Wednesday Nights at Central Distribution

By Bill (Billy X) Jennings

Panther selling newspapers

The Black Panther Party Newspaper was an important vehicle for circulating the ideals, messages, and programs of the Black Panther Party (BPP). As the struggle grew, and the BPP grew, our newspaper circulation grew from less than 20,000 to 250,000+ a week.

When I came into the Party in the summer of 1968, the newspaper was coming out biweekly. By early 1969, it was coming out weekly. The newspaper was put together by our newspaper staff in Oakland and was ready for printing on Wednesdays. Our San Francisco office on Fillmore and Eddy Streets included our Central Distribution Center. Sam Napier was the Distribution Manager for the BPP, a dedicated and tireless worker, who was loved by all. He was the heart and soul of Central Distribution and the BPP Newspaper. Sam and his staff put together a system to get the paper out to the people as quickly as possible.

On Wednesday nights, all Party members in the Bay Area would report to Central Distribution to work on getting the papers out. Everyone loved working on the paper because it was a chance to see and talk with members from other offices (Richmond, Marin, Vallejo, East Oakland, West Oakland, Central Headquarters, West Berkeley, E. Palo Alto, San Jose, San Francisco, the Berkeley NCCF, and occasionally Sacramento). We also received help from many Black Student Unions in the area, such as San Francisco State, Merritt College, UC Berkeley, Laney College and San Francisco City College.

BPP newspapers being off loaded from truck for distribution

After working in the field (community) people would start arriving at Central Distribution by 6:00 or 7:00pm. Anywhere between 75 and 100 people were needed to sort and bundle papers for our bulk mailing. Earlier in the day, bags were picked up at the post office, labels for subscriptions were printed, and food was brought and cooked for the comrades who came straight from their community work.

Our main Distribution Staff included Sam Napier, Andrew Austin, Naomi Williams, Pauline Napier, Pat Brown, Karen Williams, Cindy Smallwood, Kathy Campbell, Carol Rucker, Andy, Ellis White and James Burford who deserve tremendous credit for coordinating the BPP Newspaper distribution to over 40 chapters, branches, BSU's, Bookstores and individual subscribers.

Panther sisters adding subscription mailing labels

As the Party and the newspaper grew, so did the intensity of the attacks against us by the FBI and San Francisco Police trying to stop the growth and distribution of our paper. The FBI had previously set fire to a storage spot housing older editions of the paper. We had two large 2-ton trucks that were used to bring the papers from the printer to Central Distribution and then after sorting and bundling, to take them to San Francisco Airport. The street in front of the office only had two lanes. Every time a truck arrived to load or unload, the San Francisco Tactical Squad would arrive with lights on and harass the drivers for double parking. They forced us to park the trucks around the corner or a block from the office.

BPP newspapers coming off printing press

This is when Sam would call on People Power, which was a line of Panthers and people from the community throwing bundles of papers (100 papers per bundle) down the line as far away as a block. People in the community would come out and lend a hand and the process would be repeated from the office to the truck after the papers were boxed up, 300 papers per box. After the boxes were loaded onto the trucks, they would make a run to the airport to be shipped out. Some of the drivers were Ellis White and Lucky Jenkins.

Comrads loading newspaper bundels off truck

Wednesday nights grew into one of the Party's biggest operations. It was a great recruitment tool because volunteers who came would see all the comrades working together and wanted to be part of such a positive experience. Sam called it "showing revolutionary enthusiasm". During the down times between loading trucks, people would eat, talk, study, drink (bitter dog) and sing. This is where the Party's singing group, the Lumpen, was started. Although this was a long process, especially sorting all the subscriptions, and we rarely left before 1:00am, everyone loved it.

Circulate to Educate!