by Wanda Sabir
The 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party Conference, Oct. 20-23, held at the Oakland Museum of California and in Bobby Hutton Grove at deFremery Park, was a huge success. To see the Vanguards of the Revolution saluted in such elegant surroundings at the banquet Saturday evening was certainly a fitting tribute to the legacy their lives concretely represent. Dressed in formal attire, party members and their guests, along with supporters, were awed by the resiliency and tenacity these men and women and their biological and movement children represent – their lives continuing to be shaped and influenced by the work of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Hats off to the committee that organized the conference.
From the free breakfast programs to the Community Learning Center, free medical clinics, mobile sickle cell testing units, elder transport, food giveaways – not to mention the iconic blue and black cool represented by the buoyant Afro, chic leather jacket and fist up for Black power—the Black Panther Party is renowned worldwide for its fearlessness in the face of a monstrous enemy. The enemy then is the same enemy now, perhaps bolstered by legal loopholes which continue to snare Black people.
A highlight of the 50th Anniversary was the dedication of Bobby Hutton Grove at deFremery Park, where the trauma experienced in the park can now dissipate. Lil’ Bobby (April 21, 1950-April 6, 1968), the youngest member of the party was killed at 17 by a hail of police bullets as he surrendered stripped to his underwear, his hands up, just two days after Martin King was assassinated. Even though one officer stated it was an execution, the City of Oakland never apologized or compensated the Hutton family.
Forty-eight years later, Oakland City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney said at the dedication that though the City of Oakland didn’t admit its failings then, she felt honored to be able to in this small way acknowledge the debt to the Hutton family and to its community. Overwhelmed, Robert James Hutton’s elder brother, Mr. Jay Hutton Sr., said that he never imagined that the City would ever honor the family’s desire to name the park after their loved one. It was a long and protracted effort headed by Hutton’s niece and Terry Collins.
Craig Atkinson’s film, “Do Not Resist” (2016), released the 50th Anniversary weekend, speaks to the militarization of the police. Opening scenes are of Ferguson, Missouri, as the community grapples with the death of Michael Brown. The child of a former policeman and SWAT officer just outside Detroit, Atkinson’s film gives his audience a history lesson and tour of police departments from inside, as the directorial team ride along with a South Carolina SWAT team. The film takes us inside a police training seminar where Dave Grossman teaches law enforcement officers the importance of “righteous violence.”
The LAPD SWAT team and the BPP and Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs are highlighted, along with Congressional hearings questioning the wisdom of allowing cities to acquire surplus military tanks and arsenal. These police missions, based on assumptions of guilt, terrorize elders and children, innocent people who live in these homes and neighborhoods. New laws allow police to confiscate money from suspects and keep it, even when charges are dismissed.
We watch this happen to a young man. The policeman then lies to the suspect’s grandfather as he pockets the funds – $800, which was to pay for a lawn mower for his business. The suspect’s home is damaged, yet the police department finds little to no evidence after ransacking the house – a tiny bit of marijuana in the suspect’s backpack. The young man is later released on insufficient evidence, yet his money is not returned nor is the home repaired. We see his family standing bewildered as they look at the external damage, while a young woman nearby rocks her baby, who witnessed this assault.
The film opened at The Roxie in San Francisco and at the Elmwood in Berkeley. “Do Not Resist” shows how little has changed in the 50-year history which sparked a global movement.
The Anniversary featured so many excellent panel discussions, among them: Self-Defense against Police Brutality and Murders, moderated by Malik Edwards, who was on Wanda’s Picks Tribute to the BPP, Oct. 22. Also on the show were Rev. M. Gayle (Asali) Dickson, who moderated the “Liberation Theology: The Black Panther Party and the Black Church.” The panel featured dynamite clergy: Pastor Michael McBride, The Way Christian Center; Rev. Kamal Hassan, Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church; and Rev. Dr. Martha C. Traylor, Allen Temple Baptist Church, who spoke to the changing dynamic Black theologians brought to the liturgical table, beginning with Prophet Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey all the way to Bishop Richard Allen and Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright.
