When I Joined the Party

Panther in Training

In 1968, I was 17 and fresh out of high school in San Diego. I moved to Oakland in June and signed up for Laney College summer session. In Oakland in the summer of ’68 it was Free Huey or The Sky is the Limit. All of Oakland was on edge and there were daily rallies at the Alameda County Courthouse, with Panthers in leather jackets and berets. After attending a few rallies, I found out that my neighbor was in the Party. Andrew Austin drove the big white van with the panther on the side shown in many photos. I would go over to his apartment and listen to Party members rap; Sam Napier, Charles Bursey, and Wendall Wade.

In August, the East Oakland office opened on 73rd and E. 14th – a big store front office. Victor Houston told me to come by. I filled out the Party application, spoke with Capt. Robert Bay, and went to my first political education class at St. Bernard’s Church. George Murray, Wendell Wade and Landon Williams taught political education at that time. I was told that I was a Panther-in-training for 6 weeks.

All Panthers-in-training had to know how to clean and operate their weapons and many more. Everyone had to have technical equipment, 1000 rounds, go to the range and know how to reload ammo.

In the Party in the early days, there was a military-like structure to the organization. Robert Bay was Captain and under him were Lieutenants, Officer of the Day, section leaders and sub-section leaders. I was placed under the leadership of Anthony Woods who was smart and streetwise to boot. Under his leadership, I learned every sewage tunnel and was taught how to reload my own rounds. I studied hard, bought myself an FN assault rifle 30-06, 10 in the clip (common at that time), and a Smith & Wesson 357 with a 4” barrel.

On September 8, 1968, I turned 18 and became a Panther in good standing, after being schooled about the rules and regulations of the BPP and how to conduct oneself in the community. Huey was convicted of manslaughter that day and the police shot up our office at 45th and Grove, a birthday I will never forget.

In our section, Brookfield and surrounding areas, we did door to door paper selling, collected information about supporters and problems in the area, attended community meetings to let the people of that area know the BPP was there to serve them, registered people to vote, set up Breakfast Programs, spoke to youth and organized Black Student Unions.

I worked hard and became the O.D. of the East Oakland office. The O.D. "Officer of the Day" was in charge of the office under the captain. My duties were to open the office at 9:00am, assign comrades to various locations to sell papers, collect donations and do community work. My office duties were to answer the phone, talk to community people coming in for help or support, and sell newspapers in front of the office. I was also responsible for getting food for dinner when the comrades came in from the field after a hard day or organizing, and setting up security for the office and our homes for the night. Somebody was always on security.

In 1969 I began to pull security at Central Headquarters. A plan had been uncovered that the police were going to raid the National Headquarters. We printed it in the papers to expose the plot. Only the best were called in to pull security, armed to the gills, we were ready if they came. After that, I was often called to security duty in many situations.

A Panther-in-training is to conduct him or herself as a Party member and to understand the Party’s philosophy and history. A Panther-in-training must read at least 2 hours per day to stay abreast of the changing situations in the community and the world. Readings included the Party newspapers, the Red Book - Quotations by Chairman Mao, The Black Book – Axioms of Kwame Nkrumah, Wretched of the Earth and other books on the BPP reading list. There was a great emphasis on study.

A Panther-in-training had to know the 10 Point Program, point by point; the 8 points of attention, 11 main points of liberalism, the 3 main rules of discipline, and Huey P. Newton’s executive mandate #3. Political education classes were attended on Thursdays and Sundays.

A Panther-in-training did political work and sold the Party newspaper, the Black Panther. We had to call in or come by the office at least once a week. On Wednesdays, everyone worked on getting the paper out in San Francisco.

  • Watching Their Backs

By 1970 I was a well-trained soldier for the revolution. I could hold my own in shooting and military skills. I was now working out of Central HQ, 1048 Peralta St., in West Oakland. Everyone working at Central HQ were under the direct supervision of the Central Committee. I was chosen to assist in the daily security of David Hilliard while he was going to court for the April 6 shoot-out in which Lil Bobby was murdered.

In August 1970, Huey was released from the Alameda County Courthouse. Our duty was to see that Huey made it to safety. Ray Masai Hewitt, Joel Durham, Geronimo, and David Hilliard were also part of the welcome and security squad. We were not prepared for the 8,000 people outside the courthouse. When they saw Huey on the step of the side entrance on 14th street, we quickly turned around and went out the other door on 12th. The people saw us and we began to run. We ran about 50 yards and then were surrounded by over 10,000 people wanting to see Huey. They were chanting "Huey, Huey." Huey took refuge on top of a car (now a famous photo). It was a wild, great feeling. I knew what the people felt, it was a real peoples' victory.

After David was convicted, I was chosen to work with Huey as part of his security crew. Robert Bay was Huey's personal security guard. I worked with Clark Bailey (Santa Rita), Ray Masai Hewitt, John Seale or June Hilliard. Everyday we made sure that Huey was safe, coming and going to court. We all had lunch with Charles Garry, the BPP's attorney, on a daily basis.

A little later, the Party bought a nightclub, the LampPost, in downtown Oakland. It was staffed by trusted Party members, of which I was one. During the day, I was entrusted to work for Mr. and Mrs. Newton, Huey's parents. I came over 3 times a week to mow the lawn, work around the house, go to the store and run other errands. But mostly, Mrs. Newton would feed me and I would listen to her tell stories about Huey when he was younger. Sometimes Huey and Rob would drop by. I would try to look busy, but Mrs. Newton would say, "Sit down and eat your food." I loved Mrs. Newton.

In 1972, Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown were running for political office in Oakland. I was drafted into the campaign and selected to be a section leader in East Oakland, my old stomping grounds. I ran section 7, from High St. to 73rd Ave. and from MacArthur Blvd. to San Leandro Blvd. I opened an office on 55th and East 14th with money raised by Vanetta Molson and community worker, Robin Hart, from Oakland High BSU. It was a large, modern office with living quarters in the back. Bobby Seale like it very much and made it his campaign headquarters. Even Huey would come by.

Eventually, Bobby was in the runoff election. Our particular section deserves credit for putting out a superior effort in his behalf by registering people and getting them out to vote. We picked up people from the San Antonio Village and Havencourt Public Housing and drove them to the polls, which put him into the runoff. Special thanks should go to Louis "Tex" Johnson, Robin Hart, William Cloud, Tim Thompson, Michael Ellis, Barbara Lee, Vanetta Molson and the Irby family.

In 1974, after securing donors for the Community Learning Center, I left the organization due to internal contradictions.