by Dr. Rhone Fraser
Black Panther Party co-founder and former chairman Bobby Seale recounts the many government crimes committed against the BPP. But the ‘progressive movement’ isn’t over yet, says Seale, who defines what he considers ‘revolutionary programs,’ past and present.
Inside the Black Panther Party: An Interview with Bobby Seale
by Dr. Rhone Fraser
“The FBI was working with the police department to carry out J. Edgar Hoover’s orders to smash and destroy the Black Panther Party.”
FRASER: In a 1970 book, edited by Philip Foner called The Black Panthers Speak, he has an introduction where he writes: “There has been no lack of information as to programs, policies and objectives of the Black Panther Party. Unfortunately, it has been easier to read distortions in the mass media than to obtain copies of the party’s weekly radical journal and the underground student papers. Every American owes it to himself or herself to at least understand what the Black Panthers are saying.” Mr. Seale, you mention these distortions also in Seize The Time, A Lonely Rage, and in your 2006 foreword to this new photobook called The Black Panthers when you write that: “over the years, the media continually distorted facts saying that we had instigated shootouts with the police when, in fact, as we know now from Freedom of Information Act documents, the FBI worked with police departments to plan attacks on Black Panther Party offices.” My first question for you is, could you discuss the different side that this photobook The Black Panthers shows us, a side that is free from distortions?
SEALE: The side that’s free from distortions, particularly in this book here, it allows you to see who we are in our heyday, in the form of programs, in the form of speeches, in the form of youth in the schools, in the form of an Intercommunity Youth Institute that we had; it allows you to understand the Free Preventive Health Care Clinics established all across the country, and of course these were organizing frameworks. This is our method that this book is trying to show. My method of organizing on a mass scale was to put up programs, and not only have free preventative medical health care at the actual clinics, but literally to extend a program called a Free Sickle Cell Anemia Testing Program. So, its me giving the directions and going to chapters and branches all across the country and showing party members how to get the local reverend at a church, or priest at a church, to allow them to use the church facilities say for a week or something. The party members would do a demographic location of, say, leafleting a hundred square blocks around the church and telling people that you could come in on [a certain] time and day.
“We caused the testing of over one million black folks for Sickle Cell Anemia.”
We had doctors and interned doctors from hospitals, supervising the Free Sickle Cell Anemia Testing Program. This program itself literally over a five-and-a-half, almost six year period, with our work, with hospitals, with doctors, with other people, and our own clinic, we caused the testing of over one million black folks for Sickle Cell Anemia, for the first time in the history of the United States of America. So, these programs organized people. This was a tangible service, Free Preventive medical healthcare type of service that we put together.
The Free Breakfast For Children program – and this book reflects on those pictures of the Free Breakfast For Children program – were really profound. From September of 1968 through the Spring, March or April [of 1969], we were feeding two hundred and fifty thousand children free breakfasts, every morning, five days a week before they went to school. And this caused the California state legislature to start off with Willie Brown then, who was in the state assembly Ways and Means Committee. They pushed through a bill for five million dollars for all schools in the state of California to provide free breakfast for all children in all the schools of the state of California. This caused twenty eight state legislatures, a year and a half or two later, to do something similar. So this is what you call programmatic organizing glaring in the face of what a politician is supposed to be about, when they’re supposed to be helping and serving the people in the grassroots in the poor and low income communities, and it exposes the government. J. Edgar Hoover I think in the Spring of 69, was on television. The Black Panther Free Breakfast Program, he said, was a threat to the internal security of America. Why? Because the Black Panther Party organized it?
FRASER: In this photobook there are two striking photographs of the Free Breakfast Program, one in Oakland from March 29th to 31st, 1972, which shows kids looking at bags, and having bags of food handed to them and then another photo in this striking photobook is one at a Free Breakfast For Children program in Chicago. So this photobook certainly shows the ways in which there was a vast and powerful influence from your work in the Black Panther Party that arguably – you know, I’m a [former] public school teacher and I would argue that I believe your program essentially started the idea of having free breakfasts provided by the public school systems in New Haven. Because many times I would notice as a public school teacher, those free meals are the only meals that students would have for the day so oftentimes even though there are designated numbers of breakfasts for students, I see students often taking two maybe three packs of breakfasts, hiding them in their bookbags or pockets, because that would be the only source, so really school is the vehicle not only for maintaining a living, but the vehicle for learning.
“J Edgar Hoover said the Black Panther Free Breakfast Program was a threat to the internal security of America.”
