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A Legacy of Activism

Behind Fury, Black Panthers
Laid Course for Social Programs

WILLIAM BRAND & CECILY BURT / Oakland Tribune 8oct2006

[More on the Black Panthers]

 

Bobby Seale, left, and Huey Newton, co-founders of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. (1967 AP file photo) -- A Legacy of Activism: Behind Fury, Black Panthers Laid Course for Social Programs WILLIAM BRAND & CECILY BURT / Oakland Tribune 8oct2006

Bobby Seale, left, and Huey Newton, co-founders of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. (1967 AP file photo)

OAKLAND - One warm spring day in 1967, two dozen young men and women - mostly from Oakland, clad in black leather jackets and black berets and carrying loaded pistols, shotguns and assault rifles - barged into the California State Assembly chamber in Sacramento and onto television screens and newspaper front pages around the world. Black people with guns!

In a heartbeat, the Black Panther Party became the most famous radical group in 20th century America's most radical time. The founders, Bobby Seale, 30, and Huey P. Newton, 25, furnished fiery rhetoric to match the image, accusing the government of brutalizing poor black communities and claiming the right to arm themselves in self-defense.

Back in Oakland, there was another reality.

Seven months earlier, Newton and Seale had scratched out a 10-point manifesto that would become their guiding principles.

It was filled with revolutionary demands reflecting the tumultuous political climate of the Civil Rights movement in the South, the nascent black power movement and the anti-Vietnam War protests sweeping the country.

"We want Freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our black community," Seale and Newton demanded in point No. 1.

They also listed demands that seemed elusive in 1960s black communities: full employment, decent housing, land, bread, education and peace.

Their 10-point program crafted 40 years ago this month struck a chord in the Bay Area's black community and among citizens everywhere, who saw the yawning gap between the black and white worlds, between poor and rich.

Mindfully.org note:
Read about what Hoover and the FBI did to the Panthers. He is quoted as stating at the time that the Panthers were the "the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States." The comment was not because they carried guns, but because they fed young black children and gave them an education.

Also see:

War Against The Panthers:
A Study Of Repression In America
 

HUEY P. NEWTON / Doctoral Dissertation / UC Santa Cruz 1jun1980

Black Panther Party: Affidavit #1: I Am 33 Years Old
ELDRIDGE CLEAVER 19apr1968 

To My People
ASSATA SHAKUR 4jul1973

So while the Black Panther leadership grabbed headlines and drew fire from the white establishment, the police and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, its rank-and-file members and thousands of volunteers quietly laid the groundwork for social programs that have become national standards today. They provided nutritious breakfasts for school children who usually went to school hungry, groceries for poor families, free medical care, after-school and summer-school programs teaching black history.

The breakfast program was the idea of Seale, who had grown up in West Oakland helping his father at his successful carpentry shop. He enlisted Father Earl Neil of St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in West Oakland and parishioner Ruth Beckford to help.

Beckford, now 80, a well-known Afro-Haitian dance instructor, signed on. She said she was criticized by some who disagreed with the group's militant tactics, but she was not deterred. "I said, 'Well, I'm not a Black Panther Party member, but I believe in the breakfast program, so that's what I'm going to do.'"

The idea of a free medical clinic and testing for sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder that affects one in 400 African-Americans and people of Mediterranean origin, was also a groundbreaking idea of the Black Panthers.

At Seale's urging, Tolbert Small, an Oakland doctor, started the first widespread testing for sickle cell disease. Eventually all 11 Panther clinics and 49 Panther chapters throughout the country offered free screening, raising the medical community's awareness of the little-known disease. The Panthers' political lobbying led to passage of the Sickle Cell Act and President Richard Nixon's mention of sickle cell disease for the first time in a State of the Union address.

For all those efforts, police on the West Oakland beat saw a darker side of the Panthers.

"I worked West Oakland when the Panthers were doing their extortions, following the police and shooting cops," said retired officer Bill Gillespie. "I spoke with the merchants after the throngs of Panthers would request 'donations' from Seventh Street merchants who were hardly getting by."

"I remember the owner of one business in tears. He was ashamed. He gave them $100 because he was scared to death. They would come in, 10 or 12 of them in their black leather jackets. They called it a community tax," Gillespie said. "I don't think much of that money went to those programs."

Efforts such as the breakfast program were positive, Gillespie said. But different people were running that, he noted.

