th reunion
By Kamika Dunlap
OAKLAND - Some were layered in reunion T-shirts and others were bundled in leather jackets, but Black Panther Party members endured the cold weather Saturday to celebrate their 40th anniversary at DeFremery Park in West Oakland.
People of all ages came to join in the festivities and to learn about the Panther legacy. Members traveled from as far away as New Jersey, Philadelphia and Detroit to attend.
"This is great," said Kathleen Cleaver, a former Panther who is now a New York attorney. "Who would have thought that after the level of attack against the party that 40 years later we would be at a reunion party?"
The atmosphere was filled with music and food, and several Black Panther Party newspapers and photographs were on display.
Organizers said the event was geared to celebrate the party's "Community Survival" programs, such as free breakfasts, sickle cell anemia testing and voter registration drives.
The organizers also said they hope young people will be inspired by the group's legacy and become involved with social activism.
J. Hadiah McLeod, of San Francisco, is a former Panther who was a member from 1966-67. She said the spirit of the party is still alive.
"We are still doing positive things in the community," she said. "As long as there's one, the power of the people will continue."
The Panthers fought for social justice by demanding equal rights in education, housing and employment in poor black communities. The party also armed its members, claiming guns were needed to defend against police brutality.
Earlier during the reunion, some Panthers posed for a group picture on the front steps of the Alameda County Courthouse, where years before, in 1969, many of them had rallied in support of party co-founder Huey Newton. He was convicted of manslaughter in an Oakland police officer's death, but two years later the verdict was overturned.
Anthony Scott, 25, traveled from New York to Oakland to attend the reunion to gain insight into how to combat gang violence and drugs in his community.
"I'm young, and I'm trying to fight through the same social and economic oppression the Panthers did," he said. "I think it's important to go to our elders and to learn from them."
Black Panthers reunite 40 years later
By MICHELLE LOCKE,
Associated Press Writer
Sat Oct 14, 3:19 AM ET
The Black Panther Party officially existed for just 16 years, but its reach has endured far longer.
Co-founder Bobby Seale never expected to be around to see that reach 40 years later.
"A lot of times I thought I would be dead," he says.
Seale and other former members will commemorate the party's founding when they reunite in Oakland this weekend. They plan a mix of events, including workshops on topics ranging from Hurricane Katrina to ethnic studies in higher education, as well as presentations on party history.
"Grass roots, community, programmatic organizing for the purpose of evolving political, electoral, community empowerment," Seale says. "This was my kind of revolution. This was what I was after."
The Panthers were born Oct. 22, 1966, the night Seale and Huey Newton completed the party's 10-point program and platform. At the time, Newton was a law student and Seale was working for the Oakland Department of Human Resources as a community liaison.
When they were finished, they flipped a silver dollar to see who would be chairman. Seale called heads. Heads it was.
Later, when he saw Newton looking sharp in a black leather jacket, he decided that members should wear something similar as a kind of uniform. They added berets after watching a movie about the French resistance in World War II.
The Panthers' most controversial accessories were the then-legal weapons they carried when they began monitoring police activity in predominantly black neighborhoods.
In 1967, as state legislators were considering gun restrictions that eventually passed, armed Panthers showed up at the state Capitol in protest, grabbing national attention.
The militant approach, which frightened many white Americans, set the Panthers apart from other activist groups.
"They filled a critical kind of void in the civil rights struggle," says Charles E. Jones, chairman of the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University. "At a time when folks began to reassess the utility of nonviolence and turning the other cheek, the Black Panther Party offered an alternative."
The Panthers are often remembered for gun fights with police that left casualties on both sides.
Still, former members point out that they were about more than guns. They ran breakfast programs for children, set up free health clinics, and arranged security escorts for the elderly and testing for sickle cell anemia — along with holding their police conduct review boards.
At its high point, the party had about 5,000 members across the country, Seale says.
Looking back, he still thinks the guns were necessary. A year before the Panthers were founded, he says, another group called Community Alert Patrol tried monitoring police activity, armed with tape recorders, walkie-talkies and law books.
"After a month of them doing this, they in effect got their law books taken and torn up, their tape recorders and their walkie-talkies smashed up, with billy clubs their heads were cracked up and drug downtown and locked up," he says.
A number of factors led to the Panthers' demise, starting with government opposition, Jones says. In 1967, the FBI launched a counterintelligence program against what it termed "black hate groups" as well as other activists.
Internal disagreement on tactics and leadership weakened the party further and, "ultimately, people just got burned out. It's hard being a full-time revolutionary in the United States," Jones says.
Several Panthers were arrested on a variety of charges and some still remain in jail.
Seale and others were charged with conspiring to murder a party member who was believed to be a police informant, but those charges were later dropped. Seale, who turns 70 this month, moved back to Oakland in the 1990s and keeps busy with speaking engagements.
Newton was convicted of manslaughter in the 1967 death of an officer shot when police stopped a car Newton was driving. That verdict was overturned. Newton struggled with addiction and was shot to death by a drug dealer in Oakland in 1989.
Continued interest in the Panthers is "a fascinating phenomenon," says Jones, editor of an anthology, "The Black Panther Party (Reconsidered)." For him it comes down to "a certain kind of boldness. It really stems from their community organizing, their commitment to serving not only black folks but all oppressed people."
Bobby Seale marks Black Panthers' 40th anniversary
Last updated: Saturday, October 14th, 2006 10:22:36 AM
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A co-founder of the Black Panther Party says he's looking back this weekend over 40 years of success.
Bobby Seale will be among those in Oakland, California marking the 40th anniversary of the party's founding.
Seale says he's proud of how the Black Panthers stood up for civil rights and social change. And he says they still do. Today's projects include voter-registration drives and campaigns to test people for sickle-cell anemia.
Even decades later, he says the familiar black leather jackets and black berets help people recognize the group. That's how they've gotten more people registered to vote, and million tested for sickle-cell disease.
Seale says the current Patriot Act is an extension of the FBI's 1960s-era counterintelligence efforts and a violation of people's rights.
Posted: 10/16/2006 1:21:00 PM
Panthers mark '60s founding
OAKLAND, Calif. -- This month marks the 40th anniversary of the militant group the Black Panthers.
The Panthers were born Oct. 22, 1966, the night that founders Bobby Seale and Huey Newton completed the party's 10-point program and platform.
This weekend, former Panthers gathered in Oakland, Calif., to see old friends and recall their time together.
Although the Black Panthers were remembered for the guns they toted and the sometimes deadly fights they got into with police, the ex-members said the group was about much more than that.
The Panthers set an example for how exploited masses needed to struggle to fight the system, according to Mel Mason.
The Panthers effectively went out of business 16 years after their founding.
One of the Panther founders, David Hilliard, is a visiting lecturer this year with the University of New Mexico African American Studies Program.