Aaron Dixon, BPP chairman of the Seattle Chapter, moderated the panel, “The Real Rainbow Coalition: Black, Red, White, Brown Revolutionaries,” and Melvin Dickson presented a photo essay, “The 1968 Trial of Huey P. Newton.” These former BPP members – Rev. Gayle, Comrade Aaron and Comrade Melvin – were all a part of the Seattle Chapter of the BPP, the first chapter established outside of Oakland. Comrades Vanetta Molson and Elmer Dixon also joined us. Listen: http://tobtr.com/9553449
It makes sense that the BPP would inspire other social justice movements for Native peoples, like Lenny Foster, American Indian Movement; for poor whites, like Hy Thurman of the Young Patriots; for Puerto Ricans, like Jose (Cha-Cha) Jimenez of the Young Lords; and African Americans, like Stan McKinney, BPP Chicago; for Palestinians, like Rabab Ibrahim Abdullah, Ph.D.; and for Chinese Americans, like Harvey C. Dong and Pam Tau Lee.
Besides the workshops hosted by these former BPP members that Saturday morning and afternoon, on Thursday, I attended a marvelous workshop hosted by former BPP Minister of Culture Emory Douglas, Polynesian Panthers with Minister of Fine Arts Tigilau Ness, Minister of Culture Miriama Rauhihi Ness, Betty Sio of the Black Women’s Movement and Túulenana Inlí, with comrades Chris McBride, curator and producer of The Kauri Project, and Roger Fowler of The People’s Union. Polynesian Panthers Tigilau Ness and Miriama Rauhihi Ness closed the Oct. 22 Wanda’s Picks special broadcast.
I had heard so much about the Polynesian Panthers from Emory over the years. Who could have known the reach of the BPP? However, just the warm reception the BPP received in Algeria and Tanzania, Cuba and elsewhere points to the relevance of this revolutionary movement which imagined a world, as Kathleen Cleaver, JD, states, beyond racism and white supremacy. When my younger daughter, TaSin, and I were in the mountains of Madagascar, we saw Tupac on the T-shirt of a youth panning for gold. Malcolm X was on the shirt of a brother I met in Tamale in the northern part of Ghana this summer. Later on, while at a hearing, I met a sister who wore a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt into superior court in Accra, where a man confessed to killing her friend.
The legacy of the Black Panther Party and its relationship to the Nation of Islam was the topic of a well-attended workshop, “The FBI’s ‘Black Hate Group’ COINTELPROs: The Murder of Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam,” with presenters Elaine Brown, former chairman of the BPP, and Minister Christopher Muhammad, the Nation of Islam.
The sessions were informative and enlightening, the panelists conversant on their topics, from Dr. Charles “Chappy” Pinderhughes, Essex County College, on “Marxism” to Kumasi on Black August and the Folsom Manifesto, sharing his experiences with Comrade George Jackson at a panel that same afternoon. His fellow panelists were Jerry Elster, co-founder No More Tears, and Dr. Greg Thomas, Tufts University, author of “The Immortal George L. Jackson.”
The entire conference and related activities were all pretty amazing. It was hard to keep up (smile). Comrade Kumasi’s vivid tales of organizing behind bars between inmates and administration was amazing. His sharing of how he met Comrade George and how the two came to be friends and allies shows what collaboration means. It is a remarkable tale I hope is published or filmed or both. The richness present in Oakland at this 50th Anniversary is powerful evidence of what is still possible. The brain trust exists.
Many new books capitalize on this 50th Anniversary occasion, such as the anthology of narratives edited by Bryan Shih and Yohuru Williams, “The Black Panthers: Portraits from an Unfinished Revolution,” and “Revolutionary Grain: Celebrating the Spirit of the Black Panthers in Portraits and Stories,” edited by Suzan Lucia Lamina. However, there is nothing to compare to an opportunity to sit in the room and hear from these Panthers. As already mentioned, witnesses could feel the love between these men and women who had sacrificed so much for “the people.” Each such moment throughout the 50th Anniversary Conference was awe inspiring. I am still in awe. (Both books have exhibitions: Shih’s art is at the OMCA through Feb. 12, 2017; Lamina’s is at the African American Museum at Oakland through Feb. 28, 2017.)
Co-editor Williams states in the chapter, “To Live for the People: The Rank and File and the ‘Histories’ of the Black Panther Party” (46), how he came to know the work and lives of the BPP members through his father’s art and then through the stories his parents shared about the volatile events in New Haven, Connecticut, and later as a researcher.
