April 4, 2017 is the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and his fight for justice influenced many across various black political movements, including the Black Panther Party.
Bobby Seale, co-founder the Black Panther Party of Self Defense, addressed the Tacoma community Tuesday evening at the University of Washington in Tacoma.
King was a jolt for Seale, who says King inspired him to jump into the civil rights movement. In 1966, Seale co-founded the Black Panther Party along with Huey P. Newton.
Tacoma Bureau Chief Jenna Hanchard sat down with him before his speech.
KING 5’s Jenna Hanchard: Tell me about the impact Dr. King had on you.
Bobby Seale: He came to speak in the San Francisco Bay Area around 1963 and he said all across America Wonder Bread was not hiring any people of color. He went on to say in his eloquence, “I say we have to boycott them, and we have to boycott them so consistently and so profoundly we’re going to make Wonder Bread wonder where the money went.” That excited me and the entire crowd. That evolved into me quitting my job and then working in the grassroots community.
K5: As a call to end violence on black people at the hands of police, the Black Panthers started off patrolling police officers in California. How did police officers respond when you and Hughy P Newton were patrolling police?
Seale: When the police says, “You have no right to observe me,” we said, “No, California State Supreme Court ruling says that every citizen has 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 away. A reasonable distance in that particular ruling constitutes as eight to 10 feet. I’m standing approximately 20 feet from you, and we will observe you whether you like it or not.” And some sister on the sidewalk said, “Well go head on and tell it brother!”
Now, we do not point guns at people. We know the law. You cannot point a loaded weapon at a person. Under California law if you point a loaded weapon at the person it constitutes assault with a deadly weapon so we have to hold our guns in a certain way so we do not point them at people. If you pointed it at people you would have to prove in court that you were ready to defend yourself. You see what I mean. So we knew all of this? We had our law books, our tape recorders and we had our guns.
K5: What do you think about the Black Lives Matter Movement?
Seale: It’s totally necessary. You’ve got to stand up and you’ve got to get out there and organize and not just protest. What we did in the Black Panther Party, we protested. We did our rallies et cetera, but we put up real programs. I started the Free Breakfast for Children Program. I don’t know where they [Black Lives Matter] are, and I’m not trying to criticize them, but in a sense, I don’t see your leadership bodies. Every city and every place where you have a group of people that’s related to the Black Lives Movement framework you should have a program of some kind.
K5: What do you think about while allies in the fight for black liberation?
Seale: Good. Just as people in the Underground Railroad had white allies who ran the Underground Railroad locations, you know, yes to that extent, yes. It’s not just about white allies; it’s about progressive thinking allies who are truly representative to being opposed to that vicious institution of human slavery. Those are the kind of allies you need whether they are black, white, blue, yellow, green, or polka dot. Those are the true allies you need. Look we said power to the people. It’s about all the people. When you talk about constitutional and democratic rights, those rights are not just for black folks.
K5: What do you think about our current political climate?
Seale: You know, even when he [President Donald Trump] won, a lot of people were just devastated. I wasn’t devastated. I already been through Nixon. Richard Nixon was talking to J Edgar Hoover telling him to get rid of these Black Panthers. This is the damn president of the United States of America telling J Edgar Hoover to get rid of us.
K5: What is the key to dismantle institutional racism?
Seale: There were only 50 black people elected to political office throughout the whole United States of America in 1965 a year before I started the party. You have to take over these political seats from the local level to the federal level. Obviously we need to have some progressive people in those political seats.
You have to put the programs up. We jumped immediately into voter registration. Remember, my whole point was we don’t have enough black politicians, and of course 1968 rolls around, and who’s running? Shirley Chisholm.
K5: The first black woman to run for president for a major political party.
Seale: Our whole organization jumped behind her. I sent all 70, 80, 90 Black Panther Party members. We had and made voter registrars out of them, you know what I mean. You have to register people to vote. We have to train them. We have to train them here in the grassroots just like I was doing.
K5: Can you talk about the contribution of black women in the Black Panther Party?
Seale: You have Elaine Brown, you have Lynn French, you have Audrey Jones – she ran the Boston, Massachusetts chapter of the Black Panther Party. Sisters ran chapters and branches. By November 1968, over two-thirds of the Black Panther Party were women, sisters.
K5: Do you think a lot of people know that?
Seale: I’ve told a lot of people that at a lot of colleges for 40 years, but what happens is these things are all unimportant to people who are trying to distort what the Black Panther Party was all about.