The history of violence often overshadowed the good works. For example, the 1967 arrest of Newton for the murder of Oakland police officer John Frey during an Oakland shootout in which Newton and another officer were wounded; and the 1968 shooting death of Bobby Hutton, 17, the party's first recruit, in a shootout with Oakland police.

Newton's trial made him an international cause celebre and the relatively small, tight-knit organization was suddenly flooded with new members. He was acquitted of murder, and his manslaughter conviction was later overturned.

The party's ranks swelled to 5,000 in chapters across the country after the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. But by the end of 1969, 28 party members had been killed and the FBI through its COINTELPRO operations had infiltrated the party in an effort to discredit it and turn the leaders against each other, Seale said.

"I had 28 dead party members. There were 14 dead policemen 12 of them we can attribute to the Panthers," Seale said. Seale himself wound up in jail in Berkeley on a weapons charge after a police raid. He also served two years in prison after a conspiracy conviction for events connected to the disruption of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.

"The problem was what the establishment press tended to call 'militancy.' It was distortions planted by the FBI that said things like we hated all white people and that we were trying to invade the white community and shoot and kill white people," he said. "That was not true."

"I truly believe in democracy, real power to the people, and I believe in human equality to all people, white, black, brown," Seale said. "When I said things like 'the bullet or the ballot,' I preferred the ballot."

The Panthers registered thousands of black voters across the country. When the party formed, there were fewer than 100 African-Americans in elected office. By the 1990s, more than 12,000 blacks had been elected, and also many women, Seale said. In Oakland, their efforts helped elect the city's first black mayor, Lionel Wilson.

"This is what my revolution was all about, putting (control) back into the hands of the people," Seale said.

Stanford University professor Clayborne Carson, editor of the Martin Luther King Jr. papers, compares the Panthers to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the group famous for its voting rights drive in the rural South. "The Black Panther Party's main accomplishment was to set a new tone in the urban north, in terms of the black community and its goals," he said.

"They were young people who were idealistic, who were willing to put their lives on the line to make the world better. I think they made a lot of mistakes, like a lot of young people.

"They raised a number of issues that are still with us police brutality, the need for institutions that serve the needs of the black community."

Indeed, that first headline-grabbing action in Sacramento was a protest over a gun-control bill, as well as the shooting death by a sheriff's deputy of a young black North Richmond man. Although he was shot in the back, it was ruled "a justifiable homicide."

Southern Mississippi University assistant history professor Curtis J. Austin, author of a new book on the Panthers, "Up Against the Wall: Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party," said the members saw themselves as revolutionaries.

"They had the guns. They had the rhetoric and they were on the ground floor of social change. It was shocking," Austin said. "White society in general was used to dominating black society. Here, you had these people saying, 'No. You're not going to do that.'"

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, a student at Mills College at the time, was typical of the people drawn to the Panthers. "They were committed to changing the system that gave rise to racism and oppression," said Lee, who volunteered in the Panthers' community learning center and worked on Seale's mayoral campaign.

"For me, their 10 points are still very relevant today. When they went to Sacramento, it was a testament to their commitment to social and economic justice."

However, in the early 1970s the Black Panther Party was dissolving into chaos because of dissension among the leadership. Eldridge Cleaver, the party's minister of information, and his wife, Kathleen, had fled to Cuba. There were only about 200 members left at that point, although the party hung on for another few years.

"My hope was to kill the party," Seale said about his 1974 resignation. "My friend Huey, who had done all this positive stuff in the past, had degenerated and was a drug abuser. The party was over when I left. The dynamic, organizing Black Panther Party was over. It would never happen again."

Newton met his death outside a crack house on a West Oakland street in 1989, shot in the head, police said, over a drug deal.

As he prepares for 40th anniversary events this week, Seale says there are many things to be proud of: the breakfast program, sickle cell testing, registering people to vote, feeding the poor, and those efforts can be credited to the rank and file, he said.

"They did all the hard work. They are my heroes," Seale said. "I love them."

"History will say this," professor Austin believes: "This was probably the most profound movement of black people pushing for liberation in the 20th century, important not because of their rhetoric, but for trying to include all people, Native American people, Asians. It was in reality an inclusive fight.

