By Joe Burris | Sun reporter
February 3, 2008
The man who co-founded the Black Panther Party more than 40 years ago
is still rabble-rousing. But nowadays, Bobby Seale is not only
venting verbiage at "The Man" or "the system" or crooked politicians
that conspire to keep the masses down.
Among his recent targets are those who exploit and undermine the fine
art of -- get this -- barbecuing.
Consider this verbose Barbecue Bill of Rights that's posted on
Seale's barbecuing Web site, bobbyqueseale.com: "When in the course
of human development it becomes necessary for us, the citizens of the
earth, to creatively improve the culinary art of barbe-que'n in our
opposition to the overly commercialized bondage of 'cue-be-rab'
(barbecuing backwards) … we the people declare a basic barbeque bill
of rights which impels us to help halt, eradicate, and ultimately
stamp out 'cue-be-rab!' [bad barbecue]."
Don't laugh. Seale's passion for fine barbecue dates to the turbulent
1960s, when he and other members of the controversial civil rights
group drew masses to their rallies by offering mouthwatering morsels.
He has since turned his culinary craft into a pastime.
His cookbook, Barbeque'n with Bobby Seale (Ten Speed Press, 1988),
sold 33,000 copies; it's currently out of print. His Web site offers
a self-produced video on barbecuing as well as recipes for salmon
steaks, barbecue chicken and baste marinade.
And Seale's not the only former Panther that's dabbling in
foodstuffs. David Hilliard, the Black Panther former chief of staff,
has created a hot sauce called Burn Baby Burn, using a chant that
became a rallying cry during the 1965 Watts Riots. He's billed his
"revolutionary hot sauce" as the "taste of the '60s."
Hilliard and Seale, both of whom are still involved in activism and
public speaking, are using their Black Panther notoriety as hooks for
products they hope will spur economic windfall and prompt others in
African-American communities to come up with creative methods of enterprise.
"I launched the hot sauce about five years ago as a fundraiser for
children's programs in Oakland," said Hilliard. The idea for the
sauce came from Fredrika Newton, widow of former Black Panther
co-founder Huey Newton.
Once his culinary venture took shape, Hilliard obtained trademark
rights to use the phrase "Burn, Baby, Burn," which originated from
former popular Los Angeles-area radio disc jockey Magnificent
Montague as a leadin to chart-topping records.
Hilliard, who directs the activities of the Dr. Huey P. Newton
Foundation (a community-based nonprofit), says that proceeds from the
sales of the hot sauce "boost our efforts to fund anti-violence and
educational programs for our youth."
Those interested in purchasing the hot sauce can e-mail him at
blackpanther.org. The sauce costs $3.25 per bottle.
"It's not inconsistent with the Black Panther Party," said Hilliard
of his venture. "We always marketed our images through sales of
clothes, buttons and publications.
We even owned a nightclub in Oakland. We've always been about the
business of self-sufficiency."
Some detractors -- including former Panthers -- have accused them of
exploiting the group's legacy.
"There are some other party members who aren't happy; they believe
that's cashing in on the party's history and distorting the party's
history," said Sherry Brown of Washington, who once ran the Black
Panther's Baltimore chapter.
But nothing has deterred Hilliard or Seale from taking a stand for
"Some people have been critical, saying it was capitalist-motivated,
which is true," said Hilliard. "I have no qualms about the fact that
we are in the business to market a product and drive a profit for it."
Seale agreed. He said that the BPP regularly served cooked meals for
money to support their efforts. The popular meals were an impetus for
the BPP's free breakfast programs for school-age children.
"All throughout the Black Panther Party, I fed the troops," said
Seale, who began barbecuing as young as 11, while working in his
uncle's barbecue restaurant in Jasper, Texas.
"We used to have barbecue fundraisers in California where 5,000
people would come out," said Seale, "and we would sell up to 3,000
plate dinners for $2 to $3. We would have rallies that took up two
square blocks, with musicians and speakers, and I would supervise the
Seale said he considered pursuing his barbecuing venture in the late
1970s, while he pondered ways of raising money for community- based
programs. He later heard that former actress and activist Jane Fonda
was donating sales of her popular exercise book to such programs.
"I thought that if Jane Fonda could to that, why don't I write a
cookbook?" he said. An extensive touring schedule during Black
History Month will delay work on the revised edition, which Seale
said he hopes to release in time for the holiday season. He also has
plans for a cooking DVD that will include healthy grilling.
Seale and Hilliard are seeking to capitalize on a newfound interest
in the Black Panther Party, buoyed by events such as the Black
Panther Rank and File national touring exhibit, which was featured at
the Maryland Institute College of Art in November and December.
"I think time heals all things; it's been 40 years," said Hilliard.
"People are now looking at the organization for its merits and the
community programs we put in effect."
And while some may take exception to their efforts, Brown wishes his
former Panther comrades well. "I don't have a problem with it," he
said, "because everyone has to be able to make a living."
See the exhibit "The Black Panthers: Making Sense of History,"
photographs by Stephen Shames, at the Albin O. Kuhn Library &
Gallery, on the campus of University of Maryland, Baltimore County,
1000 Hilltop Circle, through March 24. Hours are 12 p.m.-4 :30 p.m.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 12 p.m.-8 p.m. Thursday; and 1
p.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The photographer will participate in
a gallery talk at 4 p.m. Feb. 20. Information: 410-455-2270.