The Black Panther Party | Curtis Austin | WINGS


Good evening everybody. I’m going to be talking to you tonight about the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The Black Panther Party was started in Oakland California in 1966 and not soon after that spread all across the country. And before its tenure ended it had 42 chapters throughout the United States. But in addition to that, it also spread across the globe. And so there were also panther chapters and affiliates in places like England, and France, and Germany, India, Israel. They’re even affiliates in China. This is an image of the founder Huey Newton meeting with Zhou Enlai the Chinese premier in 1970. So in addition to being a global and national thing, it’s also very local. I wonder how many of you knew that there was a Black Panther Party chapter right here in Portland Oregon. This is the Fred Hampton people’s free health clinic that was on North Russell Avenue back in the 1970s. And in fact, it didn’t close until 1980 when OHSU took over the property. There was a Black Panther Party chapter also in Seattle Washington. That has a free health clinic that started in ’69 and is still operating today. So even though the name of the organization says, has black in it, it had all kinds of supporters. Latinos, Asians, certainly whites, Native Americans and other people. So, we have these two guys Huey Newton and Bobby Seale who decide they are college students that there are these problems in the black community that need to be addressed. And there are quite a few problems, but one of the biggest problems is the brutality and murder that’s going on in the community. As I said the Black Panther Party was started in October of 1966. The 10 months before the organization started seven black people were killed in the Oakland San Francisco Bay area. And they thought that they needed to do something about that. And so what they decided to do was to get cameras and tape recorders and weapons and followed the police. They call them police patrols. And what we see in the one year after the founding of the Black Panther Party organization, rather than seven people being killed zero people are killed in the Bay Area. And there are also zero shootouts. There’s not that much antagonism because what happens is the Black Panther Party follows the police through the community. They see them pull people over. They pull over as well and they stand about 100 feet away. The law in California you said you need to be about 20 feet away, but they would stand about 100 feet away and yell, “Hey, Sister. Hey, brother we’re going to be watching this interaction. So if anything’s happening they were taking pictures and were listening.” Usually, nothing would happen. In fact, I’m saying Usually almost always nothing would happen. Sometimes people would go to jail. But then the Panthers would go and break them out. I say break them out because sometimes they didn’t have the money they would bribe the jailer and they would let them out. So that’s how they started to gain recruits. But they were interested in much more than just defending the community. They organized around something called the Ten Point Platform and Program. And what this did was to show people that there are issues that needed to be addressed and rather than asking the government to address it, the Panthers decided they were going to do that themselves. And so they created employment programs. They created housing programs. They built schools and organized schools as well for people. But they became known of course as people who were well armed and looking to kill white people. All of these black men are just going to get up one day and go kill a bunch of white people or a bunch of black racists and that’s it. And that’s kind of our understanding of the Black Panther Party that it was this organization filled with black men, that just wanted to take over the government and in their spare time they would kill white people. Nothing could be further from the truth. The actual fact of the matter is the Black Panther Party was made up primarily of women. Most of the people in this organization were women. And by 1971 the majority of the leadership of the organization were actually women. And so that’s a myth that you shouldn’t believe if you see it someplace. Go back to that black racism thing. There’s a whole bunch of understanding on the part of laypeople and on the part of my students too, that the parents were these real big racists and I want to prove to you tonight that they were not. Because one of their signature programs was a free breakfast for children program. And what they would do is go to grocery stores in their communities and ask grocery store owners, usually wealthy people, usually white people, if they would donate milk, and bread, and cheese, and meat, and juice, and money. And invariably these grocery store owners would say yes, occasionally they would say no. but usually, they would say yes. And what we see all over the country are a Black Panther Party free breakfast programs pop up. And by 1970 the Black Panther Party was serving 25000 children every day free breakfast. And they were doing this because they had done some research and found it was very difficult to learn if you’re hungry and so they weren’t to get the children food. And it was, again, these well-to-do often wealthy white grocery store owners that actually funded these programs. And so, it is highly unlikely that if the Panthers were actually these really racist people who were looking to kill white folks that they would have funded their signature programs. Another really good example are the Black Panther Party free health clinics also popped up all over the United States. They would go to these clinics. They would go to hospitals and they would speak to the doctors, the nurses, the interns, the graduate students, and say Hey, we’ve got all these health problems in the black community we can’t actually afford to go to a doctor. Would you come and serve these people? And again, they almost always said yes. And so, in dozens of cities throughout the United States, you