SEALE: When J. Edgar Hoover made his statement about our program being a threat, the only thing I responded to in the media was, ‘if a teacher, an instructor, is trying to teach a child some mathematics: three apples, four oranges, and one banana equals how many pieces of fruit? If the children are hungry, then they cannot compute.’ That was my statement, literally, to the press. I went on to organize many other programs. I’m just saying that saying something like that was “a threat to internal security” was just literally absurd.
FRASER: Certainly. In Seize The Time you write on page 413 that a revolutionary program is one set forth by revolutionaries, by those who want to change the existing system to a better system. I may be reaching here, but how do you think the photos in this photobook can function as a revolutionary program?
SEALE: Well, let’s understand what revolution is, especially in my words, in my understanding of what it was about; what I was then teaching and talking about. Revolution was not about a need for violence. That’s the first thing. You see the mass media had attempted to emphasize us with guns, but our guns were for our right to defend ourselves. Revolution was about a need, like I used to say and still say, re-evolve more political, economic, and social justice and power back into the hands of the people, which was literally about legislation and policy that make human sense. To change the function of institutions, to change the function of society so they make human sense so you don’t have wretched living conditions, so you don’t have vicious police brutality rampant in the community, so you don’t have people without healthcare. That’s what revolution was about. So a program to me, as an organizer, I guess I was saying that in reaction to some of the old state-controlled-economy-socialists. I used to argue with them all the time. And they misunderstood, they were probably sincere about some things but they just literally misunderstood saying that our programs were reform programs. No, they were revolutionary programs. Because one, we unite the people in the grassroots community around the programs, where the people support the program. In the process of supporting the program, we’re able to show the people that the government that works for the avaricious corporate money rich do not care about them, therefore that’s what perpetuates their oppression in their community. So what you’re doing here is raising the consciousness of the people. This is all about revolution.
“Revolution is about changing the function of institutions so they make human sense.”
Now, in that same context, the very programs themselves: the Free Breakfast for Children program, the sickle anemia testing program, the Free Preventive Medical Health care program, we even had a free shoe program, a free clothing program. We gave away thousands and thousands of pairs of brand new shoes we got donated to our brand new program at one time. Well what did we do with this? We registered people to vote! And registering people to vote meant that we were uniting people in opposition to who? The very politicians who are not taking care of the basic societal needs of the people through positive progressive programs. So, in this sense, for us to then turn around and run for political office and/or support other political candidates who are progressive other than Black Panther Party members, such as Ronald V. Dellums, and others, this is in effect to me a revolutionary program. You’re re-evolving more political, economic, and social justice representation back into the hands of the people. Because, you’ve got political style revolutionary candidates who are about really serving the basic desires and needs of the people. And to this very day, people like Congresswoman Barbara Lee, I mean she is a profound example and she worked with my Black Panther Party five and a half years ago in her early days when she was at Mills College and worked with Shirley Chisholm’s campaign but she worked directly with the Black Panther Party program. She’s one of those grassroots people, single mother, raising two kids, going to college, got out and did the work, and now she’s a United States Congresswoman. And she is that same dedicated human being as well as Congressman Bobby Rush from Chicago. Bobby Rush was part of the Leadership Central Committee of the old Illinois, of the old Illinois state chapter of the Black Panther Party. I can point to at least a handful of politicians who were Black Panther Party members, who still carry the principles and the philosophy of what we were about in terms of legislation and policies that make human sense. If we had evolved longer, and kept the process of, instead of being able to point to five or six politicians, I may have been able to point to a hundred or a couple of hundred. Even on the Congressional level.
FRASER: Certainly. What about Maxine Waters and her work?
SEALE: Yes, she’s very progressive. She’s profoundly progressive. She is another one of the ones I’m talking about. There’s quite a few of them out there. And other ethnic groups, Chicano, Mexican-American brothers and sisters out there. Yes, that progressive movement continues, and it is not over.
FRASER: Could you talk about that influence of your progressive movement on international organizations and Panther parties outside of America and how they learned from your programs, what you’ve heard of them?
SEALE: Well a lot of groups model, heard about, the Black Panther Party. And modeled their efforts after the Black Panther Party. I mean I heard that there was a Black Panther Party in India, a small short lived one in Israel, and of course there was one in Germany and England. I guess that’s just about the only ones I know of. Kathleen Cleaver did a lot of international travel so she knows more about that.
“The progressive movement continues, it is not over.”
FRASER: You just talked about revolutionary work and part of that is not just saying that one is a revolutionary but also being very much entrenched and aware of the law. Could you describe the importance of the U.S. Constitution and the Eighth Amendment in yours and Huey’s and in the Party’s liberation struggle?
