Interview with Stokley Carmichael

How did the organization in Lowndes County help form the Black Panther Party?


After having in Lowndes County, after having formed the Lowndes County Freedom Organization with the black panther as its symbol, leading towards the formation of a party. You can't become a party until after election where a certain percentage of the electoral votes counted. The terrorist groups, Ku Klux Klan, etc., in order to ensure that the Lowndes County Freedom Organization will not become the Black Panther Party made it clear that they intended to create violence around election time. They began to give examples of this violence. Those of us working with SNCC recognizing that we had a responsibility here, recognizing that our forces were not strong enough militarily to meet those of the terrorist groups, 'cause even in Alabama, in Klan territory, they will not just depend upon Lowndes County, they will corner the whole Klan from the state of Alabama. So we will need protection here. We decided through our contacts to go throughout the large ghettos, New York, Chicago, Boston, California, etc.—and to, we had contact with a lot of young brothers and sisters who were involved in military action. Some have even served in the army and to collect those who were serious, who would come down to help form a force, ready to meet fire with fire, military force against the Klan. So these groups came from New York, from Chicago, from California, from Washington, D.C., etc., etc.—and when they came, as SNCC we had put them in certain areas. They came with guns. They brought heavy guns, much materials. And we also let it be known to the terrorist groups that we were brining people with guns and we were going to meet fire with fire. So it became clear as we mounted the police would see new people coming in and they would see certain areas being stacked up. So it became clear the Justice Department itself informed them that young thugs, they called them, were coming into Lowndes County. So many of these young brothers and sisters who came and had to spend at least two weeks in the county and we didn't want them just carrying around guns but integrated into political work, even though their major work was our protection and fire arms integrating the political work. They became contaminated with the idea of the Black Panther Party. What really confused them was the average age, I'm sure of someone in the Black Panther Party in Lowndes County, would have to be about 54 or 55. And of course you had people up into their late 70s and 80s. But all the people in Lowndes County were armed, and on the day of election they brought their guns. You know, the law said, you have to leave your guns X number of feet away from the polling place. So all of them, old women brought their guns, and this really shocked these young brothers and sisters who were in Chicago and New York and thought to see these old people carrying guns. So the idea of the Black Panther Party actually spreading outside of SNCC was the result of these young brothers coming. The one who came from California to take it back was a brother by the name of Mark Comfort. He was the one who took the idea originally back to California. And it was from him that other groups sprang up and finally later on, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and them came on the scene.