"They accepted anybody who wanted a revolution." Adds Clayborne Carson: "Despite all the mistakes they made, I wish there was a Black Panther Party here today working for the kinds of changes those young people were working for 40 years ago."

source: http://www.insidebayarea.com/oaklandtribune/ci_4460221 8oct2006


Decades on, former Panther members still helping

First female member recalls organization's beginning, end

CECILY BURT / Oakland Tribune 8oct2006

 

OAKLAND To hear Tarika Lewis speak, or to watch her play the violin, one might have a hard time reconciling the image with the militantly idealistic young high school student who marched into the Black Panther Party headquarters in 1967 and asked to sign up. But those were the times of very public, often-violent struggles for civil rights and free speech. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. Large anti-war demonstrations spontaneously broke out. Signs of rebellion sprung everywhere.

Lewis was only 13 when the first free-speech and anti-war demonstrations were staged at the University of California, Berkeley.

"We would go down to the old Merritt College campus and go to the forums there and listen to people who had just come back from Vietnam or from the South," she said.

Lewis met Black Panther Party co-founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale at Merritt College, and she later would run into them at a community center nearby where she tutored kids in math and English. It was impossible not to be moved by Newton and Seale's call for an end to police brutality and racial injustices against African-American citizens.

She was the Black Panther's first female member.

"My parents, they hit the roof when I joined the party," Lewis said. "They did not want me to be in any type of organization. I was supposed to go to the University of Phoenix. I should have listened to them.

"But half the stuff I know now, I didn't learn in school, especially African history and world history and United States history," she said. Lewis was raised by her parents in North Oakland and surrounded by successful family members. She was expected to study hard, practice her instrument, go to church, join the Girl Scouts, respect others and help people in need.

"When the student nonviolent movement began down South, we started to hear about it, but to me it was a far-off land. We didn't experience it, and I was shielded from it. We were being prepared to be writers, musicians, to go to college. That was the agenda; don't worry about what's going on down South, or even in Vietnam. Our job was to focus on our schoolwork, arts, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts."

A couple of things happened, though, to open her eyes. In 1963 the Rev. Bob Olmstead, pastor of her church, announced he was traveling to the South to march with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"I remember everybody was getting killed and we were all crying because we thought we were going to lose him," Lewis said. "Rev. Olmstead was instrumental in letting us know you couldn't sit back, that you have to do something to make it better, so we were already engaged with doing things at the church, working with children who were physically and mentally disabled ... we would do things for the senior citizens and cook and clean up."

Another pivotal moment was when Lewis witnessed two adults one a police officer beating and kicking a black boy at Playland at the Beach in San Francisco.

"We were hearing about Rodney King-sort of incidents nearly every day. Me and my fellow classmates were scared the world was going to come to an end because of the war, the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy brothers being murdered," she said. "People were building bomb shelters in their basements, so we really felt we needed to be part of something to protect our neighborhood."

According to a statement by Elbert "Big Man" Howard, the Panther's deputy minister of information, most of the new recruits and volunteers were young, like Lewis. He credits such rank-and-file members for carrying out the workload that made many of the party's mandates and programs successful, such as collecting food donations, preparing meals for students, working in schools and clinics and selling the party's newspaper.

As Lewis recalls, the leaders were concerned with legal issues, speaking engagements and "getting the information out and bringing attention to issues," while the younger members came up with ideas to serve the community.

"Free breakfasts became a program in Oakland public schools, and our grocery distribution was actually the inspiration for the food bank," she said. "We begged food. We asked Safeway, they were reluctant at first but they did it. They were going to throw (expired) food away so we said we'll take it and use it right away. That became food for our breakfast program.

"We really didn't realize until we started to visit seniors that there was such a hunger problem," she said. "That was shocking. We didn't realize there were so many people that were going without food. They didn't have food stamps then."

Lewis said she spent most of her time in the office answering phones, preparing food or soliciting food donations from grocery stores. She helped type stories for the party newspaper, but did not go out on armed patrols.

Newton was very respectful to her and other female members, but things changed when he went to jail and a flood of new people joined. The fighting and struggles within the party and pressures from the outside escalated, with the killing and arrests of party members. It ended up a very scary place to be, she said, although at the time she did not know that much of the disruption was caused by people sent by the FBI to infiltrate the organization.

"I don't want to offend anybody, but if they had set a better example, the party would still be alive right now," Lewis said.

After John Huggins and Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter were murdered on the UCLA campus in early 1969, she'd had enough and left the organization. Lewis returned to school and to her former loves her music and art. She plays violin professionally and tours with jazz great John Handy. She also teaches an art class for abused women at the Healthy Babies Project, which was founded by another former Panther member.

