Saturday, April 23, 2016

San Francisco Chronicle: Black Panthers at 50 Years Old

50 years on, Black Panthers honored
Steve McCutchen, left, who joined the party in 1968; Timothy Thompson, who joined in 1970; Elaine Brown, former chair; Melvin Dickson, who joined in 1969; 
Bobby McCall, who joined in 1970; and Malik Edwards.

As a high school senior in Sacramento, James Mott cut class to watch the Black Panthers march into the state Capitol in their leather jackets and berets, carrying shotguns.

Mott couldn't resist falling in behind them, and now he is at the front of the line as the Black Panther Party cranks up to mark its 50th anniversary celebration, beginning with an all-day symposium Saturday at Laney College. "

The Black Panthers were the single greatest effort by blacks in the United States for freedom and self-determination," he said, as keynote speaker for a news conference Friday at the Oakland Museum of California. The museum will be the site of a three-day conference on the Panthers that will take over the entire 7.5-acre museum compound for three days, Oct. 20-23. The symposium will coincide with the museum exhibit "All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50," which will include original Panther berets and rarely seen photographs of day-to-day life among the Panthers, taken by party members. The marquee item, borrowed from Stanford, will be the original draft of the Panther "10 Point Platform and Program" written by hand by party co-founder Bobby Seale. Seale noticeably absent

Seale, who has written a screenplay about his life in the Panthers, was noticeably absent from Friday's event. That's because he is putting on his own 50th anniversary events on behalf of the National Alumni Association of the Black Panther Party, which he says will draw more than 200 Panthers to the Bay Area in October. Also absent was David Hilliard, founding member and chief of staff of the Panthers. He was on the schedule but called in sick. This left it to several later members, led by Mott, who now goes by the name Saturu Ned, 67, and Elaine Brown, 73-year-old former chairwoman of the Black Panther Party. Brown, an activist and one-time presidential candidate, arrived with her right arm in a sling, the result of a much-publicized dustup with Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks, in an Oakland soul food joint. Brown has filed suit against the city and Brooks for $7 million, claiming injuries that required surgery.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was on hand for the news conference to claim her own link to the Panthers. This is based on the fact that Schaaf is also 50 and is the 50th mayor of Oakland. "Growing up in Oakland with the Black Panther Party gave me a skeptical eye," Schaaf began her remarks, later concluding them by declaring October to be Black Panther History Month in the city of Oakland.

There was no specific event that launched the Black Panther Party, but the generally agreed-upon date is Oct. 15, 1966. The one person who does not agree on that date is Seale, who was reached by phone Friday, as his plane landed after a speech at the University of Oregon. Seale said the founding date was Oct. 22, 1966, which was his 30th birthday and the day he and the late Huey Newton finished the "10 Point Platform and Program" for the Black Panther Party for Self Defense (as it was originally called). 

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