Rep. John Lewis (second from right), with activist Roy Wilkins of the NAACP (left), the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and labor leader A. Philip Randolph
Rep. John Lewis (second from right), with activist Roy Wilkins of the NAACP (left), the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and labor leader A. Philip Randolph

It was 1972 as Black Panther Party founder and chairman Bobby Seale sat in a courtroom, dressed in his best available suit, awaiting to hear the fate of his freedom, now resting in someone else’s hand.

He had been convicted in 1969 in Chicago for conspiracy to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention as part of an antiwar activist group known as the “Chicago 8.”

Gagged and shackled to his chair following outbursts in court about his constitutional right to choose his counsel, Seale finally endured his last trial, which lasted for six months and resulted in a hung jury.

Now in 2018, Seale, still an advocate for civil rights and social change, continues to speak out concerning his involvement with the Black Panther Party and proper political activism at varied forums and universities.

Bobby Seale

Washington Informer: Hello, is this the great Bobby Seale?

Bobby Seale: Who told you that?

WI: Ha, well you are, but just a little icebreaker before we get started. Thank you so much for doing this interview.

BS: Ha, not a problem. The pleasure is mine.

WI: Fantastic. Before we get to the list of questions I’ve prepared, I have to ask: How does it feel to be Bobby Seale, the creator of such a big movement — a legacy, that in some ways, led to the election of President Obama?

BS: Well, I have to say that I don’t really look at it like that. People call me an icon, but I was just trying to mobilize my people. To help us against some of the police brutality we were facing in Oakland, California, and to get more Black people assuming roles in political office.

See, people got it all wrong. Even to this day from all sides of the glass, people still think I was this thug or violent guy. Man, when I enrolled into Merritt College around 1960, I wanted to be an engineer.

I was born in Liberty, Texas, and moved to California when I was 8. I served in the U.S. Air Force for three years, I was a part of the government’s Gemini Missile program, which was huge, and I worked in every major aircraft plant and aircraft corporation. I was a top-flight sheet-metal mechanic, OK? Then came Merritt College, where I met Huey P. Newton. And furthermore, for the record, despite popular belief, Huey did not come up with the idea of the Black Panther Party. That was me. I was the chairman and he was originally minister of defense, which speaks for itself.

WI: Amazing. So what’s your take on current social movements like Black Lives Matters and do you see any similar principles being used from your time to now?

BS: Well, I think Black Lives Matter is a wonderful idea and I love the Women’s March, but I think for BLM to really work, to really be considered a movement, there needs to be, in some ways, less social media and more mobilization into training and getting people into political offices. In 1966, Huey and I created the Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program, because we knew we had to do more than just march around. There needed to be policy and action behind it and I do see that BLM has incorporated some of our points into their own plans, which is good — but it’s not enough.

WI: Do you believe this country needs another Black Panther Party movement?

BS: No. We need to run for office. We got this idiot in the White House, who I hope they impeach, and we need to start running more for different political offices. That’s where the change comes from.

WI: Interesting point. Well you’ve certainly inspired a lot of people over your lifetime despite your hesitancy to embrace it. But who would you say inspired you?

BS: Definitely Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a real brother. He meant what he said. He was passionate and he was sincere. Whenever I heard him speak, I was moved.

And as a matter of fact, a lot of people don’t know this, but right before he was assassinated, he and I actually had a meeting where he was going to join the Black Panther Party. He wanted to help, he wanted to make change. We all did.

WI: Wow, that’s very interesting. Mr. Seale, thank you so much for this interview.

BS: The pleasure was all mine. Make sure you send me some copies of that paper.

Lauren M. Poteat

Lauren Poteat is a versatile writer with a strong background in communications and media experience with an additional background in education and development.

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