Black Panther speaks to Golden Gophers

Black History Month prompted a visit from the co-founder of the Black Panther Party.

In the turbulent time of the 1960s, the Black Panthers fought against racism.

As part of Black History Month, the Black Student Union featured co-founder of the Black Panther Party Bobby Seale who told the story of his life Wednesday.

“All students, black, white, blue, red, green, yellow and polka-dot must know African-American history,” Seale said. “African-American history is American history.”

Seale’s sentiments rang true in the Coffman Union Theater as witnessed by the culturally diverse audience that showed up to hear him speak, with the 402-seat theater filled nearly to capacity.

Journalism graduate student Sarah Janel Jackson came to the event to hear Seale speak, she said.

“He is an iconic figure and it’s better than meeting a celebrity,” she said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Not just college-age attendees comprised the audience. Linda Hoover graduated from the University in 1985 and came to see what Seale has been up to for the last 20-some years, she said.

Hoover said she has great confidence in Seale’s ability to inspire students for change.

“I have a lot of optimism about folks organizing for change in this country,” she said.

In 1962, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the Oakland Auditorium, Seale was inspired, he said, and after the death of Malcolm X, something needed to be done.

One week after Malcolm X’s death, Seale, along with Huey Newton, brought the Black Panthers into existence.

The Black Panthers initially formed to respond to police brutality and racism in Oakland, Calif.

“On the one hand, we took a position in oppression to rampant racist police brutality,” “he said. “For us to be able to control police and observe them really brought the issues to the forefront.”

At the peak of its popularity, the Black Panther Party had 48 chapters throughout the country, with close to 5,000 members.

Seale said he accomplished a lot during his eight years of involvement in the Black Panthers. The Black Panthers were about more than the militant image they projected, he said, adding that they delivered free breakfasts to school children and started a number of clinics.

“It’s a mean piece of history,” he said. “It’s an important piece of history.”

Seale ran for mayor of Oakland in 1972, but lost, receiving 42 percent of the vote.

“I was called a hoodlum and a thug,” he said. “They liked to categorize us.”

In 1968, Seale was accused of conspiracy to incite a riot at the Democratic National Convention and spent time in jail without bail, but was later cleared of all charges.

Shortly after, Seale was accused once again of conspiracy – this time for the murder of Alex Rackley, a former Black Panther and suspected police informant.

“It was all about conspiracy with me,” he said.

Seale finally quit the party in 1974 when he left the Black Panthers because everything was wearing him thin, he said, primarily his partner.

“I was pushed to the brink,” he said.

Seale will remain an important part of American history, Hoover said.

“Black history is just as important for everyone else,” she said. “Black history impacts us all.”