Meet Bobby Seale
He’s a man who has been misunderstood for much of his 83 years. During his recent visit to Madison College, Black Panther Party of Self Defense Co-founder Bobby Seale set the facts straight and put his life into perspective.
The Black Panther Party in the ‘60s was a hot item in the press, often falsely described as a paramilitary organization. It was that false description that lead to Seale being put on trial, accused by the Federal government of organizing an anti-American movement.
Seale contends that he, along with the others in his party, were bringing African American historical awareness into the education system and not creating militias.
In fact, Seale contends that the Black Panther Party of Self Defense was really about developing a revolutionary approach to community service and being a social force that included the exercise of their legal right to carry arms.
“You see, people confused our organization by leaving off self-defense in our title,” Seale explained.
California Growing Up
Seale grew up in Berkley, California where his father taught him cabinetry as a Master Carpenter and entrepreneur. His dad owned a business and expected Seale to learn the carpentry trade.
But Seale had other plans. Seale dropped out of high school and joined the United States Air Force in 1955. After being discharged, he worked as a sheet metal mechanic for various aerospace plants while studying for his high school diploma at night. After earning his high school diploma, Seale attended Merritt Community College where he studied engineering and anthropology.
In college, he was formally introduced to Huey P. Newton through the Afro-American Association who met during a rally protesting the Cuban Blockade of ’62, who would later form the Panther party with.
The Afro American Association’s slogan was, “Come to tell it like it is,” and Seale did just that. He confronted those who used derogatory terms like “colored people” or “negro people,” to describe the African American community.
But he didn’t stop there. He came to confront those who used slang terms for Native American tribes as well. Seale says using slang terms to describe a community, leads to robbing the identity of ethnicity and customary practices by other cultures.
“When we say Afro-America, we are not saying Negro-America, we are not using derogatory terms. We are saying we are Afro and African American people,” Seale explained.
Political Party Organizing
Seale and Newton created the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in October 1966. Seale credits his anthropology classes for helping him discover the necessary tools to develop the Black Panther Party along with his instruction in the field of research methods that lit his passion to start an organization. Their mission was to liberate the people of their community with protections from discrimination.
“Going back-and-forth to community college and having no background in politics what have you etcetera are how I developed the Black Panther Party—boom,” Seale explained.
One of Bobby Seale’s fondest memories was falling asleep in court. Hon. Julius J. Hoffman found many numerous ways to hold him in contempt to include shackling and gagging his ability to speak freely. Seale spent three months in jail staying up all night to organize the Black Panther Party while engineering the blueprints in jail. Bobby Seale was able to write his book behind bars by having his attorney take a pocket recorder back-and-forth to Newton for his members to transcribe.
William Kunstler appeared as his counsel on Nov. 5. 1969. Bobby Seale was charged with sixteen individual and separate accounts who was committed to the custody of the Attorney General of the United States for three months for criminal contempt. The judge ordered the clerk to deliver certified copies to the U.S. Marshal to confine the defendant.
As a historical figure, a seasoned federal advocate and a passionate member of the African American community, Seale never missed a chance to seek the press to share his views. While in court, the press returned the favor by shining every opportunity on him as a militant.
During trial, Bobby Seale was removed from the courtroom. The courts forcibly restrained him who did not let the use of the gag stop him from speaking out. After being returned to the courtroom, he shouted as loud as he could through his gag. The court enforced the marshal to tighten the gag. The jury was allowed to witness the behavior demonstrated by the court that affected their decision. The courts asserted that Bobby Seale and his willful misconduct were deliberate in attempt to disrupt the orderly administration of justice.
“I was tired from staying up all night drafting plans for cooperative community housing,” Seale chuckled.
The Anthem of Protest
Bobby Seale protested the Vietnam War to protect and preserve his culture from the draft. Seale understood how colonization worked and wasn’t about to allow law enforcement to continue to destroy his people.
“I began to recognize part of the ethnic struggle in the ‘60s. The Afro American Association was on campus ‘to tell it like it is’ who wasn’t about to allow any funny business with our people,” Seale announced.
Bobby Seale was not going to allow anymore African American men and women to serve in the Armed Forces either. The ‘60s was a radical period where Americans burned draft cards and African Americans were considered expendable in war who were facing backlash from law enforcement. Seale and Newton created their own press and called the newspaper “the Black Panther.”
Spreading the News Through “The Black Panther”
The Black Panther Party sought to organize community information centers to stay close to the people in the African American community to be able to locate each other amongst the masses. The Black Panther was their method of self-defense to distribute warnings quickly when one of their community centers would inform the Black Panther Party of the event.
The Black Panther Party sought to abolish the war. Their intent was to strengthen communities under attack who distributed their message by means of motto printed in their issues. Don Cox, Field Marshal for the Black Panther Party in his public address, would recite his words through the press in order to time stamp historical events.
“We are the advocates of the abolition of war. We do not want war. But war can only be abolished through war. In order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun,” Cox stated in the G. Louis Heath pamphlet titled, “the Black Panthers Leaders Speak (1976).”
Bobby Seale’s love for humanity and his background in anthropology helped develop his advocacy to seek justice to bring important and significant achievements to the light of day. Community college opened the portal of respect that holds true to Seale’s genuine love for human beings was heard when he cried out in Federal court to set all who are oppressed by the government free.
As a veteran, he knew full well the cost of war and the sacrifice in Vietnam that went unnoticed that lit the way for the Black Panther Party of Self Defense to take leaps of faith to see to it no African American veteran would ever feel the pain and stigma of systematic oppression ever again.