"I feel there are still people in the party who continue the works," she said. "The women who run the Healthy Babies project were in the party at the time. ... There are a lot of people who are working in health care, in the legal field or in the schools. There were helpers then and there are helpers now.

"In hindsight, wow, we were really trying to change things and make things better, and change things that were really wrong."

source: http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_4444544 8oct2006


The struggle wasn't just black and white

Asian-Americans dubbed 'Yellow Panthers' helped form militant group

MOMO CHANG / Oakland Tribune 8oct2006

 

Richard Aoki is arrested at Telegraph entrance to the University of Berkeley. (1969 Oakland Tribune File Photo) -- A Legacy of Activism: Behind Fury, Black Panthers Laid Course for Social Programs WILLIAM BRAND & CECILY BURT / Oakland Tribune 8oct2006

Richard Aoki is arrested at Telegraph entrance to the University of Berkeley. (1969 Oakland Tribune File Photo)

Richard Aoki remained incognito to the world outside the Black Panther Party until the early 1990s, when he came out as a charter member of the revolutionary group that was birthed in West Oakland. "It was a closely guarded secret," said Aoki, one of six Asian Americans among the 5,000 official members of the Black Panther Party.

But at memorial services for party co-founder Huey Newton, who was killed on Aug. 22, 1989, Aoki attended in full Panther uniform: a black beret, black leather jacket and shades.

"What makes him a person of historical significance is his leadership in the struggle for social justice," said Diane Fujino, professor of Asian American studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and co-writer of Aoki's forthcoming biography.

In the years following Newton's funeral, more stories appeared about the "Yellow Panther" and the pivotal role he played in the development of the Black Panthers, though little has been published about who he is.

Born in San Leandro, Aoki was not yet 4 years old when the United States entered World War II. His family was forced, along with 120,000 other Japanese and Japanese Americans, to relocate to "concentration" camps.

After the war, Aoki, his father and grandparents resettled in West Oakland. The neighborhood once populated with families of Japanese, Italian, Polish and Greek descent had turned into a predominantly black ghetto, where many had migrated from Southern states for defense jobs.

Aoki said the community was a tight-knit one, and he knew of the Newton, Seale and Hilliard families early on. But it wasn't until he attended Merritt College that he became close friends with Newton, a pre-law major, and Bobby Seale, another party co-founder.

Aoki transferred to the University of California, Berkeley in 1966, but didn't lose touch with his West Oakland friends. The month he transferred, Seale and Newton founded the revolutionary organization, in October 1966.

"Bobby and Huey came up with this program, the 10-point program, and they ran it by me," said Aoki, who was heavily involved in Marxist-Leninist ideology by then.

"I was one of the first to join (the Black Panther Party)," he added. Aoki also started a Berkeley chapter and recruited new members, including two other Asian Americans.

He said it was partly his upbringing in the mostly black, post-World War II West Oakland neighborhood that tied him to the black community. He had arrived at the notion that a revolutionary, black nationalist group was the path to liberation, he said.

Aoki joined the U.S. Army for eight years, serving as a medic and later in the infantry, where he was trained as an expert in small arms and sharpshooting. He was honorably discharged after he became adamantly opposed to the Vietnam War, but managed to utilize his military skills in the Black Panther Party. He became a party field marshal in 1968.

In fact, lore has it that Aoki provided the party with its first guns and trained members as part of a program to patrol the police in Oakland, "which, at that time, was running roughshod over the people in the community," he said.

Aoki said he provided them with small rifles, pistols and shotguns.

He also provided them a different type of arms political education. Newton, Seale and Aoki often discussed political ideology, including communist leader Mao Tse-tung's "little red book."

The year Aoki was appointed the party's field marshal was the same that UC Berkeley and San Francisco State students became embroiled in the tumultuous Third World student strikes.

It was also the same year that, in the mainstream media, Asians were pitted against blacks as the "model minority," said Fujino, who wrote "Heartbeat of Struggle" documenting another revolutionary, Yuri Kochiyama.

Aoki became a spokesperson for the Asian American Political Alliance, which supported the Black Panther Party and was the first known pan-Asian political organizations in the nation. The group was anti-war and supported a Third World College and Ethnic Studies program.

