‘Still Alive’ is a fairly nascent series I have been doing for years. Too often, we only stop to realize and appreciate amazing people after they died. I have tried this here, here, and here. Let’s not wait that long, shall we?
That picture above isn’t Bobby, it is Huey. He is important. Huey and Bobby are the closest our culture has to Nelson Mandela. We aren’t going to talk about Huey, though. Huey really did the heavy lifting. However, he is tough to lionize since we know he killed a lot of people… personally. So if this is a story about of Bobby… why the picture of Huey? Because it is a great fucking picture.
Bobby Seale is still alive. You don’t know that name, but you need to. Bobby is a founding member of the Black Pathers. They were a militant black right’s group from San Francisco. ‘Isn’t that a black supremacy group? Where they terrorists? No, you racist. They began as a free range legal activist group. See, in the late 60s (like everywhere, and every time in America) black folk were getting pulled over and harassed. For being black. Huey would follow the cops around, and when they pulled someone over, Huey would get out, too. When the cops began harassing or beating these black motorists… Huey stood there with a shotgun in one hand a law book in the other.
Let’s just for a minute and realize how great that image is.
He would shout to these motorists ‘you don’t have to answer that’. And stuff like that. As word got around, their numbers grew. Pretty much if you were a black person in San Francisco, you were a fan of the Panthers. The work they did was human rights, very simply. When there was no stop light in a dangerous traffic neighborhood, the Panthers engaged city council and asked for a stoplight. They were, of course, ignored. So, the Panthers took control of the intersection and have volunteers man it to make it a 4 way stop.
From my white, privileged, background… I see 2 main schools of thought in 60s black rights struggle. the MLK non-violent ‘love your enemy, and forgive him’ tact… and the Malcolm X ‘by any means necessary’ fight back tact. The Panthers were decidedly of the latter… and I agree. They mindfully chose the name Black Panthers because ‘a panther will not attack unless it is cornered, and then it will viciously defend itself’. How great is that?
There are too many stories like that to tell. I want you to know, most importantly, that these men (Bobby Seale, Huey Newton… and to a less degree Eldridge Cleaver) are heroes. Yes, Nixon called them public enemy #1. He also killed them all, and the ones he couldn’t kill he framed for jail. Example – Geronimo Pratt. He was convicted for murder, and spent 27 fucking years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. How do we know? Well, the assholes who convicted him as eyewitnesses to the murder… turned out to be undercover cops. Yeah, it took 27 years for that to come out and for him to be released. Now do you get why black people are so angry?
There is SO much more I want to tell you, but there isn’t the time. Plus, I am a privileged white guy… so I feel it isn’t even my business to tell their story. I will, though, from the mountain tops.
Here is some reading. First off, Bobby is miraculously still alive. There are 2 great books on the Panthers, written by the men themselves
What about Huey? It is, really, his organization. He also has a book. Problem is, Huey isn’t half the writer that Bobby or Eldridge are. In fact, their writing ability is inverse to their significance to the movement. Eldgridge was a very gifted writer, which is how he became ‘minister of information’. Bobby, lesser so. As for Huey, he was more action than words. Also, Huey is a lot more complex. Huey was no angel. Lets not dance around this, Huey killed people. Probably a lot. We’ll never know. Ever heard the term ‘power to the people’? Even see the ‘black power’ fist? The Panther’s invented that! ***
See, we have this black lives matter movement. That’s nice, and I agree. However, it doesn’t seem organized or purposeful. The gist is ‘hey cops, stop shooting black people!’. Well, that is implied. If it isn’t, then a catchy slogan isn’t going to keep you from shooting black people. What the Panther’s did is the ORIGINAL ‘black lives matter’ movement. They had a plan, and a communication strategy, and their plan didn’t depend on the white man helping them… or forgiving them. The Panthers, wisely, realized that white society wasn’t going to do anything to help them. So, they set out to help themselves.
I want to celebrate Bobby for a few reasons. He is still alive. His story of the Chicago 8 is incredible and terrifying. He didn’t kill as many people as Huey. In fact, I don’t know that Bobby killed anyone.
ok, that is all for now. This wasn’t meant to be even a tiny bit comprehensive. It is meant for you to say ‘wow, what a story. I can’t wait to learn more!’ There is a cool frontline documentary on them I just bought last week, but I haven’t seen it yet. Ordering that it was reminded me to tell you this story.
Just today I heard an amazing story. A young fella came to join the Panthers, and serve the righteous cause. He expected to get a gun, but instead they only filled his arms with books. The kid said “I came here to get armed, man!” and they replied “and now you are.”. Ok, I added the ‘man’ part to the anecdote, but it still beautifully speaks to greater good the Panthers were doing.
Power to the People. ALL Power to the People!
- I use the term ‘black’ instead of ‘American American’ simply because the latter takes WAY too long to type out. Plus, back then, they were referred to ‘colored’.
- *** ed: no they didn’t. That goes back to ancient Assyria, racist. something interesting and true, though? They came up with ‘pig’ as slang for police
- Also ‘still alive’ is Kathleen Cleaver, and is a legal professor still teaching in Atlanta. Perhaps initially, she came to fame for being ‘Mrs Eldridge Cleaver’. Go ahead and say that to her now, cracker. She is STILL telling the stories and fighting the fight. God bless her! All Power to the People!