SEALE: Judge Julius Hoffman [the presiding judge in the Chicago Eight Conspiracy Trial where Bobby Seale was tried for conspiring to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention] had in effect violated my sixth amendment constitutional right…when I had a handwritten motion that I read to the court, to defend myself in court because my lawyer was not in the courtroom at the time – the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America give any citizen to have legal counsel of their choice in the courtroom. And my lawyer at the time, just when the trial was getting started – his doctor put him the hospital; he had to have a gall bladder operation with his side cut open you know, so there he was in San Francisco and there I was in Chicago going to trial. And Judge Julius Hoffman tried to pawn off one of the other defendants’ lawyers on me. There were seven other defendants. I was the eighth defendant in the great Chicago Eight conspiracy trial. But the law was very important; I think that I learned law, about Supreme Court rulings in the past and I also learned in the process of objecting to Judge Julius Hoffman. Six weeks in the courtroom, every other day or so on the average, my name was mentioned and each time my name was mentioned I would say “I object, I object,” because my lawyer was not in the courtroom. Well after a week of this, what happened was that Judge Julius Hoffman stacked the audience with more of these moonlighting marshals, what they call federal marshals. I mean it moved from four or five marshals, standing about in the courtroom to about twenty five.
FRASER: Trying to intimidate you.
SEALE: Yeah. So, this happened and finally at one point, I guess about a week before I was severed from the trial, they literally attacked me. I jumped up and said “I want to cross examine this witness.” [The judge replies] “Sit down, Mr. Seale!” I said “No! I have a right to cross examine the witness! I have a right to defend myself in this courtroom!” And having a real moving argument that the judge gets in the middle of, trying to say this and I’m firing back and et cetera. And for the court record [to the court recorder] I said “did you get what I said ma’am?” She said “yes I did.” I said “thank you very much ma’am.” And [to the judge] “you, you’re a racist, a fascist, and a pig to sit up here and deny me my rights.” This is the kind of stuff that went on in that courtroom, it was just high drama. You want to see drama in courtroom? This was real high drama. Conflict of constitutional democratic civil human rights in the courtroom.
In the early days we started out with the law. When the Black Panther Party started patrolling the police, people do not know that Huey Newton had already finished two years in law school. When we went out there to patrol the police, we knew all the laws. We knew all the gun laws, you cannot point a loaded weapon at a person under the law of California. If you pointed a loaded weapon under California law, it constituted assault with a deadly weapon. You could actually get one to ten years in jail for that kind of stuff – even if you inadvertently, with no intent to harm the person, waving a gun around just because there’s a live round in the chamber. [That’s] the way the law was written. So we knew this kind of stuff. We knew you couldn’t ride in an automobile with a live round in the chamber of a rifle or a shotgun. You have to jack the round into the chamber where it could be fired, once you got out of the automobile. We knew all of this stuff.
FRASER: And you also knew not to conceal your weapons; that’s a very interesting law [that prohibited concealed weapons in California].
SEALE: As long as the weapon was not concealed, under California law at that time, it was not considered illegal. One of the first major, well organized patrols that we put together by the first or second week in January, I’ll never forget it. When we walked up that night and stood right off the curb but the police was out in the street and he had an arrestee; some kind of traffic ticket; this guy hadn’t showed up in court or something. The police didn’t see us at first when we first walked up and lined up. We never pointed our weapons at them, we held the long guns up or down and then the other handguns were holstered. And some young man walked up said, “What’s going on? They got sticks in their hands?” It was dark; they couldn’t see or something. I said “those are not no sticks! Those are guns! Those are guns!” And so the police looked up and some guy said “I’m leaving here.” Huey says, “No. No one leave. We have a right to stand here and observe. We’re a new organization observing police.” Huey turned around and the police says, “You have no right to observe me.” And Huey says, “No, no no. Such and such a California state supreme court ruling states that all citizens have a right to stand and observe a police officer carrying out their duty as long as they stand a reasonable distance away. A reasonable distance in that particular ruling was constituted as eight to ten feet. I’m standing approximately twenty feet from you. I will stand here and I will observe you whether you like it or not.” And wow! When Huey rapped that off like that, some sister in the back of us on the sidewalk said “brother, go ‘head on and tell it brother! Tell it!” [mutual laughter]
So what was happening here for the first time a very disciplined group – only one person talked at a time – I remember we used to school the party members that first week, before when we went out on that main patrol there, that only one person talked at a time because we will take the arrest. In other words, if the police officer says “you are under arrest,” [we could reply] “its okay.” We can take the arrest because we were never scared of the courtroom. And Huey’s point was that he would rather have nine, ten or twelve Black Panther Party members all testify to the exact same thing of one conversation that one had with the police than to have nine, ten or twelve Black Panther Party members who are all trying to say something, with he said and she said and they said, which would confuse the jury. So these are all of the things we have considered, dealt with politically educated and made party members very, very aware of legally so that…we expected at points to get arrested. So let’s put ourselves in a legal position so we can defend ourselves properly.