would see free health clinics pop up, but what you’d see is white people are the folks who are giving the money providing the supplies giving the training for Panthers to do it, and also going into the communities and doing it themselves. And so, it is not likely that they were people who were interested in killing white people and that they were anti-white. So, the question is why is it that we have this impression that’s very negative impression of the Black Panther Party? Why is it that we think these bad things about the Black Panther Party? Well, I submit to you that there was a concerted effort on the part of the federal government to paint this picture of the Black Panther Party and it was led by FBI Director J Edgar Hoover. In 1968. He described the Black Panther Party as the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States. Now there are 200 and 80 million people in the United States and their 4000 panthers. And by 1967, even though I showed you the image with the gun, by 1967 they don’t carry guns anymore because it’s against the law in most states. They quickly pass laws saying can’t do anymore. So, J. Edgar Hoover decided he was going to create a program, it was called the counterintelligence program, that would attack the Black Panther Party. He attacked a lot of other groups too, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The Congress of Racial Equality. Any group that sought to change the status quo, he would attack. But because the Black Panther Party was this anti-racist organization and didn’t see white people as the problem. They got attacked the most. There were 295 COINTELPRO operations, 233 of those were directed at the Black Panther Party. And you can see here on the screen what the kinds of things that they were doing. I have a little old newspaper clipping here just to show you how we found this out. A group of white people decided that they were going to go into the FBI office in Media Pennsylvania and steal some documents. They were sick and tired of their friends and neighbors and family members being drafted and sent off to Vietnam. So they were going to go and steal their paperwork so that they would their number wouldn’t come up. Well, when they got there they found this stuff and when they found that stuff they sent it to the New York Times, The Washington Post, and CBS. And that’s how we found out all this stuff and later on Senator Frank Church from Idaho, they did an investigation and found that yet the FBI has actually been messing with people. And yet sometimes they would just infiltrate a group and cause a little trouble, but other times they would do extreme things like neutralize or kill an individual. I know it’s hard to believe but I have two examples to share with you where that actually happened. In January of 1969 on the campus of UCLA, in Los Angeles, two Black Panther Party members were actually executed. They were there having a discussion about which organizations person was going to become the leader of the new black studies program being founded at UCLA. So you had the US organization on one side which was led by a man named Ron Karenga. He actually created Kwanzaa. And you have the Black Panther Party on the other side. There were disagreements and a government agent actually created a bigger problem and shooting started. And right there in Campbell Hall on the campus of UCLA, Bunchy Carter and John Huggins are kill. Carter was the leader of the L.A. chapter and John Huggins was the minister of information. Now you say well that’s horrible. Well, it is but the two people who pulled the trigger were actually arrested taken to court and charged and send this to very long prison terms. And they were placed in San Quentin prison which is right there in the San Francisco Bay area next to Alcatraz island. Well, in less than a year they became the only two people who have ever escaped from San Quentin. So. Go figure. If you want another example, I think another really good example would be in Chicago Illinois where Mark Clark and Fred Hampton suffer the same fate. Fred Hampton was very persuasive and bringing all types of people together in Chicago. He organized wealthy white people, middle-class white people, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian people, you’ve probably heard of the Rainbow Coalition. Jesse Jackson eventually takes it over in the late 70s and early 1980s, but he creates this rainbow coalition. Well, that was too much for J Edgar Hoover and the government and so they’ve had to do something about it. And on December 4th about 4:30 in the morning, 1969, the police government agents people from the state’s attorney’s office there in Illinois, burst into Fred Hampton’s apartment and started spraying it with bullets. They wound up wounding about eight people, and we know this from the trial transcripts that takes place a little bit later, they sequester everybody in the kitchen. And these people testified in trial that they hear people in the back room where Fred is saying, Is he dead? Is he going to make it? Is he still breathing? And later, about three seconds later, they hear two shots from a .45 automatic pistol, and they hear one person say he’s good and dead now. And that was the end of Fred Hampton. He’s executed right there on the spot. Now in 1983 his family and Mark Clark’s family were given two million dollars. But that doesn’t bring it back. I mean they were able to achieve their goals, and you can see in this image that they were quite happy with their accomplishments. So, this is the reason we see so much negativity around the Black Panther Party, because they were making very serious inroads into getting people not to think about race but to think about humanity. And it didn’t stop in the 1960s and 1970s it’s still going on today. The founder, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Black Lives Matter movement. The founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse Cullors, has been labeled terrorists by people in the government and media pundits. And she is harassed to no end. And of course, all she’s done is shed light on