To this day, Aoki remains solidly supportive of the Panthers and keeps in touch with members of the organization.

"The Black Panther Party not only talked the talk, but walked the walk," he said, adding that during the years the party was active, crime declined in Oakland.

Aoki became one of the first coordinators of the Asian American studies program at UC Berkeley, and was there for three years. He spent the next 25 years as an instructor, counselor and administrator in the Peralta Colleges.

Though Aoki, now 67, has been plagued by ill health recently, he has spoken out for some causes publicly.

This summer, when Bob Watada, father of the first Army lieutenant to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq, visited the area, Aoki spoke in support of the younger Watada at a meeting in Berkeley.

"I managed to get one political blow in despite my disability," he said.

source: http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_4444543 8oct2006


No Small contribution - doctor helped community

Physician helped open Panthers' first free clinic,
focusing on sickle cell anemia for research

CECILY BURT / Oakland Tribune 8oct2006

[More on the Black Panthers]

 

Dr Tolbert Small was a volunteer physician at he Black Panther Party's George Jackson Medical Clinic and one of the founders of the BPP's Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation. He continues his efforts to provide medical care for the low income community through his Harriet Tubman Medial Clinic in East Oakland. Read Dr. Small's speech to the 16 April 2005 Li 'l Bobby Hutton Day celebration at the West Oakland Public Library. Photo by Paul Goettlich

Dr Tolbert Small was a volunteer physician at he Black Panther Party's George Jackson Medical Clinic and one of the founders of the BPP's Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation. He continues his efforts to provide medical care for the low income community through his Harriet Tubman Medial Clinic in East Oakland. Read Dr. Small's speech to the 16 April 2005 Li 'l Bobby Hutton Day celebration at the West Oakland Public Library. 

Photo by Paul Goettlich

OAKLAND After Tolbert Small graduated from Wayne State University medical college in Detroit, he headed West in 1968 to serve an internship at Highland Hospital in Oakland. Not long after that he swung by the Black Panther Party headquarters on Grove Street in West Oakland to offer his medical services.

sAt Bobby Seale's urging, he helped open the Black Panthers' first free health clinic on Adeline Street in Berkeley, where he worked three days a week, recruited doctors and volunteers, and somehow convinced those who could to provide lab tests, medicines and equipment.

The clinics offered free testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and an optometrist made glasses for free. Eventually 11 Black Panther clinics around the country offered free services to poor black communities.

In 1970, Small became medical director of the party's Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation, where he toiled locally to establish testing stations and lobbied nationally to raise political consciousness about the genetic disease that strikes 1 in 400 blacks. People might assume he was a member of the Black Panther Party, given all the time he spent with them. But Small was like many others who worked behind the scenes to bring to life the torrent of positive ideas that flowed from party leaders to serve the needs of the people, such as free breakfasts for school children, groceries for poor families, senior escorts and free medical care.

Those volunteers might not have believed in everything the organization did, but supported its positive contributions. As Small figures it, almost every charitable organization is "70 percent good, 30 percent bad."

Small, now 64, still believes in taking his services to the community. He works daily at the Harriet Tubman Medical Clinic in East Oakland, which he founded with his wife Anola Price Small in 1980.

"I think my politics were formed before my involvement in the Black Panthers Party, but it was because of my beliefs in basic education, health care, humanity, that I got involved. Otherwise I would have been out like most physicians trying to make a buck," he said.

Small got involved even before he came West. In 1961 he "raised hell and high water" when he co-founded the student chapter of the NAACP at the University of Detroit. He helped raise money for Mississippi freedom workers as a member of Friends of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee). He spent a week at the 1964 Democratic Convention trying to get the Democrats to recognize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

In Oakland, Small hooked up with Oakland Direct Action Committee, headed by civil rights activist Mark Comfort, who introduced Bobby Seale and Huey Newton to the Black Panthers emblem used by the Lowndes County Freedom Organization in Alabama.

One day in 1970, Small told his friend Comfort that he planned to offer his medical services to the party.

"I left my phone number with June Hilliard; the next day the FBI called Dr. Nelson (Small's boss at Highland Hospital), and told them I was working for the Black Panthers Party," Small recalled with a smile. "But they called David Nelson, the wrong Dr. Nelson."

His service to the Black Panthers lasted four years. He made house calls on both sides of San Francisco Bay and visited party members imprisoned at San Quentin and Folsom State prisons.

