by Arlene Eisen
On July 24, 2021, a sunny Saturday, surrounded by flowers and balloons, good food, music, loving family and comrades, we transformed the parking lot of the African American Art & Culture Complex into a joyful place to celebrate the life of Terry Collins.
Family members, veterans of the 1968-69 San Francisco State Strike, former Black Panthers, longtime KPOO broadcasters and members of the appreciative KPOO audience, former political prisoners and their supporters, Fillmore District community activists, Mission district community activists, organizers of decades of struggle for the liberation of Black, Brown, Palestinian and all oppressed people gathered for a memorial celebration of Terry Collins.
Terry Collins, Jan. 29, 1936 – July 8, 2021, often reminisced about his childhood in a small Indiana town, raised in a proud, independent Black family. By the time he turned 16, he moved to Los Angeles, graduated high school and attended Los Angeles Community College. He was drafted in 1959 and was stationed in Germany in all-Black divisions.
After an honorable discharge, Terry spent three years hitch-hiking around Europe and North Africa, where he learned from South African exiles and a women’s collective in Morocco. The insights he gained during that time laid the foundation for an internationalist perspective that never left him.
In 1967, he moved to San Francisco where he immediately joined the Black Panther Party and, along with his comrades, formed the Black Draft Counseling Center to resist the Viet Nam War. Collins’ anti-Viet Nam War organizing brought him to SF State, where he joined the Black Student Union (BSU). From then through today, Terry’s story becomes the story of the most radical history of San Francisco.
The BSU first led a walkout to protest the political firing of George Murray, a popular professor and Black Panther Party member. Soon, thousands of students went on strike for five months. Thousands more from San Francisco’s Black, Latinx, Asian and radical white communities joined students and faculty on picket lines and battled with the police. Hundreds were arrested.
Police sent Terry and other leaders messages like: “We have bullets with your name on it.” Benny Stuart, another BSU member and SF State Striker, remembered Terry: “He was a radical among the radicals.” Terry’s commitment to internationalism led the way to a strong alliance with the Third World Liberation Front and an insistence that the demands of the strike always center self-determination.
The longest student strike in history not only led to immediate victory but also gave birth to Black and Ethnic Studies, Women’s Studies and Queer Studies curricula throughout the country.
In 1973, Terry pioneered in founding KPOO-FM, 89.5, with the mission of giving voice to oppressed communities, to strengthen their struggles for liberation and promote peoples’ music and art. He continued as president of the board, mentor and host until his breath gave out.
Two of the women he mentored and invited to host their own KPOO shows – Arlene Eisen and Ida McCray –produced a two-hour radio tribute to Terry Collins. Here are excerpts.
Cat Collins, Terry’s wife of 40 years, started by saying: “We just want everyone to know how dedicated Terry was to whatever cause that was going on … He believed in leaving no one behind. He believed that with a collective of people, you could go far. If there was a need, he would show up. He never let anyone down.”
Donna Amador, leader of the San Francisco State Strike, Los Siete and Mission community organizer, was younger and newer to politics when she met Terry in 1968 and looked up to him as a Black Panther.
Donna stated: “I met him outside the Third World Liberation Front Bungalow, which was across the way from the BSU Bungalow. ‘Come here, I want to show you something. I followed him into the BSU Office and he pulled open a desk drawer. It was filled with pistols. I asked myself, who is this man? What does he know that I need to learn?”
The Black Panther Party understood that the police and rest of the state had declared war against Black and Brown people in general and against the Panthers in particular. Community survival depended on unity, solidarity, organization and self-defense.
Within months, the smoldering police war on Brown people in the Mission erupted. Seven brothers who became known as “Los Siete de la Raza” were arrested and charged with murder of a cop and eventually acquitted. Donna Amador became secretary and leader of their defense, which built enormous community support by organizing a community café, clinic, legal aid office and newspaper.
She recalled: “Terry, representing the Panthers, was one of the people who was really helpful. His political views were deep. We were jumping on the bandwagon of freeing people from police oppression, yet we really didn’t have a firm political foundation. Terry suggested we do political education (PE), and every Saturday we read Fanon, Freire, based on things the Panthers were doing.
“Terry helped more than anyone, not just with PE, but also arranging for us to use the Panther’s famous lawyer, Charles Garry, and also printing equipment for our newspaper, Basta Ya. We’ve been friends ever since … Recently, right before the pandemic, we worked together for two years on the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the SF State Strike.”
