||OUR STORIES 4
Central Headquarters of the Black Panther Party 1971-1972
By Billy X Jennings
By 1970, the Black Panther Party was under full attack from
the federal, state and local Pigs and their agents of
oppression throughout America. Panthers were being killed,
offices raided and Panthers locked up daily. Many went
underground or into exile. Huey P. Newton and the Central
Committee made a decision to move our many offices into the
heart of the Black community so that we would not be
isolated at night. Many of our offices were storefront
offices on Main Streets with not many houses and no people
around at night. That made it easy for the police to
isolate the office from the community.
Central HQ was to set the example by moving from Shattuck
Ave in North Oakland into the heart of West Oakland's Black
community in 1970. Our new location was 1048 Peralta
Street and our name changed from National Headquarters to
Central Headquarters. Our new location was a two story
Victorian house built in the 1930's. It sat in the middle
of a long block surrounded by other Victorian houses on
both sides of the street with a store on the corner
(Vincent's). The community was a poor, working class
neighborhood which was 90% Black. Two blocks down the
street (12th) was the West Oakland Community Center that
had been in the community about a year before we moved in.
You couldn't tell from looking which house was a Panther
office, except for the Black and Blue Panther sign in the
front yard, which read Central Headquarters BPP. I think
Emory painted it and it looked good.
It was an honor to work at Central HQ; the heart beat of the
Party. Most of the Central Committee worked out of Central.
The Ministry of Information was located on the second floor
and this is where the Black Panther Newspaper was laid out
weekly. There were 3 1/2 rooms upstairs. People like our
Minster of Culture Emory Douglas, Judi Douglas, Elaine
Brown, Phyllis Jackson, Gwen Goodlow, Joan Kelly, Brenda
Presley, Malik Edwards, Michael Fultz, Gloria Abernethy,
John Seale, and Big Man were on the newspaper staff. Lauren
Williams also had an office upstairs. She was our Party
The newspaper staff worked hard and only had a few days off
before they started on the next issue. Many a night the
newspaper staff worked all night to make the deadline of
having the paper ready by Tuesday night so it could be
printed on Wednesday. I would see the staff sleeping in
chairs and on the floor. They didn't get the credit they
deserve. I didn't like Elaine, she was a witch, but she
worked hard on the paper. Under her management, the paper
I worked downstairs, and everyone assigned to Central was
under the direct supervision of the Central Committee.
Robert Bay was Officer of the Day. June Hilliard
(Assistant Chief of Staff) was over him and then the
Central Committee. Robert Bay (Big Rob) was my former
captain from the East Oakland office. I knew him very well
and we had a very good understanding. He played an
important role in my development as Panther.
If I were to give you a short tour, it would go like this.
We had a small fence around the front yard of the office
that looked like all the others on the block. Once you
opened the gate and walked those 18 ft to the front door,
you would be greeted by me or whoever was on security,
asked whom you wanted to see or the nature of your
business. The front door was heavily fortified with steel
plates and painted over in black so not to be noticed.
Once inside, you would be asked to be seated until the
person you wanted came out. Most likely it would be in the
Day room which was right by the front door. The Day room
was the security outpost and the person on security sat in
the Day room and watched the front of the house. From the
Day room windows, you could look up and down Peralta St.
for a few blocks, as well as seeing down 12th Street. The
person on security was armed. I liked to pack a concealed
9mm, which had 15 shots in case of an attack by police or,
after 1971, former members who sided with Eldridge after
the split. The next office down the hall was the O.D.'s
office. All phone calls from the over 40 offices of the
BPP came through there as well as all calls for the Central
HQ's. A phone was in this office as well as in the Day
Room, so if you called the BPP from anywhere in the world I
or whoever was on duty would answer the phone, "Central
Headquarters of the Black Panther Party, may I help you."
As you rounded the corner from the O.D.'s office, there was
a large room with a TV in it. A couch and large bathroom
was also there. It appeared to be a plain room, but in
that closet was the Central HQ arsenal - a collection of
modern weapons to defend Central. Everyone assigned to
Central had to know how to operate and clean each one and
break them down in the dark. The next room was the big
kitchen - the heart of most social and political activity.
It was a gathering place and we ate well at Central. Big
Rob would usually cook, but sometimes June, Masai or Bobby,
when he got out of prison, would cook. We always had a
down home meal because most of the comrades were from the
south like myself (Alabama). There were two doors in the
kitchen, one leading you outside to the backyard and the
other to the living quarters of people who lived at
Central. Clark Bailey, Michael Torrance, Eugene, James
Mott, Maurice Powell (Mojo), Bill Calhoun, a few others,
and I lived there.
