Posted: Wednesday, Feb 27, 2008
By Ashley Rhodebeck
Daily News staff writer
The former Black Panther Party member tells of co-founding the radical group
Armed with guns and a detailed understanding of the law, Bobby Seale,
his law school student friend and several others set out one night in
1966 shortly after forming the Black Panther Party to observe a
California police officer.
Noticing the group, the officer said, "You have no right to observe me."
Holding their ground, one of the Panthers rattled off the law and
said, "We'll observe you whether you like it or not."
Seale recalled the story to more than 100 people gathered in Beloit
College's Pearsons Hall Tuesday night as he spoke about co-founding
the Black Panthers with his friend Huey Newton, the law student. The
group had a radical stance and disdain of nonviolent principles
promoted by other civil rights organizations.
For six months the Black Panthers continued observing law enforcement
officials - they wanted to end police brutality and murder of black
people - and in the process gained national notoriety.
"Ronald Reagan - he was the governor of California at the time -
called me a hooligan and a thug," Seale said, noting it was
politicians' way of stereotyping blacks so abuse against them would
be justified. "They're not going to tell you I spent four years in
the U.S. Air Force. They're not going to tell you I'm a fisherman and
hunter or expert barbecue cook."
Prior to Martin Luther King Jr.'s assignation in 1968, about 400
people belonged to the Black Panthers. Membership swelled to 5,000 in
49 chapters after the civil rights leader's death.
Seale's involvement with the civil rights movement began by chance.
As a 26-year-old engineer in 1962, Seale was walking across the
street one day when he encountered a crowd of blacks calling
"Afro-American? Never heard that before," Seale said.
One in the crowd explained they termed themselves that to combat
against the derogatory terms but to also reflect their African
heritage, of which Seale knew nothing at the time.
"I knew more about Native American history," he said.
Thus, Seale began a quest to understand his culture's history, and he
became even more inspired after attending a rally led by King.
Three years later Seale quit engineering so he could work in the
grassroots community. Once Malcom X was killed he decided to start an
organization, but began by developing courses for Merritt College of
Oakland, Calf., in black American studies and African studies. The
college agreed to offer one course the following fall.
In April 1966, Seale led a group protesting blacks fighting in
America's wars because the country would not recognize their rights.
Police arrested him and the court sentenced him to one year probation.
After the verdict Seale and his friend, Newton, who had also been
arrested, became inspired to write a 10-point program for the Black
Panther Party and finished the draft within two days.
Seale became one of the original Chicago Eight defendants charged
with conspiracy and provoking riots during the 1968 Democratic
National Convention and was sentenced to four years in prison in 1969
for contempt of court.
That same year, the Black Panther Party's offices were attacked by
SWAT teams - "They trumped it up on us," Seale said - and the party's
attempts to surrender were not recognized, Seale said. He recalled
how a news reporter looked into the camera and said, "Police are
literally ignoring this surrender sign."
The year ended with 28 members dead, about 60 wounded and 14 dead
policemen. Seale said nine members are still political prisoners.
In 1970 Seale was linked to the murder of a fellow Black Panther, but
the trial ended in a hung jury. He was released from prison in the
spring of 1971 and later left the party. Now in his 70s, Seale
campaigns for social and political justice.