Ultimately as the party grew, it evolved. By 1968, we wound up with one of the best legal teams, framework of lawyers networked in this country from New York to Frisco, from Atlanta, Georgia, to Chicago, you name it. In fact, I called on, as chairman of the Black Panther Party, all of these lawyers all across the country because at a point by ‘69, my God, we had more than seven hundred something Black Panther Party members falsely charged with one, two or three felonies. Ninety percent of those charges were dropped. But the other ten percent that went to court, because we had this legal network of lawyers, we actually would meet with lawyers – I would have all these lawyers come from all across the country to literally sit down and conference with each other for a day and with Black Panther Party members and hip all of us to all of the legal problems of the Central Headquarters – what the legal problems was, what the progress of the cases were. And that was what you call really truly networking, so that all these other lawyers from all these other cities knew each other and related to what each other’s cases were and/or picked up tips about how they may want to move and what kind of legal strategies they want to deal with cases of the Black Panther party members. So yes, we were entrenched in the law, not only in terms of that strategy and method of self defense in the courtroom, but as I said earlier, we believed in the law in the sense that we needed new legislation, legislation is nothing but new laws that make human sense. This is what I taught. This is the political education impact of what the Black Panther Party was about particularly as we ran for political office.
“We created a SAFE program: Seniors Against a Fearful Environment. S-A-F-E.”
You know, we created the senior citizens’ SAFE program in the face of the mayor of Oakland and others just before I ran getting ready to spend another fifty million dollars for another helicopter. So I took a thousand people down to City Hall one night to speak at City Hall and denounce this meeting to put this money out for this new helicopter to say this money needs to go to some grassroots programs, namely to protect senior citizens. I even noted the fact that my mother had been mugged several months earlier, her purse snatched and she fell on the ground et cetera and so on. And, this was with the Grey Panthers. These were old people; old black and white and Chinese and Asian, had gotten together and called themselves the Grey Panthers. And Ruth Jones, she’s the oldest Black Panther Party member to this day, she’s a hundred years old. But, my point is, we created a SAFE program: Seniors Against a Fearful Environment. S-A-F-E. And we in effect got monies and funds raised and got three or four vans. We got some college students who knew karate and made work study programs out of them, part time, to pick up senior citizens at the senior citizens homes and other places and they could also call a central number, to take them to the market, to take them to the banks to protect the senior citizens; to demonstrate tangibly how and why they shouldn’t be buying another helicopter. We need police and other people in services down on the ground to protect the senior citizens. So this is yet another program. <!--[endif]-->
I guess [in] the Black Panther Party we created a Free Ambulance program, but the only chapter that had that was the North Carolina chapter in Winston-Salem because they got a grant and everything with a health center, and created a Free Ambulance program and I hate that we didn’t have any pictures because Steve Shames [photographer of The Black Panthers] was busy mostly in the Oakland, New York suburbs but, he never got pictures of that Free Ambulance Program that the Winston-Salem Black Panther Party chapter had created.
FRASER: And why was a Free Ambulance program significant as opposed to one that’s not free?
SEALE: Well we’re talking about poor and low income people. We’re talking about people waiting until the last minute because it costs to call an ambulance service and they don’t have the money to pay for that ambulance service. And the fact that you’ve got a Free Ambulance program, the psychological burden of “I ain’t got the money to be payin’ for this thing” doesn’t slow you down. People can die; you [can] hesitate to call the ambulance [with this psychological burden]. Larry Little, who ran the Winston-Salem, North Carolina chapter of the Black Panther Party was the one who helped put that together. He later became a lawyer, he later became an alderman, on the city council for eight years in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And then after his eight years was up, after the Party was over really, there was another young man who had been in the Black Panther Party in the early days with Larry Little, but at that time after eighteen, twelve years, he was head of the local NAACP and so, the people in that alderman district, that city council district, asked him to run since Larry Little had did his eight years, so he ran for eight years, this new guy from the NAACP, and so there’s sixteen years of a Black Panther member being elected to that particular alderman office, that city councilman district. And then after that, there was another young brother who was paraplegic in a chair, motorized wheelchair. He just had a good brain, he was a former Black Panther Party member. And he ran for twelve years. They [Winston-Salem, North Carolina] still have their clinic there, they still have their health center, and their Free Ambulance Program there to this day. And Larry Little who went to law school, he does civil rights law work but he also teaches at Winston-Salem University. Larry Little is one of many examples like this all over the country. Audrea Jones or Dunham, rather, is her name now, she ran the whole Massachusetts state chapter of the Black Panther Party.
