Short History of the Black Panther Party in the Eugene, Oregon Chapter

Written by Jaja Anderson (Tommy)

Written by Jaja Anderson (Tommy)

The Eugene, Oregon chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP) started in 1968 and ended around 1970. It had a profound impact on the city of Eugene, the students of the University of Oregon and the small number of African Americans that were born or had lived in Eugene most of their lives. Most importantly was how the BPP influenced the Black students at the U of O.

The Black Panther Party grew out of the Black Student Union of the U of O. Black students had issues that primarily dealt with the University community, racism and academics. This left a void in the overall struggle of the small Eugene ineffective Black community. The BPP occupied this hold with community-based programs.

At this time, two brothers named Elmer and Aaron Dixon headed the Seattle Chapter of the BPP. They came down to Eugene to help organize the Eugene Chapter. They left three Seattle members in Eugene to support the development of the Eugene Chapter of the BPP.

Eugene, Oregon is a small White community with a population that had very little or no interaction with Black people. Issues regarding racism, renting apartments, shopping downtown, dealing with Eurocentric curricula in the public schools and other Black community-related problems were looked at and dealt with no prior experience.

The BPP established a few community survival projects. These projects were located off the U of O campus and focused on the poor people of Eugene. Because the BPP had an overall philosophy of looking at issues from a class analysis and not only a race analysis, these projects served the total poor community, Black and non-Black people. These projects were:

A Free Breakfast Program that served 20-30 young children everyday.

A Liberation School that focused on African and African American history and some of the untrue accounts of Eurocentric academics/curricula.

A Public Speaker Program that participated in demonstrations/rallies on Vietnam, racism, or all the other “isms.” These speaker programs also tried to educate the greater Eugene community on the goals and philosophy of the BPP.

The membership of the BPP at its height was 18-20 members with 10-15 underground members. The BPP had a lot of support from many Whites at the U of O and in the community. The core members of the Eugene Chapter were from Compton/Los Angeles (southern California). Most had a pre-Panther relationship with each other that went back to elementary school. Most core members knew each other’s families (i.e., mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers). All BPP members had experienced racism in Eugene that primed them to join such a revolutionary organization. Most core members were brought to or influenced to move to Eugene from the leadership members of the BPP. (Howard and Tommy Anderson) However, most moved to Eugene before the start of the BPP.

Howard Anderson was Captain of the Eugene Chapter. He was the first person from Compton to move to Eugene in 1965 after working in the southern United States; in Mississippi and Alabama with CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) and SNCC (Students for Non-Violence Coordinating Committee). In 1966, Howard convinced his younger brother Tommy Anderson to move to Eugene and attend the U of O.

The Eugene Chapter of the BPP developed very good supportive relationships with other revolutionary organizations. Some of these organizations or individuals were as follows:

1. Patriot Party – Euro-Americans that focused on the poor Whites. The head of this organization was a man called “Preacher Man.” The Eugene Chapter was organized by Chuck Armsbury and his wife.

2. Brown Berets – headed by a small group of Chicanos from Los Angeles with Ray Verdugo as their Eugene Chapter head. They organized resistance to the exploitation of the Chicano community in Eugene and other migrant farming communities in surrounding areas.

3. Asian student organizers that focused on racism, stereotyping and other issues related to students of Asian descent. Ellen Bepp and Sandra Muraoka were the contact people.

BPP Confrontation with Eugene Police Department In 1969, there were two major confrontations. The first was centered around three BPP members and two Eugene Police officers. It started when two EP tried to enter a Panther member’s house (Oliver Patterson) without a warrant. They were yelling insults and threatening to force their way in. BPP members Howard and Tommy Anderson met them. The BPP members were armed and ready to defend their rights as Americans. The BPP Captain asked the EP to produce a warrant and he would instruct the Panther inside to come out and surrender. The EP could not produce such a warrant. They had never experienced armed Black men defending their rights under the United States constitution. The EP ran to their car in shock and embarrassment.

The same day a warrant for Howard and Tommy Anderson was issued for assault on police with deadly weapons and interfering with the Eugene Police. All members of the BPP Eugene Chapter were called and showed up at BPP Headquarters. The BPP Eugene Chapter decided to not give up the Anderson brothers without a fight to the death. All members were ready to die. The EP was ready to kill all members that were willing to fight and die. Things had come to the major task of armed struggle. The Headquarters was very fortified and the Panthers had enough weapons to engage the EP in a relatively short firefight. The BPP had armed White support outside the Headquarters ready to die by sniping EP from strategic positions. There were other students from the U of O outside protesting this major conflict. The man that stopped this conflict was Ken Morrow who was a highly respected attorney in Eugene. He walked up to the door of the BPP Headquarters and said he was an attorney and could help. He called a judge and asked if he could bring the BPP members down to City Hall to be arraigned and bail set. The judge agreed to set bail at $10,000 per Panther. The money was raised within ten minutes.

Thereafter, Ken Morrow and Howard and Tommy Anderson went to City Hall, were arraigned, posted bail and were back at Headquarters within one hour. Ken Morrow had a good relationship with the Eugene Chapter of the BPP, despite pressure from anti-Panther members of the Eugene community.

The Eugene Police continued to harass and arrest Panthers for various reasons. Some police thought the Panthers should be stopped. Most of these incidents were not political but criminal.

By 1970, the show was over for the Eugene Chapter. The Captain moved to Oakland and became close to Huey Newton (Minister of Defense). Other members moved to other cities to work with other chapters. Some stayed as students of the U of O.

The purpose of this article is to record the legacy of the Eugene, Oregon Chapter of the Black Panther Party and to document its impact on this small college community. The writer trusts that this legacy is still being talked about in both academic and non-academic circles and that all former Eugene Chapter members continue to look back at this history with pride.

Power to the People

Photo Information From left to right:

  • Oliver Patterson – from outside California, perhaps one of the southern states
  • Speaker – Tommy Anderson – Compton, CA
  • Howard Anderson, Captain – Compton, CA
  • Bill Green – Washington, D.C.
  • Jerome Foster – Compton, CA
  • Julius Hurst – Portland, OR
  • Dennis White – Compton, CA
  • Darrell Fields – Compton, CA
  • Teo DeRuso – Compton, CA
  • Artie Cox – Mississippi

Eight other members are not in this photo. Five of the eight are from Compton and six of the eight were women and of the six women, three were from Compton or Los Angeles.

Also not in the photo was Underground General Ray Eaglin, ex-marine and U of O student.