Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Sunday, February 17, 2019

Black Panther Bobby Seale urges social progress

Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, stressed the importance of making human connections in progressive movements and recalled his experiences with the party in the '60s and '70s last night in the Kay Spiritual Life Center.

"The Black Panther Party was a profoundly progressive organization," Seale said. "We didn't care if you were black, white, blue, red, green, yellow, polka-dot or whatever ... what we were concerned about was where your heart was."

Seale attributed the foundations of the Black Panther Party to progressive student-led action. The founders of the Black Panther Party and those who supported it were all students, Seale said.

A large part of Seale's speech was dedicated to describing resistance the Black Panther Party encountered during the '60s and early '70s.

"Here was the J. Edgar Hoover and Ronald Reagan crowd calling us hoodlums and thugs," Seale said.

He said the FBI "attacked" the party.

"It is documented that J. Edgar Hoover and [then] Governor of California Ronald Reagan were on the phone discussing the past attack on the Chicago office and the upcoming attack on the Los Angeles Black Panther office," Seale said. "They were trying to terrorize us out of existence."

However, the Black Panther Party achieved practical success in the face of persecution, Seale said.

"The Black Panthers got connected with the medical healthcare framework organizations of the United States of America and over a five year period, we had helped to test a million black folks for diseases," he said.

The party's Free Breakfast for School Children Program fed more than 250,000 needy children nationwide between January and April 1969 and inspired the California state legislature to introduce a bill calling for free breakfast for public school students.

"For me, I was truly inspired as a young man and as a young student by learning about my African heritage," said Seale, highlighting the role of academia in developing his need to protest.

Seale discussed how he and Huey Newton, co-founder of the party, attempted to unite black people through educational organizations they founded such as the Black History Fact Group and later the Soul Students Advisory Council.

"If maybe black folks could learn about their history, some sense of organization could form," Seale said.

Seale combined examples of pragmatic social change with his own idealistic views on the future of progressive movements.

"You have to be about the future cause and cooperative humanism," Seale said. "We're going into the future ... now it's about progressiveness and it's about principles and developing better relationships between human beings."

Some students appreciated Seale's descriptions of his action.

"I think he gave the audience a great starting point in describing the different ways of organizing," said Michael Haack, a senior in the School of International Service. "[In his time] he showed people where the system was wrong through the practicality of simple action."

Others agreed.

"He was the most empowering, inspirational speaker I've ever heard," said Casie McNeill, a freshman in the School of International Service.

A reception and book-signing in Mary Graydon's University Club followed the speech.

Seale sold and signed copies of his book, "Seize the Time," published in 1970 while Seale was in prison.

The Kennedy Political Union, departments of history, philosophy and sociology, the Graduate Leadership Council, the Community Action and Social Justice office, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs co-sponsored Seale's speech.

Brian Kruglak, a senior in the School of Public Affairs and Community Action and Social Justice organizer, said the idea to invite Seale came out of CASJ as part of its Radical Black History Month initiative, which included other speakers, films and panels on civil rights leaders.


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