“The Black Panther Party was able to survive for two years without the three main leaders.”
I made multiple leadership in the Party not only in terms of the headquarters in the Central Committee; I didn’t limit it to a single spokesperson or one. There was more than one spokesperson. Always. And then I had committee leadership. This is the other structured framework of the Black Panther Party that people don’t know about that I put together. Because I didn’t believe in mono-leadership. In other words, when they put Huey in jail and forced Eldridge into exile, and then put me in jail, because of the committee leadership of each chapter and each branch and the multiple leaderships of each chapter and each branch, the Black Panther Party was able to survive and continue for two years without the three main leaders.
FRASER: Yes. Your written works contain a lot of invaluable lessons to the younger generations like myself on how to resist the fascist, extremist policies of the U.S. government, especially during this administration right now. And in your writings you talk about how your philosophy politically is closest to Marxism-Leninism as opposed to good-old American capitalism. One of the quotes that I think is so significant in Seize The Time is when you talk about a true revolutionary where you write: “a true revolutionary will get up early in the morning and he’ll [or she’ll] go serve free breakfast for the children. Then when that’s done he’ll go and he’ll organize [or she’ll go and she’ll organize] a boycott around a specific issue to support breakfast for children or support any other kind of program. He’ll [or she’ll] do revolutionary work in the community. As a citizen in the community and member of the Black Panther Party, he’ll [or she’ll] go to the firing range and take firing practice. But he’ll [or she’ll] follow all the gun laws and he’ll [or she’ll] follow all the gun laws and he [or she] won’t conceal his weapon and other jive stuff. He’ll [or she’ll] follow the rules and be very dedicated; he [or she] is constantly trying to politically educate himself about the perspective. He’ll [or she’ll] also defend himself [or herself] and his [or her] people when we’re unjustly attacked by racist pigs.” My question for you is: could you describe any groups, you mentioned the people like Larry Little and Audrea [Dunham] from Massachusetts but in terms of organizational groups besides individuals, have you seen any groups since the end of the Party that have operated closely to this principle of a revolutionary?
SEALE: No. I haven’t. I can’t say there aren’t. It’s just that I may not be aware. I haven’t seen them. Those were political education lessons that I gave Party members. And I didn’t give them only in the Oakland. I visited every chapter and branch in the United States of America at least twice and sometimes as much as five and six times and each time I was always giving political education sessions inspiring Party members, teaching them demographics and methodology of how to organize in communities, how to apply the 10-10-10 program [originated by Seale to encourage community members to vote] to voting divisions and voting precincts. This political revolutionary [work] I guess is what I did, I don’t know, I guess what a lot of us did, thousands of young men and women, mostly female. The Black Panther Party was two-thirds female. That’s another point that people need to know and understand, that a lot of the coordination and the work in heading up the work and leadership work; medium-level leadership framework was done by females…
FRASER: Progressing past the sexism of the established traditional civil rights movement [such as in organizations like SCLC and SNCC]…
SEALE: Well we had some sexist problems of people coming into the Party, mainly males who were already oriented with some male chauvinist notions, but one thing the sisters used in the Party, and take Audrey Dunham, of our Massachusetts state chapter…what she did was to [implement] a policy of criticism and self-criticism to iron out problems, to solve political party workers. Women’s rights in the context of white females arguing with their avaricious white male is one thing, but [it’s another thing] when you’re in a grassroots program where you’re talking about political revolutionaries who have to defend themselves and at the same time have to deal with a handful here and there of brothers who are going through their male chauvinist changes. They use criticism and self-criticism to be applied to your dedication to the political party work; to stop and slow down male chauvinistic activity on the part of males and their relationship to the Black Panther Party. Even Huey got criticized one time by me and another sister in the latter days.
“The Black Panther Party was two-thirds female.
FRASER It [sexism] is an issue that still rears its ugly head in a subconscious way.