He writes: “I came to appreciate the muted voices of ordinary members of the party and how documenting their stories and experiences both complicated and deepened the party’s history. I became convinced that the best way to understand the Black Panther Party was through the perspectives of these members, not the party’s founders. For me, the question is how we might glean from the individual stories of the Panthers a more nuanced portrait of the party than the one featured in the dominant narrative. Such a portrait would balance the fear the Panthers inspired with the complex mix of trauma and love that drove their activism – a non-idealized or vilified history that would reflect conflicting portraits of the party that could incorporate the experiences of an Ericka Huggins, a Huey P. Newton and a Lawrence Townsend” (49).
This by no means lessens the role of the founders, Comrades Newton and Seale, whom we missed at the conference. However, just as the signature exhibition, “All Power to the People,” at the Oakland Museum attests, the reason the party was as great as it was rests on the legacy of its many unsung heroes, the rank and file. These heroes bagged the groceries, drove the vans and took the bullets. Many of these men and women and allies languished until death behind bars.
There are still members incarcerated, legally buried or entrapped by a judicial system that has not an ounce of compassion; however, the warriors are not forgotten. In fact, Robert H. King and Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3 are headed to Europe for an advocacy tour to free all political prisoners and POWs. This campaign is an extension of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples and Families Movement (FICPM) platform, shared at the conference held Sept. 9-11 in Oakland.
The Friday afternoon workshop, “180 Years of Incarceration with Black Panther Party Political Prisoners,” with former Deputy Minister of Defense Eddie Conway of the Baltimore Black Panther Party, Sekou Odinga of the Brooklyn Branch of the BPP, and Robert King and Albert Woodfox of the New Orleans Chapter of the BPP at Angola State Prison, Louisiana, was the continuation of a larger conversation, one that looks at the New Jim Crow and mass incarceration or enslavement of Black people. The hunger strikes and work stoppages at prisons throughout the country have their nexus in the South, where the prisoner-run Free Alabama Movement takes the lead in calling for the end of slavery in this country once and for all. Listen to an interview, at http://tobtr.com/s/9262791, with Kinetik Justice Amun, one of the founders of FAM, sponsor of the Sept. 9, 2016, fasts and work stoppages to end prison slavery, at https://freealabamamovement.wordpress.com/f-a-m-pamphlet-who-we-are/.
At the time of the Black Panther Party’s greatest impact, other movements were also active, like the Nation of Islam, yet the BPP was a different front. Actively engaged in armed struggle in a way the NOI was not, the BPP suffered casualties and victories which were unprecedented. As the “Trail of Tears” scrolled on screen projections at the Gala Dinner Saturday evening in the Museum Gardens, we saw the faces of the young comrades, men and women killed by the state during 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1971 – evidence of interrupted or ruptured spaces, their bodies stopped or prevented from realizing the completion of an alternative worldview or reality antithetical to the dominant disorder then and now.
From the workshop on Marxism, I learned that the BPP mission or goal was a complete overthrow of this government, to be replaced by a new face, reflective of values which support life and freedom for everyone. Comrade Elaine Brown said at the panel with Minister Christopher Muhammad that the Wants and Beliefs on Muhammad Speaks are reflected in the BPP 10-point platform. Minister Christopher speaks to the synergy of the BPP movement and the encouragement and inspiration founders and laity drew from the work of Minister Malcolm X, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz.
Elaine Brown, former minister of information and the only woman to lead the party at a time when the leadership was being locked up or killed, looked anything but 70-plus as she called the names of comrades who were able to join us who had been behind enemy lines. I met an elder just the evening before who had just been released in Detroit. He was down 42 years. He spoke about the difficulties adjusting, but he was here. Charlotte O’Neal, Kansas City and Tanzania, invited everyone to call their ancestors’ names as she hit a resonating vessel, while Lenny Foster, AIM, gave the Native American blessing. The entire evening welcomed, saluted and mourned the presence of the ethereal or nether Black Panther bodies, those martyrs and those still behind enemy walls. The week and evening were representative of the motto, All Power to the People.