All that while he worked in the West Oakland Medical Center, served as part-time emergency room doctor and ran a drug detox center for Operation Reach.

It was during that time that Seale seized on the need to muster public attention to sickle cell anemia, an excruciatingly painful disease that almost exclusively strikes the black population. Seale and others were outraged by the racial inequities between funding and testing for sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis.

In 1967, volunteer organizations had raised $1.9 million for cystic fibrosis research, a primarily white disease that strikes 1 in 2,940 people, compared to less than $50,000 for sickle cell anemia, a primarily black disease that strikes 1 in 400 people.

"There were no national sickle cell organizations," Small said. "Basically, for 100 years after the Civil War, every African-American disease was neglected."

Dr. Elliott Vichinksy, director of hematology and oncology at the California Sickle Cell Center at Children's Hospital and Research Center, Oakland, said strides made over the past four decades to identify, treat and fund research on sickle cell disease would not have happened if not for the efforts of a few doctors such as Small and the foresight of the Black Panthers to select it as one of its platforms.

"The thing I admire most about Dr. Small, throughout his life he remained an advocate, and he absorbed all the most difficult sickle cell patients with almost no reimbursement," Vichinsky said. "I could never get another doctor to show that kind of commitment. He's a tremendous role model."

source: http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_4444542 8oct2006


Little-known program shows group's impact

'Community Survival' planted the seed for free,
discounted school breakfasts, lunches

CECILY BURT / Oakland Tribune 8oct2006

[More on the Black Panthers]

 

A student at the Intercommunal Youth Institute. Oakland, 1971. (Stephen Shames/Polaris Images) -- A Legacy of Activism: Behind Fury, Black Panthers Laid Course for Social Programs WILLIAM BRAND & CECILY BURT / Oakland Tribune 8oct2006

These children were enrolled in the Black Panther School in Oakland. (file photo)

OAKLAND Early one Monday morning in January 1969, about a dozen school children sat down to a warm, hearty breakfast in the parish hall at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in West Oakland. By Friday, those numbers had swelled to 135 hungry youngsters. The free breakfasts were among the first of the Black Panther Party's "Community Survival" programs to take root, starting modestly in the basement of St. Augustine's and eventually spreading to all party chapters nationwide.

Today, millions of school children receive a free or reduced-price lunch or breakfast in schools as a result of those early efforts.

But it would be a mistake to overlook the contributions of volunteers such as Bay Area dance legend Ruth Beckford and St. Augustine's Father Earl A. Neil, as well as others who toiled behind the scenes.

It was a dangerous time. Huey Newton was in jail, accused of murdering Oakland police officer John Frey. Bobby Hutton, the party's first recruit, had been killed; and Eldridge Cleaver was wound-ed in a shootout with Oakland police. By early 1968, Father Nseil had offered his church to the group as a safer place to hold its meetings. Beckford, who was then a 42-year-old member of the church, remembers later that year Bobby Seale told Neil he wanted to start a free breakfast program so children could go to school with their bellies full, ready to learn.

While Seale took care of raising funds, Beckford found a nutritionist who provided five days' worth of menus for meals that were nutritious, inexpensive and could be prepared in big batches.

Then she rounded up volunteers.

"I went around the corner to Durant Elementary School and asked for help and said I needed mothers who could cook in big batches," Beckford, 80, recalled. "I used to teach Afro-Haitian dance there so I knew them."

"We would get (to the church) at 6:30 in the morning. I would have already shopped to get all the food and we would cook the breakfast, and by 8 o'clock the kids came," she said. "They would eat and get back to school by 8:30 a.m. It was like an assembly line, we got it going. We were so proud of ourselves."

Some mornings they served bacon and eggs, others oatmeal and fruit. On special days, Beckford would go to Neldam's Bakery on Telegraph Avenue, and the kids would each get half a doughnut.

"The principal came in and thanked us because children were coming into class alert and awake and without stomach cramps," she said.

Volunteers, including members of the Black Panther Party, would help serve the children and clean up. The program lasted through the school year, but it wasn't long before Beckford was butting heads with some party members who were coming in telling them what to do.

"We were beginning to get riffraff rather than the kids who believed in the program," she said. "They were using bad language. I told Bobby (Seale) that they had to come in clean and not use bad language because I don't use that language and the mothers don't use that language.

