Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 12, 1996

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

     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

     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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