Black Panther founder speaks on campus about civil rights

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Black Panther founder speaks on campus about civil rights

Nick Hirano

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While T’Challa and Co. continue to dominate the box office, a different Black Panther spoke to a full house in the Curry Student Center Ballroom March 12.

Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, shared his harrowing experiences as a civil rights activist and called for solidarity against racism at a talk hosted by Students Against Institutional Discrimination, or SAID. Seale opened with the event that made him “a household name.”

“Overnight, I was known around the world for leading an armed delegation into the California State Capitol to read a statement that we called Executive Mandate Number One of the Black Panther Party,” he recalled. According to a report from The Sacramento Bee, Seale’s mandate called for African Americans “to take careful note of the racist California Legislature which [was] considering legislation aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless.”

The Black Panther Party, which Seale founded in 1966 with fellow activist Huey P. Newton, was originally created to patrol black neighborhoods and protect residents from acts of police brutality. The group soon developed into a revolutionary Marxist organization that called for black liberation with anti-capitalist objectives. Additionally, the party sought to empower African-Americans through community programs such as health centers, free breakfast programs and political education.

Seale outlined historical context to the creation of the Panthers, discussing the ways in which discrimination continued despite the passages of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments after the Civil War.

“I was deep into the constitutional, civil and human rights when we created the Black Panther Party,” Seale said.

In the early days of the Black Panthers, armed squads of party members would patrol the streets of Oakland, California, and observe the police. Although this activity initially alarmed police and bystanders, Seale emphasized the methodical approach to the Panthers’ planning and preparation.

“The tactic of going out to patrol the police was well done. We were well-read. We’d done great research,” he said. “We knew every law about the guns — what was legal and what was not.”

Seale justified the use of weapons as a defensive measure against the brutality of armed police.

“We picked those guns up as a measure of self-defense. We were for non-violent protest — it’s a constitutional right,” Seale said. “But if you come in here shooting at us and terrorizing us because we’re having a peaceful protest, you’re wrong. So we’re going to defend our right to peaceful protest.”

After the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968, Seale said the organization grew from 400 members on the West Coast to 5,000 members in 49 chapters throughout the country by attracting a more diverse following.

“We developed coalitions beyond our own ethnic group,” Seale said. “We were looking at humanity. It was not just about black power. It was about people’s power. Our phrase became ‘All power to all people.’”

Seale’s closing message of solidarity resonated with SAID president Rachel Domond.

“It was humbling and powerful to have him here as the co-founder of one the most influential and important revolutionary movements in our country’s history,” Domond said.

Domond, a third-year sociology major, said she believes Seale’s work went beyond the traditional definition of civil rights activism.

“He was a revolutionary fighting for the liberation of black people and people all across the world so it was more than just civil rights and non-violence,” she said.

Prasanna Rajasekaran, SAID’s co-director for political education, said Seale’s journey inspired her to become an organizer.

“He came from a technical background as an engineer and ended up leading one of the most important political organizations in American history,” said Rajasekaran, a fifth-year economics major. “Whether you know a lot about politics or you don’t, there’s a role for you if you care about justice and other people’s lives. There’s something you can do and make a real difference.”