SEALE: Sure it was. They were socialized before they came in the party with the notion. One time a young brother raped a sister. She was half Japanese and half African American. And she was sixteen, seventeen years of age, I remember her mother signed that she could have a shotgun, if she’s around the office, to defend herself just in case, because I had mothers sign when their youth was sixteen or under age of eighteen. He raped her and we convicted him. So I said “you’ve got to be kicked out of the party.” Lauren Williams, she was in charge of the photography because Stephen Shames taught her the photography, but I said “Lauren, get your camera and take a picture, we’re going to put it in the column in the party newspaper [The Black Panther].” We were circulating two hundred and fifty thousand Black Panther Party newspapers at this time. Later on, it evolved to four hundred thousand in circulation.
We took his picture and so I said, “We’ll have a central committee meeting after this session and we’ll have a vote as to whether we’re going to kick you out the party and I’m going to vote that you get kicked out of the party.” Well, he told all the Central Committee members before we came back from the break and when we took his issue up an hour later, I didn’t get the full vote to kick him out the party. And then he himself said “I want physical discipline; I don’t want to be kicked out the party.” I said, “Well I don’t like physical discipline.” Well the Central Committee outvoted me [saying]: if he wanted physical discipline, then he’ll get physical discipline, so they outvoted me. I allowed for that degree of democracy, what you call democratic centralism in the Party, even though I’m the Chairman. If I’m outvoted and they want another policy to go in another direction, boom, that happens.
And later that evening at about four or five o’clock, or something like that, I said: “Whoever’s going to deal with this dumb physical discipline, please deal with it. Landon, you guys, whatever. And remember if you’re going to hit this dude, [do it] on shoulders down, you can’t hit him in the head.” And they went in the back, and I guess it was twenty minutes later, but I heard this guy who did the raping, I heard his voice, and he was telling the other males [something] who was getting ready to give him the physical discipline. Just before it started, he was saying, “I could take anything ya’ll could put down, anything, anything baby.” And so I walked in the back, and I said to Landon, the field marshal, “Come here.” He came to the window. I said, “Now, you hear that brother there? He says he can take anything they can give him.” I said, “Not only is it physically wrong to the Central Committee [since] you were part of the Central Committee to outvote me on this,” I said, “but it ain’t gon’ do him no good.” [Landon replies] “Well what do you want me do, Chairman?” I said, “I tell you what. You see them six brothers and sisters there? Is that your discipline committee that he wants?” [Landon] says “yeah.” I said, “Get rid of them. I’m going to get another discipline committee out of the Black Panther Party.” I went upstairs to the Political Education room, where the Party members are eating the food I cooked. I said: “Marsha, Joann, Hilda, [come here].” I got six sisters. Remember he raped a female. And brought them downstairs, and they came in the back and [in front of the rapist, Joe, who said] “What’s this Chairman? What’s this Chairman?” I said, “This is your discipline committee. You asked for a discipline committee.” He said, “Oh no, no, no. They’re sisters.” I said, “They are Black Panther Party members. They die and bleed just like males and brothers so I don’t want to hear that crap from you.”
“The party newspaper evolved to four hundred thousand in circulation.”
I gave him a long lecture. And these sisters didn’t even hardly hurt him except for Connie. Connie knew how to box. She was twenty two years old. Her brothers had taught her to box because they were prize fighters. They [the sisters] gave him the physical discipline. Some girls were just tapping him and pushing him with their hand and their fist for one minute, and then they left. Psychologically, they got to him. You see what I’m getting at? So, two months later, the sisters are ribbin’ [making fun of] him [saying]: “Next time you try to take something from one of us, we kickin’ ass, remember that [laughs].” So you know, that little cultural relationship, that behind the scenes problematic thing, became solved. But they ribbed him so much, he left the party anyway. What he did was he escaped with his picture in The Black Panther party newspaper in a column called “enemies of the people.” See, if they would have let me kick him out and voted with me, to put his picture in the paper [saying] this person no longer represents the Black Panther Party, this person committed the crime of rape against such and such a sister, [we would have addressed this quicker]. We were circulating over two hundred and something odd thousand Black Panther Party newspapers, so if you’re walking around somewhere in America somewhere, and somebody says: “Man, I saw your picture in the Black Panther Party newspaper, you ain’t even in there no more! You’re a rapist man! That’s what they said!” So it’s the social pressure of trying to control those kind of problems.
