Tag Archives: 48th Anniversary

Bobby Seale, Co-Founder and Chairman of Black Panther Party talks history, progression 48 years later

Stephen Edwards, Chairman Bobby Seale, Jonina Abron Irvin  (standing) Kofi Taharka of NBUF
Stephen Edwards, Chairman Bobby Seale, Jonina Abron Irvin (standing) Kofi Taharka of NBUF

Black leather, big, beautiful, perfectly molded afros and strong Black men and women carrying huge Dirty Harry style guns is the impression that comes to mind when hearing the co- founder of the Black Panther Party is in Houston for the 48th annual anniversary of the organization.

Instead, three members, Co- Founder/Chairman Bobby Seale, Stephen Edwards of the Houston Chapter and Jonina Abron Irvin, the former Editor of the Black Panther Party Newspaper, who looked like normal grandparents sat before the press with bounds and bounds of stories and memories that were as captivating as an story grandma or grandpa could ever tell.

In 1966, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton recognized the disparities in the Black community of Oakland, California and the blatant racism. They grew tired but not weary. Instead of continuing to grumble they put their brains and muscle together to form one of the most influential and memorable organizations in the history of America.

Seale created a 10- point platform on the need for freedom and as a war on poverty. The party was formed on his birthday October 22, 1966. In the mid 60’s the country was amidst turbulent fighting for human civil rights and the anti-Vietnam movement, when a young Black college student with an aerospace engineering job inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quit his job and began organizing for youth jobs in North Richmond.

Soon a small group of men began to meet and to learn the law. Memorizing and understanding the law was the niche that made the Black Panthers so dangerous because they knew what could and couldn’t be done under the law and they could stand on it. They began patrolling the police. They would stand the mandated distance away with their weapons and tape recorders observing their actions.

“The police jumps up to tell us you have no right to observe us and Huey began to state the law. The looked around like what kind of negroes are they,” said Seale?

By Huey Newton, the Minister of Defense, knowing the law, they captured the attention of the police and the people.

“The first year we had 50 members. We had people like Eldridge Cleaver and his wife Kathleen by May of 1967,” said Seale. “In the early days the Black Panthers were for self defense and even women wanted to join and carry guns.”

Seale believed to really create change Blacks had to be elected into “power seats”. In the 60’s when the Black Power phrase was popular there were 50 Blacks in office across America, said Seale. The only way to change the racist laws was to be in some type of position of power to create legislation.

Changing legislation was exactly what happened but not for the party. Politicians began to change the laws where they stopped the Panthers from carrying weapons.

“We were rising up and resisting,” said Seale. “They made the Jim Crow laws and it had to be enforced. Its one thing to holler Black Power this and that but power comes from the ability to make phenomena act is a desired manner. They will kill you and murder you about taking that power.”

The Panthers did amazing work within California that began to spread in Black communities all over the country. The breakfast program started and community support systems were flourishing.

“The reasons schools have free breakfast programs now is because of us,” said Jonina Abron Irvin, Former Editor of the Black Panther Newspaper. “J. Edgar Hoover called the program a threat. He understood the power of feeding hungry children.”

The next phase was to apply the original intent, which was to get the proper legislation passed. They tried to get referendums passed in three cities, Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco. San Francisco was the only city that received enough votes to get the Police Patrol Referendum on the ballot. It allowed for 3-5 community members who were duly elected to review and investigate police complaints.

The party began to dissolve by 1974 and Seale resigned from his seat as chairman. Political organizing mistakes, central community framework and mistakenly breaking down of chapters allowed for the dissolution of the Panthers after close to 10 years of service.

Seale passed down advice to the younger Black community that they should continue to run for political office.

“In 1960 there were 500,000 seats we (Blacks) could be elected to and we only had 50,” said Seale. “We couldn’t vote and it had to be changed and it was the reason we started the Black Panther Party. Now we have the Black Caucus and 42 power seats, we must keep those seat, its power.”

Seale went on to say that people don’t need guns in this day and age. They just need video cameras and an organizing mind and spirit. If the political seats can be gained and the community takes over the local government then a community can gain real control.

The Black Panther Party will celebrate their 48th Anniversary at the Communication Workers of America (CWA) Hall in downtown Houston on Friday, October 24, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

48th Anniversary of Voting Rights Act Passage

Dear Friend,

This month marks the 48th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, landmark federal legislation aimed at preventing discrimination in voting. The Voting Rights Act was passed in response to an era in which many states, particularly in the south, mandated literacy tests, poll taxes, and other devices to institutionalize the disenfranchisement of African Americans.

One of the key tools of the Act is Section 5, which requires states with a history of discrimination at the ballot box – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia – to receive special preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court prior to changing election and voting laws. For nearly five decades, the Department of Justice and our court system has blocked racially discriminatory voting measures from going into effect in communities across the country.

Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson , Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks at the Voting Rights Act signing
Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson , