Interviewer: Louis Massiah
Production Team: C
Interview Date: May 23, 1989
Camera Rolls: 3100-3104
Sound Rolls: 345-347
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Huey P. Newton, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on May 23, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
Your family moved from Louisiana to California like many folks, they moved from the South to the Oakland area. What did your family hope when they moved to Oakland? What did they hope for you?
Ah, my family, ah, moved from Louisiana to Oakland, ah, primarily seeking a better life. My father was a farmer in, ah, Louisiana and a preacher. And, ah, my- he moved out, ah, to the Bay Area in order to work in the shipping yards. There was a Naval Supply, it was called at the time. And that was, ah, ah, the reason most Blacks moved out, for work, better work, better pay and a better life hopefully.
We were talking about the political aspirations that they had for you and the fact that you're named after Huey P. Long. Could you talk about that a little?
Ah, yes, my father was impressed with Huey P. Long even though, at the time in the South, Blacks couldn't vote, that, ah, Huey P. Long was, ah, ah, created the first Black, ah, ah, hospital and medical school. And, ah, even though, ah, Huey P. Long, ah, gave the pitch to the, ah, the White races that, ah, ah, they needed a Black, ah, medical school and hospital because, ah, he didn't want White women seeing Black men nude and so forth, my father thought he was, my father thought Huey P. Long was using tricks in order to, ah, improve the, ah, the, ah, situation for Blacks at the time.
Are there specific events or relationships that have helped advance your political grounding, ah, I mean, things that you remember that sort of helped you in forming your political thought?
Well, my family, ah, was where, they were always, ah, interested in politics especially my father. As, ah, when we moved to Oakland we were connected to the, ah, matter of fact my father was a, the, ah, assistant pastor to Antioch Baptist Church, ah, Reverend Thomas was the, ah, pastor. And this was down on 7th Street. Ah, the church was, became a member of the NAACP. And, ah, matter of fact, ah, in the early '50s, that, ah, ah, King was invited out, ah, by a collection of churches. And that was my first time hearing King at the, ah, Oakland Auditorium, I believe. But my family was, ah, interested in improving the political and economic situation of Blacks.
How did Bobby Seale and you use the anti-poverty office as a base of operation for the early work of the Black Panther Party?
Ah, Bobby Seale and I used the North Oakland Service Center as a, ah, ah, really as a work, as a, ah, the original, ah, work spot to put together, ah, our program. They had, ah, in, they had all the machinery, mimeograph machines and typewriters. Ah, also they were, at the time in the, ah, in the poverty program, the North Oakland Service Center was a part of the poverty program. And, ah, the service centers collected names of people on welfare, elderly people who needed aid. We used those lists to go around and canvass the community in order to find out, ah, the desires of the community. So, ah, we would, ah, go from house to house and explain, ah, to people, ah, our program. We printed up the first program at the North Oakland Service Center.
Why did you choose to focus on the police as a major target for the Panther Party early on?
Well, the police, ah, throughout the comunit- not only the Oakland community but, ah, throughout out the Black communities in the country, ah, were really the, the, ah, ah, the government. Ah, we had, ah, more contact with the police than we did the city council. Ah, the police were, ah, universally disliked. Ah, in Oakland there was about, ah, in '66 there was about, October '66 when the party was founded, ah, there was about 1 percent Black on the Police Department. Shortly before that in, I think in '53, ah, Oakland had its first Black policeman, who was a friend of my father's. His name was Kinner. My father broke friendship with Kinner because of his, because of his membership, ah, in the Oakland Police. Not because he was, he was a policeman but because, ah, at the time that the policy was that, ah, Kinner could only arrest Black people. And, ah, if, ah, he could detain a White but he would have to call a White officer. And my father thought that this was, ah, degrading. Ah, it was no change, ah, from what was happening in the South.**
Could you talk about the pattern of police brutality in Oakland as you understood at that time and how people articulated it to you?
Well the police were, ah, were Southerners. Ah, as a matter of fact in '60s they were still recruiting from Georgia because, ah, we captured some, ah, post, some fliers. And, ah, they said, that White Southerners knew how to handle these, ah, Negroes. So, ah, the police were, ah, impolite and, ah, ah, they were very fast to kill a Black for minor offenses such as youth, such as Black youth stealing automobiles. They would shoot them in the back and so forth. Ah, I can't recall any particular names but it was widespread dislike for the police because of their inhumane treatment of Blacks.
What was the intention of putting forward the Ten Point Program and you might summarize that, if you could, the Ten Point Program.
Well the Ten Point Program, ah, tried to identify, ah, the basic, ah, needs and, ah, aspirations of Black people. Ah, we, within the Ten Point Program we, ah, ah, came up with, ah, basically we needed education, ah, we needed decent housing. We wanted fair treatments in the court. We wanted, ah, medical care. Ah, ah, we wanted, ah, availability for, ah, ah, food and clothing, ah, for Blacks and full employment. So, ah, the program was a comprehensive program to really, ah, ah, lay down a, a blueprint for community development.
Could you talk about, was there any relationship with the Nation of Islam and could you talk about your experiences with the Nation of Islam and how that affected the Ten Point Program, in shaping it?
Well, ah, early on I was, a, about in the early '60s, about 1960, 61 I had started, ah, Oakland City College. At Oakland City College I was a member, ah, instrumental in, in creating the Afro-American Association. The Afro-American Association was led by Donald Wharton. And, ah, the program was a cultural program to, ah, ah, to, ah, institute ethnic studies, African studies and Afro-American studies. Ah, from the Afro-American, the Afro-American Association, ah, ah, we created from, from, from the Afro-American Association, its, stemmed the Soul Student Advisory Council, and that was the action group inside of the school. After we created the, ah, the study classes, I felt that there was need to do other things, ah, to affect the wider community. And, ah, I became, ah, in contact, I, I came in contact with the Black Muslims. Ah, I was very impressed with Malcolm X. And, ah, Malcolm X' program, or the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, that, ah, Malcolm X followed, program was, ah, ah, it was like a Ten Point Program. Matter of fact, that, ah, our program was structured after the, ah, patterned after the Black Muslim program. It, ah, was minus the religion. And, ah, I think that I became disillusioned with the, with the, ah, Muslims after Malcolm X was assassinated. I think that I was following not, ah, Elijah Muhammad or the Muslims but Malcolm X himself.
You were talking before about community control within the Black community and also integration into larger institutions. Could you talk about how that, how you believed in that philosophy and how you saw the Panthers sort of implementing it?
Well, short, well, a short time after I was, ah, impressed by the Muslims and disillusioned, after the, ah, assassination of Malcolm X. Ah, I was studying politics, ah, and I became interested in progressive labor and Socialist Workers Party. Ah, at that time it was, it was, ah, during the period of African liberation. Many, most of the African countries were liberated during the '60s from colonialism. And, ah, that, we felt that, ah, there was a need for, not a separate nation but, ah, control of our dispersed communities. And we wanted control of, ah, of the communities where we were most numerous and, ah, the institutions therein. And at the same time that we, ah, felt that we were due because of tax paying, we were due, ah, free access to, ah, an equal treatment in public, ah, ah, public facilities. And we thought everyone should be, have that, ah, kind of participation in, ah, public facilities.
OK, again, the notion of community control in Black communities and also fighting for public access to public accommodations, how is that part of the Panther philosophy and how--?
Ah, at the time there were many Black nationalist groups that were influenced by the, ah, African liberation movement. And, ah, we differed from the Black American National Movement, Nationalist Movement in that, ah, we thought that we wanted, ah, it wasn't a, it wasn't a, ah, our goal for segregation or integration really. We wanted, ah, control of the institutions in our community where we were most numerous. And at the same time that we, ah, thought that we would, we would, we would do public, ah, to access to public institutions on an equal basis. And we thought everyone should, ah, participate, be able to equally participate in public institution. Ah, I think that as I remember back, ah, I was influenced by the situation and the condition in China, ah, in the People's Republic of China where there was, ah, there were many, many minority groups. I think the Huns are the majority group. Ah, ah, all of the, in the areas, ah, of the minority, ah, ah, ethnic groups, ah, the Chinese, this, this ethnic minority controlled its community. Get that full access to the public facilities. So I thought that if it could there, it could work here.
That's good. Could you talk about, you've done it a little bit, but talk a little about the original vision of the Black Panther Party. Did you see it as a local organization or as a revolutionary organization? What, in the beginning when you and Bobby Seale were first talking.
Ah, no I thought that it would be a national organization. Ah, I thought that with our, ah, when Blacks across the country.
Start that again, and rephrase--
The Black Panther, the Black Panther Party, ah, ah, felt that, ah, we would, we would quickly become a national organization when Blacks across the country saw what we were doing in Oakland by, ah, ah, driving out the, ah, we, what we called the oppressive army of police. And, ah, controlling our community, the institutions in the community. We felt that, ah, the government's next move would be to bring in the national guard to recapture these institutions and this would connect us to the international movement of, ah, of the worker's movement, the international proletariat, proletarian movement, ah, such as, was happening in, ah, in the, ah, in Cuba, ah, and, ah, we were very impressed by the Cuban revolution. And, ah, ah, at the, at the time of the creation of the, ah, the Black Panther Party, ah, I was, ah, introduced to Marxism and, ah, ah, I think I had read a book called the, ah, Imperial, Materialism and Empirical Criticism. And, ah, ah, by I.V. Lenin. And at that time, that, ah, it was pointed out that, ah, there were many contradictory social forces and if you knew what to increase or decrease at a particular time that you could cause the transformation. And, ah, so we were trying to increase the conflict that was already happening and that was between the White racism, ah, the police forces in the, ah, various communities in the, Black communities in the country. And, ah, we felt that we would take it to, take the conflict to a so high a level that some change had to come.
Something very specific, the action began in traffic light in front of Sante Fe grammar school. It was really dramatic. Could you describe what happened, how that changed and how you went about trying to do that and also the use of theatre and drama as a way and symbolic gestures in terms of political transformation for Blacks?
Ah, yes I went to Sante Fe elementary school in North, in North Oakland. And, ah, while I was there the, the many children was, were hit by cars and so forth. There was no traffic light in front of the school. There was a very busy street, Market Street, crossing the school. Ah, so one of the first, the first action of the Black Panther Party was to, ah, go down with our arms and, ah, ah, be traffic police. We, at 3 o'clock when the school was let out, we would stop the traffic and allow the children to pass. Of course this would bring an army of police, ah, in the area. They would take over the traffic jam that would occur. So, ah, and also they would, ah, attempt to arrest us for bearing arms. But, ah, ah, they would become aware, which they were not, that the law provided for us to, ah, bear arms at that time. So, ah, we, ah, went to the City Council and asked them to put up a traffic, the Planning Commission of the City Council, the Oakland City Council. So the Oakland City Council said that they had already, ah, passed some, ah, ah, policy to put up a traffic light but it would be about five years, ah, from '66, October '66. And, ah, we weren't satisfied with that. So we went to the community and gathered a, a few hundred or maybe even a thousand or so signatures. And, ah, and, and took those to the City Council. We also would, ah, still police, when the police were not there we would, ah, we would, ah, police the area. And every time we would try the police would take over so, ah, the purpose was served anyway. Ah, the traffic light quickly went up in about three or four months after that event.
What were your feelings when you went on the police patrols. You might describe them a little bit. How did you feel?
Well, every time we would go out on the police, ah, alert patrols or surveillance patrols that, ah, I was feeling we might not come back, ah, I felt that, ah, the police, ah, might shoot us because they were very, ah, disturbed, to say the least, about our, the presence of Blacks with guns. Ah, and, ah, ah, some of the works of, ah, of, ah, of, ah, Fidel Castro, ah, when he was in the Sierra Maestra, or matter of fact before he left, ah, Mexico, ah, that he asked that, ah, everyone give their name, their first of kin, or someone to be notified in case of their death. And, ah, when people have to do that in his, ah, guerrilla organization, ah, everything became very serious. And, ah, so we would, ah, before we would go, before we went on our first patrol and anyone who would join us after, we would always, ah, asked, who, who should be notified in case of their death. And this would make it very serious to the person.
The Panthers often quoted the law. Could you talk about the importance of law, you had spoke to the Panthers. Was it tactical or was there a philosophical agreement? What were some of the books that you read and what was the some of the texts that you read?
Well, while I was at Oakland City College I took a law enforcement course and, ah, ah, it was _Criminal Evidence_ by Alarcon and Fricke, in, ah, Criminal Law. And this was the, the textbooks used by the, ah, local law enforcement agencies. And, ah, that, ah, in criminal evidence there was a reasonable, there was a section inside of the book on reasonable cause to search and reasonable cause to stop. And, ah, We would, ah, follow the police around and when the police would arrest or detain someone we would read their rights to them. ** Ah, we would stand at a distance where the police couldn't say that we were interfering with their arrest or their detention of the individual. And, ah, make sure that there was no brutality. Of course this, this turned, ah, the wrath of the police on, ah, towards the Party. And, ah, if they arrested anyone we would, ah, in some cases we would go down to bail them out. Ah, thereby getting a new recruit in our organization.
OK, Denzil Dowell was shot down in North Richmond in April of 1967, supposedly under some sort of fugitive or intent to commit a crime or act or whatever. How was this death, the backdrop to the May '67 visit to the Sacramento State House?
Ah, there was a lot of California law and I think it still exists, if, ah, if there's reasonable cause to believe that a felony is being committed and if the, ah, if the defendant flees, it's the right of the police to sh- ah, to detain him in any, to capture him in any, ah, with any means necessary. And, ah, that's including shooting the person. Denzil Dowell was accused of tampering with the lock in the back of a store. And, ah, he was shot in the back with a shotgun, ah, in Richmond. And, ah, ah, there was some question whether he was trying to, whether he was walking through the alley or whether he was actually, ah, trying to break into the store. Ah, we, ah, protested his murder and, ah, we went to the, ah, D.A.'s office and the Sheriff's Department. And the Sheriff told us if we didn't like the law of detaining or, or capturing a felon or suspected-
Again the death of Denzil Dowell in North Richmond became a motivating reason to go to Sacramento. Could you just talk about that.
Yeah, ah, Denzil Dowell was killed there, ah, in Richmond, ah, by the police and, ah, for allegedly, ah, ah, tampering with the lock in the back of a store. And, ah, that, ah, we talked to the District Attorney about his being shot in the back. And we talked to the Sheriff and, ah, they both claimed that there was a justifiable shooting because if, ah, anyone is suspected of a felony and he tries to flee then, ah, he could be, ah, detained or captured, ah, ah, apprehended anyway--by any means necessary including, ah, murdering the person. And, ah, if we, the Sheriffs told us if we wanted those laws changed we could go to Sacramento to, ah, change the law. And, ah, that was, ah, that's, we said that we would go to Sacramento and talk to the legislature.
Why were the draft riots in October of' 67, why were they significant in terms of the changing approach of the White left? What are some of your personal memories of the draft riots?
Ah, I went to, ah, a, ah, to the Oakland Induction Center where there was a march going on. And, ah, against the, the recruiting of, ah, of, ah, soldiers for Vietnam. And the police moved in, and, started to beat the demonstrators. And I heard some of the, ah, the White progressives say that, ah, ah, we need guns. And of course we had concluded that before, we weren't armed at this particular meeting. As a matter of fact, ah, I think it was only Bobby and I who went down. Ah, this was shortly after the Party was created. And, ah, ah, matter of fact, after that event that we had a closer relationship with the White progressives in the area. At that time we called them White radicals.
What happened that night in October of 1967, the night you were shot, Officer Frey was killed and you were arrested? Can you just talk us through that?
Ah, ah, we had, I had been to a party meeting and, ah, we, ah, after the meeting broke up I went down in 7th Street which is, was a all night spot for, ah, food and, ah, ah, as I, ah, drove down that, ah, I noticed the police following me. And the, ah, finally the police stopped me on 7th and, ah, I think, ah, 7th and Willow. And, ah, the police came up, came around to my car and, ah, there was a back-up, so there were two police cars and so the police see, I don't know whether if he followed me because, ah, he had discovered who I was but, ah, he asked my name. I gave him my name. And he told me to get out of the car. Ah, I asked him, I asked the police, "Was there any reasonable cause to stop me?" And he just said, "Get out of the-", he just repeated, "Get out of the car." As I got out of my car, that, ah, I took my book with me. There was a passenger, ah, who also was a party member, ah, riding in the car also. And, ah, as I started to walk, the police then told me to walk back to his car. And as I walked back to the car, ah, I turned around and started to read the, ah, reasonable cause to stop law from my law book, Alarcon and Fricke and, ah, the police then, ah, ah, told me that, ah, well, he had it, he had every right to stop me. And, ah, to go to the car and I continued to read and he pulled his revolver and shot me. Ah, I was wounded in the stomach. And, ah, ah, there was a lot of gunfire. I was, ah, when I was shot I became unconscious. Ah, ah, there was many people on the street at the time. Ah, the police officer, one police officer was killed. Ah, he was, ah, it was finally concluded that, ah, by my attorneys anyway that he was killed by a shot from his back. Ah, by the, ah, second police officer. The second police officer was also shot. He was shot about five times and the first police officer about three times. Ah, at the time that I was not armed. Ah, the police officer, the, the, ah, the pathologist discovered that the police was shot by his own weapon.
How did you get to the hospital?
Ah, according to, ah, the police reports I commandeered a car and, ah, kidnapped the, ah, ah, driver in order for him to take me to the hospital. Ah, I don't remember doing this. There was a one Odell Lee, who, ah, no, Ross, his name was Ross, I'm sorry. Ah, who drove me to the hospital, discovered, it was discovered in his latter testimony, he, ah, gave a number of conflicting testimonies, that, ah, ah, I did get into his car and he drove me to the hospital but before I, before I got, before I arrived at the hospital, I, ah, ah, became unconscious.
And then what happened?
Ah, my next recollection was the, or my conscious, ah, ah, was that the, ah, police were beating me on, on the gurney, that I was, that the doctors were preparing me for surgery on. As a matter I became the, ah, one of my hands was, ah, ah, the nerves were gone in, in my left hand the police were spitting on me and so forth. There was a picture taken by some reporters who barged into the emergency room. And the police beat the reporters also. But, ah, one reporter got away with one picture that, ah, showed that I was shackled on the gurney and, ah, while the police said they beat me because I was struggling with them.
OK, um, I'm going to jump ahead a little bit. How did your arrest after, ah, how did your arrest affect the party? Now, they're leader is in prison. And how were you able to communicate while you were in jail?
Well I, ah, when I was arrested, the, ah, I was taken to Kais- Kaiser Hospital. I was transferred from Kaiser Hospital to Highland Hospital. And, ah, ah, as soon as they, this was, ah, October, it was near Christmas time, ah, I became conscious with the, ah, ah, ah, a local disc jockey, ah, ah, dedicating a song, ah, to me. And, ah, the, ah, Beverly Axe- well first it was Beverly Axelrod who arrived, came to the, the attorney was at that time was Eldridge Cleaver's girlfriend, came to the, ah, hospital. Ah, and discussed with me, ah, a, ah, a, ah, support group and a fund raising group in order to defend me. I communicated with the party through the attorneys. Before I went to, ah, before I was held for murder in the first degree, ah, I was shipped to, not to the county jail but to San Quentin, ah, prison and I was put on death row there. And, ah, at the time they said, this is necessary because at the time the, ah, the, ah, county hospital did not have a, a detention center. So, ah, they, as they put me on death row, they, ah, ah, ah, the, ah, a group of police were on either side, three in the front, three in the, in the back and I was on the gurney. And they would, ah, they were chanting, "Dead man. Dead man." Later I found out that this was the usual procedure of any condemned man who is coming off of death row to see his attorney and so forth. Of course I wasn't condemned yet.
But again in terms of the leadership, you talked about the tapes.
Oh, yeah, ah, I, I would communicate by making tapes And, ah the attorneys would, ah, send the tapes to the Party, to the Black Panther Party and the Black Panther Party would then send tapes back to me.
I'm interested in the language, particularly the word pig. Would you talk about, talk about that use of language of the Panthers and where it came from, particularly the term pig. And what was the intention, what was the political intention of calling the police pigs?
Ah, the Black Panther Party felt that we needed to, ah, ah, we need, we needed imagery to, ah, change the consciousness of the people. And, ah, the, ah, ah, the police were disliked** and so forth, so, ah, by the community. So, we, ah, ah, I, I don't know who, it might have been Beverly Axelrod or Eldridge. I don't think it was Bobby, suggested that, ah, that we--
Just a minute. Change here.
Could you talk about the political use of language by the Black Panther Party?
Ah, we started to use the symbol, ah, ah, of a pig to identify the police. Ah, I don't know who first presented the, ah, that symbol. But I knew that, ah, images had to be changed. Ah, I, most of my, ah, young life I was a student. And, ah, I know sociologically that, ah, words, the power of the word, words stigmatize people and, ah, we felt that the police needed a label, ah, a label other than that fear image that they carried in the community. So, ah, we used, ah, the pig as the rather low-lifeded[SIC] animal in order to identify the police. And, ah, it worked** We, ah, the community picked it up and, ah, sort of put the police in another category, a category that, ah, was not respected and, ah, a category that, ah, the community could deal with. And, the, ah, police were very offended by it so, it heightened the contradiction between the community and the police.
OK, and let's continue with this talk about language and the decision not to use certain words.
Ah, during the, ah, the, the, ah, ah, free speech movement led by Mario Savio, ah, it later grew into, ah, it was corrupted into a dirty word movement. Ah, matter of fact in my autobiography, _Revolutionary Suicide_, I made a great mistake of, ah, of, ah, criticizing Savio for this but really he had nothing to do with it. Ah, Eldridge Cleaver was, ah, impressed with the dirty word movement. And, ah, this influenced Bobby Seale. I was always against the use of, ah, ah, dirty words because it didn't recruit anyone while it alienated the other people. Ah, many of the churches across the country allowed us to use their facilities for the Breakfast for Children Program. As a matter of fact at the time we were feeding about 75,000 children a day. And, ah, they, ah, eventually put us out of, they wouldn't let us use their facilities because of, ah, of the profanity. Ah, I think that led into the contradiction that, ah, in the, in the, ah, ah, in the division of the Party, matter of fact. Ah, the, because I was against, ah, the, ah, use of dirty words. Also, this was about '69 and I was also against, ah, ah, I was, I was for getting rid of all the arms and just, ah, concentrate upon building local political institutions. And, ah, and participating in candidates for City Council and so forth. Ah, ah, David Hilliard, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver were for, ah, the profanity and, ah, they were, well, I don't know about Bobby Seale but, ah, I felt that David Hilliard was leaning towards Eldridge Cleaver. Of course the FBI and the, ah, COINTELPRO were aware of the brewing contradiction. Ah, and, ah, they took advantage of this by writing letters, ah, of, a, threatening letters to either party, ah.
How did the media become part of the Panther strategy? How did it help the Panthers in terms of growth but also how did it hurt the Panther Party in terms of its relationship with the Black community?
Ah, the media, ah, first of all the media, ah, initially, ah, publicizes where that, ah, and it causes immediate growth. For, for an example the, ah, they covered Sacramento, ah, they covered, ah, I was escorting Malcolm X widow from the airport, ah, while they, ah, they reported the sensational parts of our movement, ah, they neglected the, ah, the community programs that were, that were really the basis of our whole, ah, organization. They, they, ah, neglected reporting the development of the, ah, of our political, ah, our political, our ability to politicize a community. Ah, also the Party grew much too rapidly, ah, because many of the young people were in, very enthusiastic about the guns and about the berets but, ah, they knew little about the community programs that, that really, ah, that are our reason for existing.**
What possibilities did you see in the merger with the SNCC leadership particularly merging with Carmichael and how did you feel about Carmichael's strong nationalist stance particularly at the February '68 birthday rally, the Free Huey birthday rally?
Ah, well first, I had a lot of respect for Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael, ah, SNCC, ah, carried the national and international support and, ah, ah, I felt that Stokely Carmichael could, ah, and the SNCC organization could better lead the Black Panther Party than even the, ah, ah, ah, the, ah, ah, executives in the Party. Ah, also I thought it would be a good, ah, example set, of Black unity and not, ah, ah, attempting to, ah, to compete for the center stage. Ah, at the, at the time of the birthday party SNCC was in a great transition period. And, ah, we felt that we could sway Carmichael's political stance with out popularity, our popularity throughout the community. So we weren't, ah, too afraid of his, ah, his, ah, posture on separation. We thought that we could, ah, the community would, ah, ameliorate this, ah, particular kind of, ah, rhetoric that he was giving.
And what happened?
Well SNCC never really, they made a gesture to come, to merge with us. But they were very paranoid. They thought that we had a trick up our sleeves. They thought that no organization would give up its leadership to them and they would only come if we would, ah, ah, make that compromise. But at the time I was willing to do that, to make the compromise.
Why did the Panthers take the conscience stand, the conscious stance after the death of Martin Luther King to discourage rebellion in the open community? Can you talk about that?
Ah, after Martin Luther King, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, ah, the, ah, police across the country were prepared and expecting a, a uprising in the community. And we felt that, ah, to protect the community from that kind, from the kind of brutality that, ah, that we anticipated we would ask the community not to, ah, ah, not to have an open rebellion. At the time I was in the county jail awaiting trial for, ah, murder of Oakland police officer and assault and, ah, attempted murder on another. And that I communicated with the Party that we should not have any, ah, rebellion, encourage our chapters across the country to try to, to, ah, ah, ah, to contain the community from, ah, ah, open resistance.
What was the impact of King's death on the birth of the Party?
Ah, people very disillusioned with the possibilities of a peaceful, ah, a peaceful, ah, ah, ah, transformation to, ah, civil rights and equality. And, ah, ah, universally they were, ah, disillusioned then with the Civil Rights Movement. So by the thousands they were joining up with our organizations and organizations very much like ours, ah, ah, like the Republic of New Africa and Revolutionary Action Movement and, ah, many other, ah, ah, Black organizations.
Who was Bobby Hutton and why did his death affect the Party so deeply--
Who was Bobby Hutton and why did his death affect the Party so deeply?
Ah, Bobby Hutton was the, ah, ah, first member of the Black Panther Party. Ah, he was recruited at the North Oakland Service Center in, ah, October '66. He, I believe he was 15 at the time. He was our first recruit and we made him treasurer. And, ah, he was like, ah, ah, my little brother that I'd never had. And, ah, he was like, he was the inspiration of the Party. Because the Party was very youth oriented. And, ah, while he worked at the, ah, ah, North Oakland Service Center we tutored him and politicized him. And, ah, until he was, ah, killed, that, ah, ah, I really couldn't imagine, not really imagine any of our Party members being murdered. Ah, even though, that I knew that that risk took place. Ah, I was in the county jail at the time of his murder. This was the day that Martin Luther, Martin Luther King was assassinated. And, after he was killed then it was like the, it, I felt that anyone in the Party, I felt the Party vulnerable. So he was a, a, very loved as a youth in the Party and as, and as our first member.
How did the food programs and later the survival programs fit within the Panther philosophy? Just talk about their place within the organization.
Well, the, ah, the, ah, food program and the, ah, ah, escorting the elderly to the, ah, ah, to pick up a check so they weren't mugged. Ah, giving care to them, was the basis of our program. Ah, our Ten Point Program, ah, was aimed at, ah, creating institutions in the community that really served the community. And, ah, so these were alternative, alternative institutions, ah, that, ah, served while those institutions that were supposed to, to, ah, answer most of the desires of the people in the community, ah, did not do it. So, ah the food program, ah, the, the, ah, ah, housing program, ah, was to, to answer really, ah, ah, the need of, ah, to, to answer the need for developing community.