"He tried but they were so arrogant, so the mothers dropped off. I told Bobby they would lose them and they would lose me. They wanted to come in and have the kids recite 'Free Huey' and all that."

The breakfast program at St. Augustine's ended, but by that time the program was being replicated in East Oakland, San Francisco and in other chapters. Beckford admired Seale so much that she sewed blue and black curtains (the Panther colors) for his office at the party's headquarters in West Oakland and filled it with supplies she took from her husband's insurance office. Beckford said she helped because she respected the organization's efforts to combat police brutality and serve the people.

"Other than the free-everybody-out-of-prison and stuff, the philosophy of being intolerant of police brutality made sense to everybody," Beckford said. "The Panthers never got credit for starting breakfasts in the schools, period. That was one great legacy because it was so positive, nobody could hate them for that. (People) could hate them for other things, but not that."

source: http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_4460097 8oct2006


Experiments with education guide ex-Panthers' work '

Private school with political framework' helped instill pride in youth of color

KAMIKA DUNLAP / Oakland Tribune 8oct2006

[More on the Black Panthers]

 

A student at the Intercommunal Youth Institute. Oakland, 1971. (Stephen Shames/Polaris Images) -- A Legacy of Activism: Behind Fury, Black Panthers Laid Course for Social Programs WILLIAM BRAND & CECILY BURT / Oakland Tribune 8oct2006

A student at the Intercommunal Youth Institute. Oakland, 1971. (Stephen Shames/Polaris Images)

OAKLAND They were taught to embrace their nappy hair and dark skin. They learned that their Egyptian ancestors were the first to practice mathematics, and that black inventors helped shape American history. These were the students of the Black Panther Liberation Schools, later renamed the Oakland Community School.

The young people were instilled with pride and taught lessons of empowerment to push forward in the struggle for civil rights.

"It was a private school with a political framework," said Majeedah Rahman, who founded the school in 1970. " 'Each one teach one' was our motto."

It aimed to create a learning environment that promoted revolutionary thought, community service and cultural awareness.

The East Oakland school grew from a need to help African-American and other disadvantaged children caught in an unequal public education system that tended to produce better schools in middle-class or affluent neighborhoods than in poor, inner-city areas.

The Oakland Community School also was established to fill the gaps in American textbooks, which had a dearth of information about black history.

"Children need to know who they are," Rahman said. "... And once they do, they can excel at anything."

In the beginning, many Black Panther Party members taught children on weekends at informal gatherings inside stores and homes. The first official school opened on Berkeley's Shattuck Avenue.

Students and staff lived in the school Rahman ran. The tuition-free facility, which enrolled about 60 students, was funded by parents, staff and volunteers, who raised money through various activities including selling Black Panther Party newspapers. The school also received grants from the state Department of Education.

Children came to the program from throughout the country, making up a diverse student body. The majority were African-Americans, followed by Mexicans, some Asians and a small minority of Caucasians.

The students wore uniforms, the same colors as the Panthers' blue and black.

Their daily schedule was one of house chores and meal preparation, as well as class work and independent study.

"The school did quite well, and Panthers who were available in the afternoon came in to do projects with the children," Rahman said.

Rahman said she based some of the school's curriculum on the cultural and educational revolutions in China and Cuba during 1957 to'76. Both countries integrated study and work into the curriculum to meet agricultural and industrial needs.

"We took students to the courtroom to teach them about the criminal justice system and to the grocery store to teach them about nutrition," Rahman said.

As students learned math, reading, writing, science and history, they also developed a strong sense of self-worth and pride, Rahman said.

The program became a type of model for alternative education.

Rahman said for every 10 students there was an instructor. Though only 60 students were enrolled when she ran the program from 1970 to 1971, as many as 800 enrolled at its height during the 1980s.

But in 1985, the school was forced to close when Panthers co-founder Huey Newton was charged by the California Attorney General's Office with grand theft and embezzlement of state money.

Rahman said although she wasn't teaching there anymore when Newton was charged, she was disappointed to see the program fall apart.

But her vision of the party's legacy remains clear.

Today, she is executive director of the Healthy Babies Project. She and five other ex-Panthers started the program in 1988 to help reduce the high infant mortality rate in Oakland.

Working with young people and teaching them life skills to be successful will always be her passion, Rahman said.

"Racism didn't stop once we left the party," she said. "We still have to teach our children how to fight it on another level to stay alive."

source: http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_4460094 8oct2006

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