FRASER: One of the major themes in your work that you’ve repeated in Seize The Time and in A Lonely Rage is that you do not fight exploitative capitalism with black capitalism and I think that’s a very important point to understand. You mention this nonracial point of view in selecting your lawyer and how people criticized you for selecting a white lawyer. Whether his color was black or white, he still represented, in your view, the Black Panther Party most effectively regardless of skin color. This was really like a race-blind system that I think was one of the most important aspects to understand about the party especially with having Black in front of the name, people off the bat assume that it only concerns black people and that people within it only want other black people to work with them, which is not true. What fascinated me was the members of US [Maulana Karenga’s cultural nationalist group] and how they were involved in the killing of John Huggins and Bunchy Carter on the UCLA campus and how they were used, and how often in civil rights history [such as in the case of] that sister that stabbed King with a envelope opener, and you look at Malcolm X’s murder, it seems like for the liberation struggle oftentimes, African Americans’ own worst enemy is other African Americans. Do you think that continues today or that’s just a systematic characteristic of the kind of racism in American society?
SEALE: Let me say something on the Malcolm X murder with respect to the three who were involved in the actual shooting and the actual killing other than the ones who were arrested and put in jail for twenty years. William Kunstler, one of the main civil rights lawyers of the time, when Spike Lee was getting ready to do his film, I had a cameo role in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, a street speaking role. My point though, is that [Lee] had gotten information from one main guy who was arrested who supposedly was key to carrying out [the murder] is still in jail today; who gave [Lee] the correct names of the other two people that was with him and the assassination of Malcolm X. So in the credits at the end of the film, are the real names, not the two names that [reportedly] killed Malcolm X, not the people that were arrested for twenty years for killing Malcolm X.
“The FBI was complicit in the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in 1969.”
Two, a former FBI agent, Wesley Swearingen, went to our lawyer Charles R. Garry, began to spill it all out after a period of time that these are things that the FBI did wrong to the Black Panthers, and said “I wanted to talk to you about that.” Swearingen finally wrote a book ten, twelve, fifteen years ago entitled FBI Secrets. In that book he explains that one of the shooters came to the Los Angeles district office of the FBI right after John Huggins and Bunchy Carter were shot and killed. Yes, there was some debate and argument going on with respect to US, Ron Karenga, people at UCLA, et cetera, in which John Huggins and Bunchy Carter wound up getting shot and killed in that situation. But according to Wesley Swearingen, one of the shooters wound up at the FBI district office an hour after the shooting, explaining what had happened to another FBI agent and that he overheard [something] which indicated to him that his own FBI was also complicit in some kind of way in the killing of Bunchy Carter and John Huggins. And whether or not we have the hardcore smoking gun evidence of Ron Karenga, some people accuse him of that. I haven’t read the hardcore evidence that he was there with the FBI trying to help kill Bunchy Carter and John Huggins at UCLA in January of 1969.
We do know that the FBI was complicit in the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in December of 1969, ten or twelve months later. And we know that because even Eyes On The Prize has produced that information to show that this guy, [William] O’Neal, was working for the FBI and did try to set up Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, mainly Fred Hampton, and then couldn’t find any evidence to try and set him up and then became key to [Illinois] state attorney Hannahan. He reported to state attorney Hannahan out of the house where Fred Hampton was, what bedroom he slept in, where the other Party members slept inside the house, where they all slept and so on. And this guy O’Neal was working for the FBI at the time; he was literally getting paid by the FBI. Freedom of Information Act documents, Counter Intelligence program documents, we read those now to know that he was complicit and he in effect admitted that he was wrong; he didn’t realize what he was doing. They used him; he was in jail for some kind of burglary and told him, “If you don’t want to go to jail, you gotta help out the FBI.” So however we look at it, we see the real motive behind what the FBI did, the counter intelligence program operation of the FBI was about the very directive that J. Edgar Hoover had set down to all district offices and all FBI personnel: to do any and everything to neutralize and destroy the Black Panther Party. Now, [the FBI operated] not only in terms of other little minor things, in terms of discrediting us. The FBI was complicit in the murder, literal murder, of us Black Panther Party members. Particularly two incidents, John Huggins and Bunchy Carter down there in UCLA, and more particularly, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago on December 4, 1969.
FRASER: The episodes that you were talking about are on volume seven of Eyes on the Prize called “Ain’t Gonna Shuffle No More” which is around the same time that The Black Panthers photobook has come out, which has been in ’06. The first part of my last two part question is to ask what you think about the ways in which the civil rights movement especially including the Black Panthers is being remembered in photobooks, number one and in the DVD [of Eyes on the Prize that has recently been released in October of 2006] and the second part of this question is a request to talk about the influence and importance of H. Rap Brown.
