Reflections On The Black Panther Party... Bobby Seale Seized His Time Leslie Rice ------------------------------------ Homewood News and Information It was a defining moment for the Black Panthers. A packed Shriver Hall was held rapt last Wednesday night as Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the legendary Black Panther Party, told the story of the weeks that he and Huey Newton had spent teaching some 20 young men the Black Panther Party agenda. The men had memorized all of California's legal statutes and ordinances involved in carrying a gun in public, staging protests, observing police in action, being arrested and when to fire a gun in self-defense. At last, said Seale, the cadre of volunteers was ready for their directive, to patrol the Oakland police whom they believed were brutalizing and terrorizing the black community. And with their military black berets, black satin bomber jackets emblazoned with a panther, cobalt blue shirts, black pants and of course, their guns, the Black Panthers were also ready to capture the attention and the imagination of a nation. They piled into two cars and cruised through the night into West Oakland. After a while, Seale said they spotted a police officer frisking a black man whose arms were spread against the hood of his car. Twenty Panthers lined up side by side, a few feet apart, and watched the arrest. The police officer looked up, saw Newton, and asked what he was doing. As he told this, Seale paused, drew up straight, took on Newton's erect posture and formal way of speaking and imitated Newton's response. "We're observing the arrest of this man," he said. The police officer eyed Newton. "That gun loaded?" Newton leveled a stare at the officer. "That's for me to know," and he cocked his rifle. With that, 20 men cocked their guns. The officer walked to his car and drove away. For more than two hours, Seale's audience of several hundred men and women, mostly African American students from Hopkins and other area colleges, listened to his version of what led to the formation of the Black Panthers. By the end of his talk, Seale had humanized and made real what for many college students, born well after the Panthers had dissolved, has become an organization that is a rarely discussed, long-ago legend. "When you think of the Black Panthers, you always picture angry black men in berets carrying guns," said Stephanie Henry, a Hopkins junior. "Mr. Seale wasn't at all what I expected. He was down to earth and didn't glamorize the group at all. They were just college students like us who saw something wrong and worked hard to make it right. They believed that change doesn't come through a lot of talk and that you can't wait for someone to change it for you." For much of the lecture, Seale tried to dispel some of the myths associated with the Black Panthers. The recent film Panthers, he insists, is 90 percent nonsense, as are many of the books and articles written about the group. The Panthers Seale portrayed were formed by a group of highly intelligent, motivated young college students who alternately brilliantly strategized and naively fumbled their way into an internationally known civil rights group. Their mission, he said, was to build a self-reliant black community. They began remedial education and nutrition classes, free breakfasts for schoolchildren, cooperative housing, free busing, voter registration drives to elect black politicians and patrols of police to ensure they were following the law. And they would carry guns, which were legal in California, to do it. "I had no idea they were so scrupulous about learning the Constitution and all the laws," said Hopkins junior Stephen Haynes. "That's what they were basically doing: testing and following the laws that were supposed to protect their rights. I guess it's just that the law itself didn't want to recognize that." Seale was born a farm labor contractor's son in Dallas in 1936. He grew up in the Oakland-Berkeley, Calif., communities where he trained and worked as a carpenter from a young age, assisting in his father's business until he joined the United States Air Force. Strongly influenced by Huey Newton while in college, Seale joined the Afro-American Association for a short period in 1962. In 1963, he became a community organizer as a member of the Revolutionary Action Movement and created tutorial and youth job programs. In 1965, he and Huey Newton formed a political revolutionary group, the Black Panther Party. In 1969, Seale received worldwide recognition as the most disruptive defendant in the "great Chicago conspiracy trial," where he and seven white radicals were charged with disrupting the Democratic National Convention. While in jail awaiting trial, he wrote the book Seize the Time. It was also during his time in Attica State Prison that Seale became a key negotiator in the Attica State Prison revolt. He was later aquitted. Seale talked a little about his anger when Newton began abusing drugs and getting involved in the local drug trade in the early 1970s. Between Seale's marvels at the deftness of his friend's mind to his detached description of Newton's descent into drugs and violence, it was clear that Seale's emotions about Newton remain a complicated mix of love and bitterness. Furious over Newton's connections to drug dealers, Seale quit the party in 1974, and his exit effectively marked the end of the Black Panther Movement. "When I found out that Huey was involved in the drug trade I wanted to kill him," he said. "I won't tell lies or half-truths about some of the things he did or what he became. But I will always give him credit for his profound and great contributions in the early days. He was brilliant, he even had a Ph.D., and yet he went out a drug abuser." Charles Sydnor III, Hopkins' Black Student Union president, said he and other members of the BSU, which sponsored the talk as part of Black History Month, were intensely gratified by the lecture's attendance and added that there are more compelling and interesting events coming throughout February. Today at 4 p.m. in Shriver Hall orator Patricia Russell McCloud will give a talk during a convocation. On Saturday, Feb. 17, at 7 p.m. in the Glass Pavilion, the BSU and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity are sponsoring a black tie optional Sweetheart's Ball, and on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 8 p.m. in Shriver Hall, the popular Sankofa Dance Theater will perform traditional African dance and music. For information on these and other Black History Month events, call (410) 516-5435.
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