By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz
Friday, September 25, 2009
Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is immortalized in bronze
on the University of Texas campus, and on Thursday, his statue,
beneath live oaks on the East Mall, was rededicated in a ceremony
brimming with irony.
The keynote address honoring this apostle of nonviolence and racial
reconciliation, who was cut down by an assassin's bullet in 1968, was
delivered by one of the era's leading advocates of revolution and
black power, Bobby Seale, co-founder and chairman of the Black Panther Party.
While King preached nonviolence, even in the face of physical attack,
the Black Panthers under Seale and Huey Newton advocated carrying
guns for self-defense. The Panthers did so as they "patrolled" the
police, and shootouts ensued.
But Seale, now 72, told a packed auditorium in the Jackson School of
Geosciences, where the program was held because of rain, that he drew
inspiration from King and that their philosophies were quite similar,
aside from Seale's belief in armed self-defense. He noted that the
Black Panthers started free breakfast programs and health clinics in
poor neighborhoods across the country.
"Dr. King was the activist of activists," Seale said, recalling a
time when he protested Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver's posting of a
cartoon critical of King.
Seale also described how, in 1967, he led an armed delegation of
Panthers into the California Legislature.
"It gave the Black Panther Party international notoriety," he said,
adding that it also gave him six months in jail for disturbing the peace.
He had other run-ins with the law. Seale's trial in connection with
the slaying of a suspected police informant in New Haven, Conn., in
1969 ended with a hung jury. And he was one of eight defendants who
went on trial on charges of conspiring to incite rioting during the
1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, serving time in
prison for contempt of court after his outbursts prompted the judge
to have him bound and gagged.
Seale, a native of Dallas, now lives in Oakland, Calif., where he and
Newton started the Black Panther Party.
He has mellowed quite a bit. Wearing a tie, button-down shirt and
sport coat, he could have easily passed for a professor.
He seemed unrepentant, acknowledging "mistakes a few others made" and
drawing laughter from his audience as he recalled that the Panthers
bought shotguns with proceeds from selling copies of Mao Zedong's
"Little Red Book" a book that he and other leaders of the group had
not bothered to read.
He speaks often on college campuses, promoting education as the great
equalizer. His eclectic career has included a stint advertising Ben &
Jerry's ice cream.
The King statue has been rededicated every year since it was unveiled
in 1999. Speakers are usually faculty members, but students wanted a
bigger name this year, said Brandelyn Franks, a program coordinator
at UT's Multicultural Information Center. She said Choquette
Peterson, the center's interim director, suggested Seale.