It was our job to keep everything running smoothly. Part
of our responsibility was being a duty driver. We had a
number of cars that were assigned to Central. The driver's
job was to pick people up at the airports, bring people to
and from the office, take people to their assignments, pick
up equipment, pay bills, go to other offices to pick up
people or money, etc. One of the best things about being a
duty driver is that you got out of the office. After
picking up the people working at the restaurant owned by
the Party, the LampPost at about 2:30 am, the car was yours
for the night until about 7:00 am. You then had to start
picking people up again to take them wherever they were
One of the bad things about being a duty driver is that the
police would be on your ass. They knew all of our cars.
One night I was stopped two times in a period of an hour and
half. Driving while Black is nothing new for Panthers. Two
police officers particularly hated the Party. They went out
of their way to harass you: Big Red and Little Red, both red
headed racists. Once they stopped a car, I used to drive
(Huey's father's Blue Dodge) looking for me. I had
exchanged assignments with Michael Torrance. I went to a
jazz club with Big Man and Michael got harassed. Being
security for the Party was tough on you; one hardly got
enough sleep or rest. Security was 24 hrs a day. The
office closed to the public at 9:00 p.m. Even if you were a
member, you had to go unless you had direct business to deal
with. We locked the big door in the front, put this big bar
across the back of the door, and stuck a 4 by 4 board back
There was an assignment board back in the living quarters
and it had three shifts on it, 9:00pm to 12am, 12am to
3:00am, and 3:00am to 6:00am. If your name was on that
list, you couldn't leave the office that night. The
assignments were made up every 3 days and sometimes that
night, depending on what was happening. The names of those
of us who lived there were always on it until the Lumpen
(the Party's singing group of Michael, Clark, James, and
Bill) had gone on tour. This left a big hole in our
personnel staff at Central. This brought about a big
contradiction with the Ministry of Information. We were
shorthanded and Elaine Brown didn't want her staff to share
in security work. Big Rob and Elaine would go at it and
Rob won that one when June said that everyone is a member
of the same Party and must share in the work.
The office had an intercom system from the front door to the
O.D.'s office. We used that at night and had a system that
was hooked up from the Day room to the living quarters where
the other person on security would be. We had two people on
security per shift. The person in the back of the house
watched the side yards and we had installed a lighting
system in the backyard to provide for better sight.
One of the other benefits of working at Central was meeting
other comrades from other offices from throughout America.
I met a lot of the regional leaders and other
revolutionaries from around the country, all visiting
Central. Some of those comrades were Jarvis Redwine from
the Motor City; Paul Coates from Baltimore, Zayd Shakur
from N.Y., Doug Miranda and Peter Alameda from Boston, Coon
and Larry Little from North Carolina, Fred Hampton and Bob
Rush, Mumia from Philly, Billy Che Brooks and Doc Satchel
from Chicago, and the Dixon Brothers from Seattle to name a
Because I answered the phone, a lot I was well known
throughout the Party and knew many O.D.'s from around the
country. I would get them to do me favors, like sending
out some MD 20-20 wine, hats from Chicago, and other things
not sold in California at the time. Working at Central had
When Huey got out of prison in August 1970, Big Rob was
assigned to be with him 24 hrs a day. Huey asked Rob whom
he trusted and he said Billy X, because by the time Huey
got out of jail many people he started the Party with were
no longer with the Party and he only trusted a few people.
Huey had to go to court everyday and I was already assigned
to David Hilliard daily while he went to court for the
April 6 shootout in which little Bobby Hutton was killed.
David was convicted and I was then assigned to be with Huey
everyday he went to court. When he didn't go to court, I
was right back in the window in the Day room, so I was on
security everyday, all day, packing that 9.
Big Rob, Charles Garry, Ray Masai Hewitt, Clark Bailey,
John Seale, myself and sometimes Michael Torrance and Mojo
would be with Huey in court every day. We sat through two
hung jury trials before the DA stopped trying to get a
conviction in the killing of police officer John Frey in
1971. I liked working with Huey. He always treated us
good; we ate where he ate, talked about the Party's future,
he talked about starting new programs and traveling the
world spreading the word about the Party. Everyday
newspaper reporters and TV people attended the trials.
One of the ways I could get out of pulling security was
when Gene Mc Kinney came by the office. Gene was Huey's
friend. He was in the car with Huey the night the John
Frey was shot. Gene loved the Party and was made a Panther
for life by Huey. Gene would come by often and would
borrow film footage about the Party to show in the
community. He would always ask me to help operate the
projector. Gene was a super cool cat. He drove an older
Mercedes Benz. It was the first time I rode in one and I
asked him what type of Ford I was in; remember it's 1971.