Melba Maldonado, born in Puerto Rico, came to San Francisco to organize the Puerto Rican Solidarity Committee 1977. She got to know Terry through her husband, Nesbit Crutchfield – Terry’s closest comrade from the days of the Black Student Union. She became director of La Raza Community Resource Center.
“Nesbit was in the hospital. He was seriously assaulted in Marin City – where the community was sharply divided between progressives against conservatives, all Black people. Terry came over with a group of men and said that he would protect us. He organized security for our family both at the hospital and our home in Marin City where I had young children.
“When I went back to visit Nesbit in the hospital, I assured him that me and our kids were safe because Terry was watching over us … Terry would call me to find out what was going on in PR, especially about the Puerto Rican political prisoners … He was a socialist and an internationalist. We had a lot of conversations about Latin America. He had friends all over Latin America. He also had a lot of respect for women. He loved and respected me not only as ‘Nesbit’s wife’ but also on my own. Many times he had me on the radio show talking about issues of immigration, about what was going on with COVID in the Mission, food pantries, etc.”
Donna Wilmott, a member of Catalyst and active organizer against white supremacy for years, worked closely with Terry on the Campaign to free the SF 8 – former Black Panthers who, when they were elders, 40 years after the fact, were charged with killing a cop.
“The SF 8 Defense went on for four and a half years before it was resolved. Terry was an important part of the Defense Committee. He was always there for the brothers. He would come to court all the time, always organizing actions demanding their freedom, he would visit them in jail … He led by example, totally dedicated to the liberation of Black people and the liberation of all oppressed people. When I think of Terry, I think of this poem:
‘There are those who struggle for a day and they are good.
And there are those who struggle for a year and they are better.
And there are those who struggle for many years and those are better still.
And there are those who struggle all their lives and they are the indispensable ones.’”
Rabab Abdulhadi, founder and senior scholar of Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas/Race and Resistance Studies, College of Ethnic Studies, San Francisco State University, talked about Terry’s importance to the Palestine Liberation Struggle:
“The Palestinian struggle both within and outside SF State has been very much targeted by the Zionist industry … Terry was a very strong supporter – always there. When I had a neo-Nazi threatening me and my students in my Palestine class, Terry offered to organize Panther-like security.
“Terry reminded me that the president of the BSU was a Black Muslim. In the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the College of Ethnic Studies, the main event, Terry gave his place on the program to a Palestinian and an anti-Zionist Jewish student. He arranged for a regular program slot on KPOO for Arab Talk Radio. Terry was always, always, always on the frontline.”
Fiona Mae Brown was an intern for Terry at KPOO for the last two years. Fiona emphasized: “Honestly, every time I talked with him, it was like getting a history lesson – about Marxism, the history of the Black Panther Party, about San Francisco and also about so many other struggles. He was always sending me emails and texts about other oppressed people around the world, like Palestine, Ethiopia. He always talked about the need for young people to step up to continue the work that he had been doing for decades.
“It was during the pandemic, and so it was such a blessing to talk to him and also during the George Floyd uprisings last summer he gave me and other young folks a platform. It was so powerful … just having that direct connection to someone who had been part of the Black Power Movement … He taught me not to be so focused on the struggle here and realize that our struggle against white supremacy and capitalism is a worldwide struggle – that we have to stay connected with each other. I just loved him so much.”
Soffiyah Elijah, lawyer for the San Francisco 8, friend of Marilyn Buck and executive director of Alliance of Families for Justice, closed the radio celebration of Terry Collins with this message to young people:
“Understand that the struggle for true freedom and liberation is a protracted one … when I was a young person, I thought ‘protracted’ meant a couple of years. I didn’t realize it was a lifetime. So, pace yourself. Value self-care. Also, never lose sight that it’s not about you. It’s about the people. It’s about freedom for our communities and for our people.
“I want to express my deepest condolences to Terry’s family and thank them for being his support network for all these years because all the beauty and wonderful energy that he brought to the world, that got fueled at home. And as someone who believes in the ancestors and spirits, I know that now his spirit is free from the bonds of the human body and he’ll be able to be just that much more powerful on all the continents at the same time and that’s really a wonderful gift to all of us.”
Arlene Eisen, who researched and wrote the landmark report commonly known as “Every 28 Hours,” officially “Operation Ghetto Storm: 2012 Annual Report on the Extrajudicial Killings of 313 Black People by Police, Security Guards and Vigilantes,” can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.