Sunday, February 19, 2006

Black Panthers Stress Social Aims; Members Address Crowd at UNM

By Lloyd Jojola, Journal Staff Writer

On the heels of the civil rights movement, the Watts riots, the slaying of Malcolm X and with the Vietnam War as a backdrop, the Black Panther Party emerged in America.
"We were founded not on a street corner but on a college campus," David Hilliard, a founding member of the Black Panthers, told a crowd of a few hundred people at the University of New Mexico on Saturday. "So we've always felt very much at home among people from college campuses, where the free flow of ideas can be discussed."
Hilliard, who also served as the party's chief of staff, was part of a panel discussion titled "Origins of the Black Panther Party." The event is part of a program to mark the 40th anniversary of the organization. The panel also featured Ericka Huggins, who was director of the Black Panther Party school (The Oakland Learning Center); Elaine Brown, the only woman to chair the party; and Fredrika Newton, a party member and wife of the late Huey P. Newton.
It was Newton and Bobby Seale who in 1966 launched the organization in Oakland.
The group is unfortunately identified more with militancy than with the social changes it sought, Hilliard said.
"It's important to set the tenet of our movement because it's so misunderstood," he said. "What is really remembered is the militancy without any other characteristics. We're frozen in sensationalist imagery of leather jackets and guns.
"We don't deny that."
In its nascent stage, it was known as the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The group saw itself as a "revolutionary action movement," he said, and campaigns to end police brutality and the murder of black people were points in their platform.
But other program points advocated for such things as universal health care, decent education and housing.
"That has been totally written out of the history," Hilliard said. "The only thing that remains is the militancy. To set the record straight, we were not a 'black power' organization; not in that traditional sense. Not in the sense that we were separatists."
Hilliard said the group worked alongside such leaders as César Chávez and Dolores Huerta and for people who fought for gay rights.
"We're here to try to help introduce our particular style of work to students who are seeking new movements," Hilliard said toward the end of his comments. "We challenge you to draw on our Black Panther Party because there are important lessons to be learned from our movement and we'd like to do that by having a curriculum here at this university."
Hilliard raised the idea of partnering with the university to investigate how the federal government tried to undermine the party.
"There's never been one accounting about what the FBI did to our Black Panther Party, so we think that this is a good time to make that happen," he said.
Huggins was an 18-year-old student at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania when she read a magazine article about a young African-American man— Newton— who stood accused of killing a policeman.
The reading was predictable; the photo, appalling, she said.
"The picture was of this young man strapped to a hospital gurney with a bullet wound in his stomach with a seemingly huge, to me at that time, European American police officer in full uniform laughing into the camera.
"I studied that picture for quite some time. I didn't even have tears for it, I was so appalled."
Huggins traveled across the country and joined the Southern California chapter.
"We were about local change, and this is what scared the government into minimizing our principles and calling us racists," Huggins said. "We were about redistribution of the wealth as an equal."