Earlier, Chairman Bobby Seale’s 80th birthday, on Oct. 22, was celebrated at a parallel event hosted by the Black Panther Party Alumni Association from New York. At the luncheon, Albert “Shaka” Woodfox and Robert H. King were presented with plaques.
That evening at the gala in the Museum Gardens, Eddie Conway, former PP, POW and now a producer at Real TV, introduced Danny Glover, who delivered a warm keynote address. In his introductory remarks, Comrade Conway suggested in the second leg of the struggle warriors “put aside differences, unify and show by example how to go forward from here.”
He stressed the importance of “getting our political prisoners out. The young people are [the next wave] of such. We have to let them know that despite the insidious programs like COINTELPRO [which, along with other government programs, took our lives], ran us out of the country, caused us to be in the middle of [state sponsored] warfare, [none of the counterinsurgency work by the enemy was allowed] to stop our work. The work continued all across the country,” he said to applause.
“Our work continues behind the wires, behind the walls, so it is important that [the youth] see that not only can we survive that, they can survive it in the future if they have the right consciousness, the right education, and they organize and they build – and I do not mean protest. Protest is good, but they need to organize and build. It only takes a couple of people to start something. Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, two people. That was enough to trigger this. So any two people, any one person can get with a trusted friend or family member and do the work. That’s all I am asking: Unify – and be the example we claim we are.”
In his introduction of Danny Glover, Conway said it was easy to introduce his friend, perhaps because of the profound impact Glover has had on history. In his remarks, he mentioned a few accolades I was not aware of, such as Glover’s doctorate in theology and the fact that he is also a Nigerian chief. I know of his work in housing development following his graduation with a degree in economics from SF State. Theatre is his second career. Most of us also know of the activist’s involvement in the successful student strike for Black Studies at SF State.
Glover says: “The legacy of the Black Panther Party (BPP), its vision, its courage, left a permanent impact on the world. Those of us who can remember that time in history know the chronology, legends and truths that gave rise to this organization. We are not gathered here for the sake of nostalgia but rather to commemorate and renew the legacy of the Panthers for present and future generations. Fifty years have passed, half a century since the BPP was founded right here in Oakland with a vision that was as timely as it was prophetic.
“When Huey and Bobby founded the Panthers, I was 20 years old, born and raised in San Francisco, and immersed in the conditions the Panthers sought to address. Memory has a very important role in the history and why we are commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the BPP. Often what we choose to remember is that which is most important. I have chosen to remember Sam Napier, dedicated party member,” who was one of three men who formed the national newspaper distribution in San Francisco, BJ says in the SF Bay View; these men were “the heart and soul of the newspaper.”
Glover reflects on the Panther office on Fillmore and Ellis at a time when urban removal, under the guise of redevelopment, was eroding and eliminating Black enclaves or spaces to gather in the 1960s. At that time, Glover says he was assigned to open a Black Student Union office off campus which he did around the corner from the BPP office. “[Glover] had been suspended for the semester along with Landon Williams, Clarence Thomas (union organizer), Benny Stewart, George Murray and four other students for their involvement in a fight at the student newspaper office known as the Gator Incident at San Francisco State College in 1967.
“Even when I looked at the party’s breakfast for children program, the act of feeding our children was an act of healing in its simplistic and deep and politicized expression. Our self-anointed commune, with Terry Collins, Leroy Wade Woods, his brother Dexter Knox, Don Smothers, George Colbert and myself, we would make our way to Sacred Heart Church in the morning as early as 8 o’clock to feed children of the community two blocks from where we resided.”
Glover reflected on the irony of performing his first play, “Sizwe Banzi is Dead,” by Athol Fugard, about apartheid, at the Oakland Community School. Apartheid in South Africa was the same as systemic racism in America, where in cities like Oakland and San Francisco, Black populations were being eliminated. Today, there is not much Blackness there.
“Just as young people reached out to embrace the party 50 years ago, young people are embracing the party again 50 years later. They’re asking for our wisdom and blessings and the truth of our lessons, and we know who they are and where they are.”
