Bobby Seale speaks at Chabot about his intriguing past while giving
advice for the future
Published: Thursday, April 23, 2009
Last Wednesday Chabot College was honored by the presence of Bobby
Seale, the man who, along with Huey P. Newton, co-founded the Black
Panther Party in he '60s, a revolutionary group created to defend the
civil rights of all people and end institutionalized racism.
Seale is most well-known for the creation of the Black Panther Party
and his participation in the protests and trials surrounding the
Democratic Convention of 1968 in Chicago. In addition to giving
personal insight and anecdotes on these topics, he spoke about his
background and other activism he has been involved in.
Seale was born in 1936 and grew up in the segregated society of
Texas. He was born into a long line of carpenters, and by the age of
15 was a skilled builder himself. After moving around Texas, his
family moved to Oakland, Calif. where he attended Oakland High
School. He dropped out and joined the Air Force with a four-year
contract. With only two months left in his contract, he was
discharged for disobeying orders.
Seale used engineering skills he learned in the Air Force to get jobs
working at various aerospace plants, and attended night school to
earn his high school diploma. At the age of 25, in 1962, he quit his
engineering job and began his studies at what is now Merritt
College.During his time in college, he did a lot of independent study
of African-American history and the colonization of Africa.
"At that point in time, the extent of African-American History taught
in school consisted of George Washington Carver and his work with the
peanut," recalled Seale.
It was his independent research of history that really "blew my
mind," Seale said. "I was reading authors like Richard Wright, Edward
Franklin Frazier's writings about the 'black bourgeoisie,' Herman
Melville's writings about slave revolts." He explained how learning
about African-American history, and before that, Native American
history, outside of the context of public education, inspired him a
great deal to become a civil rights activist.
It was around this time that Seale began forming the idea for an
organization that would uphold the Constitution and defend the rights
of people in the United States. This all took place during the
revolutionary protest movements for civil rights and against the Vietnam War.
In addition to being inspired by his education, Seale was also
inspired a by Martin Luther King Jr. He even got to attend one of
"He really got to me . . . he articulated ways of getting rid of
institutionalized racism" said Seale. It was after hearing King speak
that Seale and Newton sat down to write what they called the
"10-point platform program." This was a list of 10 rights that Seale
and Newton wanted their organization to stand for.
"I had to do something to change the system," said Seale. "Peaceful
protesters were being brutalized and beaten by police."
Seale and Newton formed the Black Panthers to be something like the
Community Alert Programs (CAP) of Los Angeles. CAP's were groups who,
armed with law books and tape recorders, would patrol the police to
prevent police brutality. However, because they had no defense,
police would take all the CAP's materials, beat them, and take them
to jail for preventing an officer from performing his duty.
"It wasn't about machoism, it was about self-defense," Seale said
referring to the Black Panther Party. "It was about standing up,
dissolving political bondage…The Black Panther Party was about giving
all the power to all the people." These days Seale continues to
organize and improve his community, just as he did before. He works
for the East Side Arts Alliance, a program that promotes young
artists in Oakland.
"My real forte is grassroots programs ... programs are the best thing
to organize a community and make change."
He emphasized that anyone can start a program to better their
community; all one needs is a cause and people to join them in fighting for it.