Sometimes he would be showing the films at a bar or club
and that was all good for me.
As I mentioned before about the kitchen being the center of
activity at Central, well, around 6:00-9:00pm, comrades
from all the other local offices would come to Central to
hang out and eat. We had to stop this because too many
folks would come and eat up all the food before folks who
lived there got anything. That was stopped by June.
Because Central was the heartbeat of the Party, everybody
wanted to be assigned to Central. People all over the
country would try to be assigned to Central. June would
say, " the people assigned here are the people we want
here, they are here for a purpose."
While working at Central, I had many assignments. When we
started boycotting stores that wouldn't support the
community, I was chosen as line captain for Mayfair,
Safeway, and Bill Boyette's. Along with Bobby Bowen,
Michael, Torrance, James Mott, Clark Bailey, and Masai, we
kept the lines going and full of spirit. Another
assignment was to help fortify Central HQ's and that meant
digging tunnels for escape and filling sandbags. David
Cotton helped build part of the tunnel. He is the guy who
started the shootout with the LA Police in 1969 by firing
on the police first when our policy was self defense. He
was later discovered to be an FBI informer and he was the
guy who helped bust Geronimo ji jaga down in Texas.
Geronimo stayed in jail for almost 30 years behind Cotton
and another FBI informer, Julius Butler in LA. We built
another floor underground at Central where we had a target
range that we used daily to better our shooting skills.
The surrounding community already supported the Party and
would watch out for us. They would call us on the phone to
tell us what the police were doing. Right behind Central's
backyard was the home of James Johnson's family. He was a
former Party member from the East Oakland office and he had
to quit to get a job. His girlfriend was having a baby.
His family always let us know what was going on, as well as
other neighborhood people. About three blocks from the
office was Campbell Village, a public housing project,
which was a stronghold of Panther support. Many Panthers
came from there, as well as other public housing in
We held Political Education (PE) classes at Central HQ
every Sunday. All comrades were required to attend. At
that time, we had many community centers and offices around
the Bay area. Sometimes over 200 people would be at PE
class, so one had a chance to talk to that special person
when PE class was over to make those hook ups.
We had a set of barbells in the back yard. After Huey got
out of Prison everybody started to get in better shape.
Jimmy Carr (Jackal Dog), George Jackson's friend from
prison, was out and he used to push weights in the back
yard as well. No one could match him; he was a weight
lifting champ from San Quentin and Soledad. He was a large
brother about 6'5" with a very solid body, and was known
throughout the penal system as a "Bad Brother."
In the backyard, we dug a barbeque pit and used it often to
cook for Rallies. Sometimes on Sundays, we would fire up
the pit and que-up about 50-100 lbs of meat for the
comrades and local neighborhood people who would be flowing
in and out of the backyard. Bud, David Hilliard's older
brother, was a good cook as well as Mojo, Bobby, Mary
Williams, and Marion, June's wife.
Sometimes we held free food giveaways at the West Oakland
Center and in front of Central. We would have two or three
trucks full of food for the people. We had a number of
programs already established: the Breakfast programs,
Liberation Schools, Legal Aid, and the George Jackson
Clinic. The people loved the Party. They saw us everyday,
working to build up the community. We supported the local
businesses by buying from them and carrying business to
them. The Party spent money in the community.
Every once and a while I was lucky enough to get to go into
the field and sell newspapers. Ray Masai Hewitt and I
would go downtown to sell papers and walk back to the
office, going door to door around Central. He loved it as
much as I did.
When other members from other offices came to Central, we
would put them in the field to see how well they organized.
Many members came to Central with some type of title like
Deputy Minister of Information, Deputy Minister of
whatever. Once they came to Central, they had no title.
The only people in charge with titles were the Central
Committee members. Titles meant nothing in the Bay Area.
After being at Central for a while and after Huey's trial
was over, I was placed in the Lamppost and worked there at
night. During the day, I worked with Huey's parents
helping them around the house and running errands for them.
After that, I was drafted into Bobby Seale's mayoral
campaign. After the campaign was over, I worked at the
Oakland Community School. Later I was chosen again to work
at Central, which had moved to 85th and East 14th Street in
East Oakland. This time I was going to be O.D., a shared
job with Aaron Dixon. This time I didn't like working at
Central, in fact I hated it. The Party had changed so much
in the two years since I was at 1048; to me it was like a
By Billy X Jennings