SEALE: Let me say something on H. Rap Brown. The importance of H. Rap Brown in the very early days was that he was quite relevant and quite significant. In the early days [he was] a spokesperson, and an organizer with SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He later became what we call a Minister of Justice with the Black Panther Party, honorary Minister of Justice. Kwamé Ture, Stokely Carmichael then was the Prime Minister and James Forman was the Minister of Education. All these people; this was like a merger between SNCC and the Black Panther Party on February of 1968 at a Free Huey rally where we had an auditorium packed with seven thousand plus people on a Free Huey rally. That’s on a videotape somewhere with Newsreel. My point is, H. Rap Brown is very important, very significant; the last time I saw him live and free was at Huey P. Newton’s funeral.
“At the point I resigned from the Party, it was over.”
The second part of your question. We have a young full double generation since the days of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panther Party was founded forty years ago. I resigned eight, nine years ago later. Within a year, the Black Panther Party didn’t exist anymore. Its outfront organizing; that outfront organizing, did not exist. At the point I resigned, it was over. I know that. Because even though sister Elaine Brown wrote in a book and made it appear as such, she was not running a national organization. She was running a small group of people that, after I left…two hundred people concentrated in Oakland. This is the remaining members of the Black Panther Party, and a skeleton crew of eleven or twelve people in Chicago and a skeleton group in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with their center and stuff down there. My point is, there was no massive membership [like] that five thousand people. If you check this five thousand [person] membership, you had this hard core one third of the people who did hard core, consistent dedicated work. You have another hard core group that did what you call menial amount of work in the party, you have another one third that was just rally pamphlets, they came to all the rallies, but still in all, I consider them Panther members because they were levels that people operated and contributed their time and energy. I’m just saying that five thousand [people indicates that there] was a dynamic program with the power structure attacking us, attacking our programs, from the top down, top government law enforcement and others.
The FBI [was] working with, in particularly the year of 1969, with police departments to literally attack our offices. These things were planned out. What state attorney Hannahan and his special police squad did in attacking Fred Hampton and Mark Clark [when they] were shot, killed, and murdered in conjunction with the FBI. Now, the killer of it is was that that was December 4, 1969. Two days later they had already planned to attack the Los Angeles [Black Panther] office which has resulted in a five hour shootout until we were able to rally people across the country to force the police to let the Panthers surrender because the surrender flag had been stuck out and we would take the arrest. There was only sixteen Party members, and they had three hundred SWAT team members but it was planned out by the FBI and with the police department. The FBI had worked with the Berkeley police department to attack our offices. They had several pages, layout blueprints of the two story building that we operated out of. How they would come in and shoot up through the ceilings in the bottom floor up into the second floor, how they had ambulances two or three blocks around the corner waiting because they expected fifteen to twenty to be dead when they attacked the offices. The smoking gun evidence is this: a young white policeman in and out of the office knew that this was just straight up murder. He stole the plan and gave them to a lawyer, which you can see printed in the establishment newspaper. So, this is the smoking gun evidence.
Following that, the mayor of Seattle, Washington, got on television. He says to the FBI you will not have opportunity to organize and attack the Seattle branch of the Black Panther Party. Following that, a Senate Investigation hearing came about. Senator Church and Senator Kennedy had a real nine or ten days with the FBI on the hot spot as to why [they’re] running around here operating to attack the Black Panther Party across this country. And that was the year 1969. So, when people understand that after the police were on the hot seat and the FBI for ten days in a Senate Investigation hearing. Following that, there were never ever anymore shootouts between the police and the Black Panther Party members. That’s the smoking gun evidence understanding and realization of who was doing what in terms of the counter intelligence program. The FBI [was] working with the police department to carry out J. Edgar Hoover’s orders to smash and destroy the Black Panther Party.
FRASER: This is why terms like “conspiracy theory,” and “nutcases,” I feel should be abolished from the discourse. When often times this is listed and mentioned in historical books and programs like Eyes on the Prize, people love to label [what Seale has mentioned] as a conspiracy theory when in reality like you said, this is in the public record so this is not a conspiracy theory but an established historical fact.
FRASER: Mr. Seale thank you for your time, it was really a pleasure. Do you mind if I add you to my e-mail list?
SEALE: Please. My e-mail address is, and I love e-mail and good e-mail, [email protected]. And my website is my name Bobby Seale.com.
FRASER: Thank you very much and have a blessed, prosperous new year. Keep fightin’.
Rhone Fraser gives special thanks to WMNF studios in Tampa, Florida, where this interview was conducted. Mr. Fraser is an independent journalist who writes and produces for Pacifica WBAI radio's Arts Magazine Program. A graduate student, he is completing a study of the sit-in movement. Fraser recently wrote a documentary play on the life of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and can be reached at [email protected].
To comment on this interview with Bobby Seale, visit its page at the Black Agenda Blog