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Black Panther Founder Visits Ithaca

Written by Evan Johnson
9/23/2011

Bobby Seale talks in Park Hall Auditorium.

It was standing room only last night in Park Auditorium as Bobby Seale, the last surviving architect of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, spoke to students and community members. The evening was hosted by the African and Latino Society and served as the organization's kick off event for the semester.

Seale founded The Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966 in Oakland, California with a friend Huey Newton. What started as a small community organization dedicated to ending police brutality in their neighborhoods, eventually grew in size and notoriety for their armed patrols of police and their role in the Black Power movement.

Seale humorously highlighted his upbringing as pleasant, but at the same time, said he learned little about African American history.

“You get brainwashed in America,” he said. “For the longest time, I thought Tarzan ran Africa. [Black history] includes Crispus Attucks but it’s more than that. This history was blowing my mind.”

As part of his talk, Seale described the organization of the Black Panthers and the indoctrination of its members. He said the Panthers utilize “coalition politics” to make the party gain recognition and respect in an organization that started in Oakland but spread as far east as Chicago.

Seale, a self proclaimed “expert marksman with an M1 carbine,” also sought to clarify the party’s militant approach to ending police brutality.

“It wasn’t a process of throwing a gun in someone’s hands,” he said. “You start problems that way. This was a political revolutionary movement, and we were meticulous.”

The same meticulous efforts eventually caught the attention of the FBI, who performed a national crackdown on the Panthers. However, Seale emphasized the importance of advocacy even in the face of fierce opposition, using a phrase he learned in mathematics when he was young to describe his thoughts.

“A quantitative increase or decrease will always result in a qualitative leap or change,” he said. “This is a principle that is universal.”

Before ending his speech with the signature motto, "Power to the people," Seale encouraged young people to remain involved in politics and supportive of liberation efforts for all people.

After the speech, Seale signed books and met with the audience. Dennis Sanchez, information coordinator of the African and Latino Society, said Seale’s remarks were inspiring. 

“I want to get involved now, he said. “It made me want to take action and make a difference."

Fellow Ithaca student Candice Brown echoed Sanchez’s remarks.

“It was uplifting and empowering,” she said at the reception that followed the talk. "It was good to see the other side and not just the activist side of him, but the political and academic as well.”



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