How did the Panthers come about the communal lifestyle, the style of the Panthers, the way they lived and they way they dressed and they way they ate, how did they come about that?
Oh, again, that, ah, I was very impressed with the Chinese Revolution and the Cultural Revolution that was going on in China at the time. And, ah, ah, Mao Tse-Tung who was the, ah, Chairman of the Communist Party in China, ah, was experimenting with communal eating and communal living. Ah, this served us well because it was so difficult, housing was so difficult in our community. So we felt if we pooled together that, ah, this would answer that question especially for the core of the party.
Where did you see the Black Panther Party headed by the end of '68? At that point you're in prison, you've been convicted. Seale is under indictment. Cleaver is out of the country. What did you think was going to happen?
Well, again, that I wanted to emphasize the, ah, ah, the, ah, community development aspect of the party. Ah, we were at the time that we were just creating the, ah, ah, we were planning our creation of community school. Ah, we were having busing programs to prisons where we would pick up, ah, ah, community people and take them to the various penal institutions. Ah, I felt that we should turn away from the arms because too much had been made of them. And I thought that, I thought that the arms had served their purpose as far as being a catalyst to, ah, to get, to gain enthusiasm of the community.
What did you think was going to happen? Were you aware that the federal government was on the Panther's tail at that point?
Oh yeah, I was very well aware of that. That was one of, ah, that was one of the reasons that we didn't want the, ah, ah. We were--
I'm sorry. Could you just rephrase that?
All right, all right, all right. Ah, ah, during the period of '68 to '69 the, ah, federal government had declared all out war on the Party. And they were breaking into, ah, headquarters across the, chapters, ah, breaking into chapter headquarters across the country and, ah, filming weapons and saying, "Look they have guns." It was never mentioned that the guns were legal weapons. Ah, they were doing everything to, ah, to, ah, make the community afraid of the Party. And of course you can't organize when people are afraid of you. So we, so I, I, ah, was inclined to try to develop more local politics to run local members for various offices and, ah, develop our Ten Point Program which was housing and food and health program.
I'm just going to go over two questions briefly. Again, could you talk about the impact of King's death on the growth of the party and again how it may have affected New York and eastern sectors more, that growth may have affected those eastern sectors more than it did Oakland.
Ah, when Martin Luther King, when Martin, when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, ah, people were dis- became disillusioned especially the youth, very disillusioned with the old Civil Rights Movement. Ah, they felt that it wouldn't work. That, ah, it was proved that it wouldn't work by, by the assassination of Martin Luther King. And, ah, ah, as a consequence the growth was very heavy in the, ah, especially all over, but even more so, more prominent, in the, ah, on the East Coast. That's probably because conditions on the East Coast, living conditions and survival conditions, ah, were much more, ah, ah, dreadful than even on the West Coast here, where the weather is much better.
The last question again, the use of profanity and let's just stop in '68, what was your position and how did that position differ from Cleaver's position in terms of the use of profanity?
Ah, ah, Eldridge Cleaver was a influenced by the, ah, dirty word movement that grew out of Mario Savio's free speech movement. And, ah, the dirty word movement, ah, ah, I, I didn't feel that in the Black community that it recruited anyone. It alienated people. Ah, for instance in the church, in many churches that, ah, allowed us to, ah, use their facilities for, ah, Breakfast for Children Program, were ousted because of the, the profanity, ah, that was used by Eldridge Cleaver and later Bobby Seale and David Hilliard followed this. They were impressed with it. And, ah, I was against it and, and, matter of fact, that started to brew dissension in the party.
Cut. That's great.
Could, could you, could you talk about Fred Hampton and why he was such an effective leader and his rise within the party.
Ah, Fred Hampton was a very charismatic orator and I think what's even more important that he had early training with the Southern Christian Leadership Council, ah, he was tutored by Jesse Jackson. And, ah, he was on our Central Committee and I saw him becoming a national, international leader. And I, I think that's one of the reasons that he was assassinated.