By Susan Jacobson
March 25, 2010
The image of Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale gagged and
shackled to a chair in a Chicago courtroom is unforgettable to a
generation of Americans who remember the turbulent counterculture and
anti-war protests of the 1960s.
On Wednesday night, the children and grandchildren of Vietnam War
veterans were introduced to the activist and onetime radical, now 73,
up close and personal at Seminole State College's Sanford/Lake Mary
campus. His talk was part of Diversity Week at the college.
Age has not dampened Seale's enthusiasm for the racial and
social-justice causes that garnered headlines decades ago, and he
still revels in the feisty rhetoric that helped land him behind bars.
Seale spoke for about 90 minutes, wore his trademark black beret and
gestured animatedly, recalling his clashes with police, professors
and other authority figures as he and the late Huey Newton created
the Black Panther Party. The group used guns and in-your-face tactics
to fight for racial and social equality.
"It's about our humanity on the face of this earth," Seale told the
crowd of nearly 700 people gathered in the college's gym.
Many of Seale's themes voting rights, education, employment, fair
trials, affordable housing, health care and social equality remain
as relevant today as they were four decades ago.
Seale was a member of the Chicago Eight, who were charged with
inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. When he
was tried separately, the others became the Chicago Seven.
Vincent Intondi, a history professor responsible for Seale's
appearance at Seminole State, said the evening was a rare chance to
make the past come alive through a member of a dwindling group of
witnesses. Three of the Chicago Seven Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin
and David Dellinger are dead.
Seminole State student Cindy Toussaint, 24, said Seale's talk inspired her.
"It reinforces what needs to be done for the impoverished community,"
said Toussaint, who attended with her 2 1/2-year-old son in a
stroller. "I think we need to come back out with a sort of
Wednesday's speech was a rambling history lesson that focused largely
on Seale's experiences in the 1960s. The man known for his arm
raised, fist clenched, spoke with gusto about his stints in jail and
challenges to the established system.
Seale ended his talk with, "Power to the people, and thank you very much."
Once called "dangerous" and a "threat to our democratic system" by
Judge Julius Hoffman, who presided over the Chicago Seven trial,
Seale still works to right the system but also is the author of
Barbeque'n with Bobby Seale. Proceeds from book sales finance Seale's
causes, including his R.E.A.C.H. Foundation. Its goals are to
establish a library and museum about civil rights, educate the public
about the Black Panther Party and sponsor youth initiatives to combat
Judge Hoffman sparked international outrage when he ordered Seale
bound and gagged when he spoke out for his rights to choose his own lawyer.
The other members of the Chicago Seven were Tom Hayden later a
California Congressman who married and divorced actress Jane Fonda
Rennie Davis, John Froines and Lee Weiner.