Panther leader debunks history

by Emily Babcock

Young people are capable of instituting change and need to be optimistic about equal rights to carry on the legacy of the Black Panther Party, a former member told about 75 students Friday at Coffman Union.
David Hilliard, former chief of staff for the Black Panther Party, gave a first-hand account of the party, which he said history books don’t discuss.
Hilliard was a childhood friend of Huey Newton, the party’s founder, and also co-founded the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation in 1993.
In maintaining the foundation, Hilliard now tours cities and college campuses nationwide, recounting his service for the party between 1967 and 1972.
Hilliard spent four years in jail for a shootout in 1968 between him and the police. Leaders in the party such as Newton, Geronimo Pratt and Jamil Abjullah Al-Amin also went to prison for similar incidents.
Duane Johnson, a junior in the College of Human Ecology and member of the Africana Student Cultural Center, worked to bring Hilliard to campus. Johnson said students need to know the history of the party and that Hilliard could teach it because he was part of it.
“They moved mountains, and lived through it,” Johnson said.
The party was created in 1966 in Oakland, Calif., amid the backdrop of what Hilliard calls a hotbed of social activism on nearly every college campus.
“We didn’t just happen,” Hilliard said. “Actually, we were a continuation of all of the struggles before us.
“We happened because we came out of a situation where blacks were slaves in the country, and we came out of a situation of oppression,” he added.
The original name of the party was The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Hilliard said one of the myths surrounding the group was that they were running around with guns like gangsters. The guns, he said, were strictly for self-defense, and the party’s meaning went much deeper.
“It was our philosophy,” he said. “It was the ideas that people wanted to support.”
The party organized a 10-point program to better conditions in areas such as education, housing and employment. A sickle-cell anemia research study, free breakfasts, legal aid and medicine were some programs initiated by the Panthers to improve lifestyles in neighborhoods which were primarily black.
“Never in the history of America has there been an organization like this,” he said. “We had a revolutionary approach.”
Even though the organization is synonymous with the phrase “black power,” Hilliard said the members did not discriminate against race. He added that their style was to work with any group that was willing to fight against oppression.
Hilliard urged audience members to research their own history and start working in their own communities. He maintained that oppression still exists.
“This is an unfinished agenda,” he said.