what’s happening in black communities across this country. She hasn’t been violent really hasn’t even using the curse words but now she’s being called a terrorist. And so, you can see how these kinds of ideas get spread in the media and we don’t have to go that far afield. I myself have been labeled, mislabeled as you’d say, by my own because of my own research because of my perceived affiliation with the Black Panther Party. Now the Black Panther Party actually went out of business by the time I was in the first grade, so I don’t know how I had anything to do with it. But it did. But, I have been detained about 26 times since this book came out. Typically, I get pulled over on the highway and a cop always ask me you know why I stopped you and I said yeah, I do know. Of course, I never say why. But I do know. And nothing ever happens they just let me go it’s a kind of harassment. Probably the worse harassment I experienced was back in 2007 when I was going through an airport in Jackson Mississippi. And I’m on the plane, I get called off the plane, I get brought back to where I check my bags and then they say is this your bag. I say yep. Are these your books. I said Yeah. This is a copy of the cover of my book. And he says well when we have a gun problem we have to call the FBI. A gun problem! What is the problem? These are actually members of the Seattle chapter on the steps of Olympia Washington, the Capitol in Olympia Washington. But that’s a gun problem. So, the FBI shows up questions me for four hours. I was actually, now, I have to defend them a little bit because I had a suitcase full of these. 26 of them, no clothes, no toiletries. I had a one-way ticket to Iowa. [laughing] I just bought this car on eBay and I was going to pick up my car and I had a book signing and ran out of books, and I was going to bring these books back to the people who gave me money to bring them back, but they didn’t see it that way. So, I got the chance meet my first FBI agent. But, after this I get back to work. I come to find out that I’ve been labeled a felon. So, I call the airport and say hey I committed the crime, they said well we don’t know what you’re talking about. I call the U.S. attorney’s office. I do. They don’t know why I’m a felon but they can look in their system and see I am. They said you need to call airport police. I call airport police they say we don’t know but you are, you need to call the U.S. attorney’s office. I call the U.S. attorney’s offices, they said yep says you’re a felon right here. But we don’t know where you committed this crime. You know, what court convicted you, but you are a felon. And so, it took me almost three years, about two and a half years, to get this mark removed from my record. So, these are the ways that people with influence and power and means can spread ideas that are not necessarily true. I’m certainly not a felon. Six times since this happened, I’ve had a background check and I’ve always been hired and always been allowed to do whatever I want to do. So, I’m pretty sure the University of Oregon wouldn’t have hired me if I was a felon. I’d like to hope they wouldn’t have anyway. So, my question for you. Are things getting better today? Are they getting better? [audience answers question] Well, I hear you. I hear you. But, I would, I would like to think that just because our TVs, and our cell phones, and our Twitter, feeds focus on things that keep us uptight does it mean other good stuff is not going on. There are positive things happening in this country. There are positive things happening in this state. And in fact, there are very positive things happening at the University of Oregon. So, I would submit to you that things are in fact getting better. For example, 90 miles south of here at the University of Oregon, the university has created a black studies program. Many of you probably never would have dreamed that would happen, right. Never would have imagined that would happen. The University of Oregon is hiring more women, more underrepresented people, more black people, they hired me, right. [laughter] I think that’s a positive development. Just a few weeks ago the University of Oregon broke ground on the black cultural center. [applause] So, despite what other people might think and might say and it doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen, good things do happen This black cultural center is being designed not just for black people. It’s being designed for faculty, students, and staff who want to engage with the black experience. And if you look at the history of Oregon, despite what we know about some of the unsavory aspects of its past, there have been a majority of people who would actually have wanted to engage with the black experience and with black people and so I think things are positive. I think that it’s important that we get together and try to make this dictum, this notion that the Panthers tried to pass on that there is actually power in the people. And so, I say to you. Power to the people. Thank you very much.

3 thoughts on “The Black Panther Party | Curtis Austin | WINGS

  1. I find it interesting that, as a UO event, there is no mention by this speaker of the rather well document history of the Black Panther Party at UO. I certainly remember them, buying copies of their newspaper in the EMU periodically and having my picture taken by one of the party's female reps on the balcony overlooking the Free Speech Platform. Just need to go into the archives of ODE for the late 60s-early 70s. No mention of Tommy Lee and Howard Anderson and BPP's Eugene Chapter. For an Oregon audience, I think the good speaker would really attracted interest by a more locally focused presentation..if nothing else that picture of Tommy Anderson at the EMU Free Speech podium with a rather large crowd with Howard, or her uniformed BBP chapter members and a who's who of white UO campus radicals behind him. It's part of UO history, too.

  2. Austin gave us another 90 minute talk in spring, 2019 I videod it on my wall, and its available for broadcast

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