Interview with Sonia Sanchez
QUESTION 41
INTERVIEWER:

1966 through '68, in that area, what were the, what was the Black Panther Party offering the Black community that might have been different from what other, others in cultural, Nationalist groups, to use that word, or other organizations were offering? What place did they fill in the Black community?

SONIA SANCHEZ:

The Black Panther party actually, ah, was a very important movement in the Black community. The people, what they, what the party did initially was that they escorted people home, ah, when they got off those buses late at night, to their homes. They were like an escort service, initially, ah, for the women who were coming in very late and for anyone, because the cops over there, ah, where they lived, would like, were menacing people. There would be a menace by policemen there. As a consequence, ah, they offered a service. And so they, they were very much part of the community, and the community was very thankful that they could do this kind of thing for them. And then, ah, we saw a different kind of motion and movement, um, of, of Huey and Bobby Seale and Huey Newton as they moved into the classes with a woman by the name of Sarah Fabio, who was teaching over, ah, in Merritt, Merritt, Merritt College. And I first met Huey when I went to his class to read for Sara Fabio there and began to talk to them about some of the things they intended to do. Their newspaper was a very important paper. Just as Muhammad Speaks was an, an important pa--newspaper at the time. It gave you all the news that you needed to have. The Black Panther paper was modeled after the, after the Muhammad Speaks paper, with the same kind of demands, you know, "We want the following," on the back, et cetera. It had news that the other newspapers did not print. And it had something that was different from the Muhammad Speaks paper. It had poetry. It had a cultural side. It had the cartoons. It had the art work by, ah, ah, the cultural workers there. And it was fantastic, a very good paper, ah, a very important paper, ah, Em--Emory, the artist, did the cover for my first book, _Homecoming_. Um, and he's a very fine artist. This is the kind of thing that the, the Panther Party did. And what it offered young men, you know, was a sense, the kind of thing, the Panther Party was probably the manifestation of Malcolm, on many levels, again. It gave that sense of, "We were men and not boys, ah, in a arena with, with fathers, okay. Um, we were not boys. 'Don't call us boy, call us young men,' ah, walking down the street." It was not new to me in terms of look however because, ah, I grew up in, in Harlem where all the very hip people wore Black leather jackets, you know. I wanted to have a Black leather jacket because all the so-called "bad" kids in our school had the Black leather jackets and the Black berets and of course I didn't have that, and the Black skirt. So that was not new at all. That was a familiar kind of scene. And I thought they were very hip because I had always wanted to wear those kinds of things. So, um, I would say simply that, ah, the image they gave the men, a very powerful image and then of course the whole image that went around the world of them going into the assembly with the guns, whatever, that were not loaded, by the way, okay, but it was just something that said simply, ah, "Don't mess with me." And I remember like talking to some old folks at the time, they said, "Well, girl, that ain't nothing new. We always owned guns. We just kept them in our top drawer," you see? But the whole point of the newspaper articles was simply that, ah, this was a new phenomenon that we never thought Black men had guns. But if you go South or even went out West, Black folks always had guns someplace in the house. And you were told, "Don't touch those guns, ah, that were in the second drawer on, on the right underneath some shorts someplace."

INTERVIEWER:

Ah, cut.