This sentiment was reflected in the presence of so many youth at the conference in leadership roles. #OPEN (Our People Effecting Neighborhood Programs) was one such presenter. OPEN is a multistate collaboration that utilizes the principles of the BPP Ten Point Program, the Code of Thug Life and a variety of programs to sustain peace and build community. I met members from Newark, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Nicole Welch, mother of two children and business owner, was inspired by OPEN founder Jack Jackson, a former 793 blood member turned activist, and Aaron Dixon, former captain of the Seattle BPP, to start HOPE (Helping Our People to Evolve in Los Angeles).
Glover says that he and his mentor, Sam Napier, never forgot they were foot soldiers. He says within that context, “We were both willing to give ourselves to an idea much larger than we were in our particular environments” – Glover in the BSU, Sam in the BPP. “Fifty years later all I have to say is that I am still a foot soldier ready to march. Power to the people!” Glover lifts his fist to applause.
There was a special taped presentation by Alicia Keys entitled “23 Ways You Could Be Killed If You Are Black in America,” Archbishop Franzo King played “A Love Supreme,” Al Attles Jr. shared a poem, Fredrika Newton gave remarks, Michelle Peters and Martin Luther performed “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and Kev Choice, Bruce Wayne Project, Digital Underground and Khoree The Poet kept the dance floor filled. Despite the chilly night air, the atmosphere was warm enough to relight the waning space heater fires (smile).
On the fly
MoAD Pop-Up Gallery presents “Celebrating Fifty Years of Black Art” in Bayview Hunters Point on Nov. 3, 2016, 7-9 p.m., at Bayview Opera House, 4705 Third St., San Francisco. It is a free event. Happy birthday, Destiny Muhammad, whose annual 50/20 Concert is much anticipated. This year the date is Sunday, Nov. 13, 3-4:30 p.m., at the Malonga Casquelourd Center, 1428 Alice St., Oakland. Tickets are available at EventBrite. Events at the African Museum and Library, 659 14th St., Oakland, 510-637-0200, include Festival of Black Dolls Show and Sale, featuring “African American Twins Yesterday and Today,” Saturday, Nov. 12, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Festival of Knowledge Series No. 7, “Preserving Our Legacy through Agriculture,” Saturday, Nov. 19, 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Word for Word and Z Space stages the Pulitzer Prize winning author Edward P Jones’ short story, “All Aunt Hagar’s Children,” opening on Nov. 19 on San Francisco’s Z Space Main Stage. Set in 1950s Washington, D.C., this noir tale spotlights a young Black Korean War vet who sets out to solve a murder and becomes entangled in a web of family history. He is unsettled by another death, a young Jewish woman whose last words haunt him and his investigation. Edward P. Jones evokes a neighborhood of vivid characters, telling a story about the strength of family and the choices that shape our lives.
Directed by Stephanie Hunt and Assistant Director Margo Hall, the performances are at Z Space Main Stage, 450 Florida St., in San Francisco, Nov. 16-Dec. 11. Ticket prices are $33-$58 with no additional fees, previews $20. Purchase tickets at 866.811.4111 or at www.zspace.org.
Oakland Public Conservatory presents Rhiannon Giddens in a Day of Black String Music
Oakland Public Conservatory of Music (OPC) presents members of Grammy Award winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. Fiddler, banjo player and vocalist Rhiannon Giddens and bandmate, folk guitarist Hubby Jenkins, with tap dancer Robynn Watson perform Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, 7 p.m., at the West Oakland Youth Center, 3233 Market St. in Oakland.
Prior to the concert, Giddens, Jenkins and Watson will offer free workshops from 1:30- 3:30 that explore the Black roots of American folk music, including banjo, fiddle, tap dance, bones and vocals. They will discuss the history, techniques and contributions of Black string bands.
With the aid of recordings and films, they will break down tunes and give plenty of opportunities for playing music. After the workshops there will be a screening of Jim Carrier’s film, “The Librarian and the Banjo,” which documents the 25 years of research by music librarian and musicologist Dena Epstein and highlights her contribution to American ethnomusicology.
The movie, “The Librarian and the Banjo,” will show 5:30-6:30 p.m. and the concert begins at 7 p.m. For more info, visit www.opcmusic.org, follow us on Twitter @OPCMusic1616.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at email@example.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.
Watch the complete roundtable discussion on the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party with four former Panthers who spent decades behind bars as political prisoners: Robert King, Eddie Conway, Sekou Odinga and Albert Woodfox.