ARMED FOR CHANGE BLACK PANTHERS LEADER RECALLS TUMULTUOUS '60S.
NORTHRIDGE -- The government called them thugs and hoodlums. The community called them heroes.
In the end, it was the community's word that meant the most to Bobby Seale and his Black Panthers for Self Defense.
The group formed during the tumult of the 1960s to bring about radical social change in the African-American community, struggling against racism and rallying for equality.
"They called me thug and hoodlum, but they never told you what we were really all about. ... We funded and supplied programs. We got things done," Seale said Wednesday in his first appearance at California State University, Northridge.
His address marked the end of events honoring Black History Month at the university, which in 1968 had its own revolt when about two dozen black students demanded the dismissal of a volunteer coach who they said had kicked or shoved a black player during an altercation at a football game.
When university officials refused to dismiss the coach, the students took over the top floor of the administration building and held 34 employees hostage for several hours.
Out of that protest, the CSUN black studies department -- now called the Pan African Studies department -- was born.
Dressed in a casual carnation-blue shirt and sporting the Black Panthers' trademark black beret, the 70-year-old Seale recounted for nearly 50 students how he co-founded the organization with Huey P. Newton in Oakland.
In contrast to Martin Luther King Jr.'s quest for nonviolent resistance, the Black Panthers armed themselves. They formed the Ten-Point Program that among other things called for housing, health care, education, justice from police brutality, and equal opportunity for employment.
The group received donations and support from some of Hollywood's biggest names including Marlon Brando and Sammy Davis Jr. Seale said they touted that support to help poor women and children in Oakland neighborhoods.
And the FBI repeatedly watched them, with J. Edgar Hoover at the time calling them "the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States."
"(Black people) had fought in all of this country's wars, and still in the 1960s this country was denying us our rights," Seale said.
As the group progressed, however, conflicts with the police escalated and eventually led to deadly shootouts. Newton was sent to prison for the murder of a patrolman.
Seale, one of the members of the Chicago Eight defendants charged with conspiracy to incite riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, also served time in jail.
And charges against the Panthers persist. Recently, two Altadena men involved in an offshoot group of the Black Panthers were arrested in connection with the 1971 shooting death of a 22-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department. The two are facing trial.
The Black Panthers eventually dissolved, but at its height, the group claimed thousands of members and 49 chapters nationwide.
Johnie Scott, associate professor for the Department of Pan African Studies, called Seale's appearance at CSUN a historic moment.
"He's an important figure in time," Scott said. "Bobby Seale has earned his place in history."
Bobby Seale tells California State University, Northridge, students how he helped form the Black Panthers during the tumult of the 1960s to bring about radical social change.
John McCoy/Staff Photographer
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2007|
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