by Kiilu Nyasha ( a.k.a. Pat Gallyot )

"The revolutionary war is a war of the masses; it can be waged only by mobilizing the masses and relying on them."  
-- Mao Tsetung

In 1968, I was employed by Community Progress, Inc. (CPI), the nation’s pilot program in President Lyndon Johnson’s so- called “War on Poverty,” euphemistically referred to as “The Great Society.” Deployed in one of the seven impoverished neighborhoods of New Haven, Conn., known as Newhallville, a predominately Black ghetto, I worked at the Teen Center, a government facility that eventually became the cite for the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program.

My job – I was told -- was to organize the community involving practically every issue relevant to the needs of the residents. On doing so, I quickly came under attack and was eventually fired.

I had been attending (without overtime pay) numerous community meetings re health care, lead paint poisoning, education, housing, welfare, and working with various groups already addressing those issues, such as “Welfare Moms, “ et al. Recognizing the divide & rule tactics of CPI, and joining with community leaders from each ‘hood, we formed a group called “Seven Together.”

At nearly every community meeting, I would encounter Black Panthers who were organizing on a strictly volunteer basis. Upon losing my job, I quickly discovered there was no safety net for me and my son (nine years old in ’69). I recall going down to the City Welfare Department whereupon I was told they would give me $25 a week. “What?!? I was giving you nearly double that in taxes per week,” I told them. How was I supposed to pay my rent, my bills, support my child on such a pittance? I couldn’t get unemployment insurance because both of the jobs I’d had -- working for Yale and the Government – didn’t qualify me for such. I decided to join the Party.

Two brothers, Robert Webb from Hunters Point, San Francisco, and Area Captain Dougy Miranda of Boston, had recruited me by coming to my home armed with Mao Tsetung’s little red book of quotations from the great revolutionary Chinese Chairman.

At that time, 1969, Panthers across the nation had come under vicious attack by J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO (counterintelligence program) and by year’s end a reported 28 Panthers had been murdered by police. So all Panthers were required to participate in T.E. (technical education, learning to use firearms for self-defense) and P.E. (political education, learning about Marx, Lenin, Mao, the Panthers’ political ideology, esp. the 10-Point Platform & Program).

The red book was our Bible and all party members were required to adhere to its rules of discipline gleaned from it: 1) Obey orders in all your actions. 2) Do not take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses. 3) Turn in everything captured. 4) Speak politely. 5) Pay fairly for what you buy. 6) Return everything you borrow. 7) Pay for anything you damage. 8) Do not hit or swear at people. 9) Do not damage crops. 10) Do not take liberties with women. 11) Do not ill-treat captives. 12) Keep your eyes and ears open. 13) Know the enemy within. 14) Always guide and protect the children. 15) Always be the servant of the people.

Since I was one of the oldest members of the Party which was comprised mostly of youth in their teens and early 20’s, and one of the few with an employment history and office skills, I worked as the Breakfast Program Coordinator and did lots of writing, typesetting, mimeographing of leaflets, etc., in addition to the everyday tasks of selling newspapers, propagating revolution, and organizing (rent strikes, protests, community meetings). My apartment became a Panther pad, my car a Panther vehicle, as we pooled our collective resources by living communally. We got little sleep and worked wholeheartedly nearly 24/7 to “serve the people body and soul.” It was a heady time; we had tremendous support from the people we served, and were convinced we would win revolutionary change in our lifetimes.

One of some 35 chapters nationwide, this particular New Haven Chapter was organized in part to get the first chapter out of jail and prevent Bobby Seale from being executed in the electric chair.

We had our work cut out for ourselves as the pigs had arrested 14 Panthers in connection with the murder of Alex Rackley, a Panther from New York thought to be an agent. When it was learned I had legal secretarial skills, I was recruited from the collective to work for the Panther lawyers and their chief attorney, Charles Garry.

As part of the legal defense team, I now had a salary and could afford a large 6-room apartment that soon became an informal Panther headquarters. I continued to engage in regular Panther activities, selling newspapers, organizing, etc., and formed an auxiliary group to accommodate folks not necessarily Black but committed to freeing our political prisoners. It was called “The People’s Committee.” I also housed several Panthers in continuance of communal living. When Huey Newton came to New Haven, he and his entourage stayed at my pad before going to Yale accommodations. We organized a huge rally at one of the local high schools that was packed to the rafters.

The first trial was that of Lonnie McLucas. After the jury deadlocked and the judge requested the minority to reconsider their position, Lonnie was convicted of conspiracy to murder. He was released after four years. All the other Panthers’ cases were dismissed.

During the course of Lonnie’s trial, a coalition of movement forces organized an anti-Vietnam-war/free the Panthers rally scheduled for the New Haven Green (a huge grassy plaza surrounded by the courthouse and other public buildings) on May Day, 1970. Among the movement heavyweights who spoke was famed French author, Jean Genet. Never in my life had I seen so many people gathered in one place. Estimates ranged from 20,000 to 50,000 people from all over the country and beyond. The entire Movement was represented. To the flyers announcing the May 1 event, we added: “Bring a can of food.” So much food was collected, we filled a whole room of Garry’s offices (close to the Green) for our Free Food Program. Rumors of impending violence sent a third of the Yale student body scampering home. It was the first time I ever saw National Guardsmen lining the side streets of the city, standing at attention holding rifles with bayonets. Bayonet’s!! I thought: What on earth did they plan to do with those? The State had sent 2,500 Guards, the Feds had deployed thousands of paratroopers and marines in nearby states, and saturated the event with FBI agents. All local police leaves were canceled. An anonymous Guardsman later wrote that they were promised they would “not be prosecuted if you shoot someone while performing a duty for the State of Connecticut.” But thanks to the disciplined crowd monitoring of the Panthers, even the police later noted there were “fewer arrests than on an ordinary weekend.”

The second trial commenced in November, 1970: a joint trial of Party Chairman Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins, widow of slain Panther, John Huggins. Although Seale had been unanimously acquitted on the first day of deliberations, May 19, 1971, after another five days of heated debate, on Day Six, the jury returned: “We cannot reach a verdict in either case on any of the charges.” The jury was hung: 11-1 (Seale), 11-2 (Huggins) for acquittal.

Since we had succeeded in packing the courtroom on a daily basis, with people coming from all over the country and beyond in support of the Panther leadership, when Garry fired off a motion to dismiss the following day, May 25, the judge immediately granted it – a people’s victory!

While Bobby was held a short time longer due to another case pending, Ericka was released immediately in an atmosphere of exhilarated pandemonium. The ensuing celebration was at my roomy pad surrounded by police and FBI agents (the press was barred). I recall when we went to buy the liquor for the party, the storeowners wouldn’t let us pay for it. We hardly needed such spirits anyway because we were so high on the victorious spirit of the people.

The down side of this period was the internal split in the Party (early ’71) that broke it into two factions and initiated a horrific onslaught of fratricidal murders. The first hit was the fatal shooting on the streets of Manhattan of my beloved comrade, Robert Webb. Thus marked the beginning of the end of the Black Panther Party as we knew it to be – militant, uncompromising, anti-capitalist, revolutionary.

“New things always have to experience difficulties and setbacks as they grow. It is sheer fantasy to imagine that the cause of socialism is all plain sailing and easy success, without difficulties and setbacks or the exertion of tremendous efforts.”

“Fight no battle unprepared, fight no battle you are not sure of winning… make every effort to ensure victory in the given set of conditions as between the enemy and ourselves.” (Quotations from Chairman Mao Tsetung)