Bobby Seale, who helped create the Black Panther Party in 1966, spoke during a Pan African Studies class on Wednesday morning.
Students in PAS 350-Advanced Writing were given the opportunity to ask questions of Seale.
Excited students waited in the Sierra Hall hallway before the lecture. One student saw a friend of his and was pleased his friend was “here to check out Bobby Seale – a brother’s got to support that!”
Some students who are not enrolled in the class came to the lecture, hoping for some words of wisdom and advice from Seale, and one woman brought her father.
Before Seale spoke, professor Johnie Scott offered an introduction to the Black Panther Party of Self-Defense, and the work the party did to revitalize the civil rights movement after the assassination Malcolm X.
“What I’m most pleased about is (being) able to introduce you to Bobby Seale, the original chairman of the Black Panther Party of Self-Defense,” Scott told the crowd, which included media representatives from the Valley’s Daily News.
Scott said that the BPP was originally created by Seale and five other men as an “African-American organization (committed to) promoting civil rights,” adding that it was “formed to further the civil rights movement from what it perceived to be a void of leadership in the black community.”
Scott said that Seale would provide information on the beginnings of the BPP as well as current issues affecting the black community.
Finally, Seale, who had been sitting at the front of the classroom for Scott’s introduction, began his talk, and seemed to captivate most of the students with an easygoing nature, even as he described injustices he has faced.
Seale said that the town his family was from and the city he grew up in both have had an influence on his work in the civil rights movement and his perception of today’s race issues.
“I come from a long line of carpenters and builders,” he said. “My parents are from Jasper, Texas.”
He then mentioned another infamous fact about Jasper: James Byrd, Jr., a man who was murdered in 1998 based on his race, was from Jasper, and is actually a fourth cousin connection of Seale.
“I had to be raised in Berkeley, California,” Seale said, already seeming to insinuate that life in the stereotypically liberal area was not as easygoing as some might believe.
He shared an anecdote in which a teacher in Berkeley told him that she thought slaves must have been at least a little happy prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.
“They could sit and play the banjo,” the teacher told Seale, which doesn’t exactly fulfill the “liberal Berkeley” stereotype that some imagine.
Educational experiences such as this one enhanced his understanding of outside views of black culture, and were one of many stepping stones to his decision to help create the BPP.
“I’d been taught that black folks were docile,” he said.
At the time when the BPP was created in October 1966, Seale was working in the electromagnetic field, though he had been active in the civil rights movement since 1962.
Seale did not say much about the beginnings of the BPP, instead focusing on the work that the party did.
Some successes were programs that provided provisional health care, and one that orchestrated visits to prisons for prisoners’ relatives.
One of the party’s most successful plans, however, was one that provided breakfasts for children. Grocery stores would provide some of the food, but the rest was taken care of by the BPP.
For funding, the BPP found help from donations of both money and supplies.
“A lot of donations came because we got Hollywood people” interested in the cause, he said.
Seale said that when some people wanted to help but expressed caution about spending much time on the BPP, he was straight with them and got some to see what the party was up against.
He would say to them, “We’re getting shot out here in the streets. If you want to help,” get involved.
“When I told those people to stop with their bullshit, we got more help,” he said with a smile.
Money was also made through the sale of the party’s newsletter, as well as talks given at colleges.
He said that a lot of early public knowledge of the party was based on average people who wanted to get the word out.
“It was all kinds of grass roots organizing,” he said.
He said that past public perception of the BPP has made its way into current culture for some individuals. He said that politicians such as Ronald Reagan painted a negative picture of the party.
“While people in the past called me a hoodlum and a thug, they never told you what we were all about, just tried to justify” their own ignorance, he said.
He said that he hopes future generations will view the Black Panther Party as “an organization that tried to evolve people’s empowerment frameworks.”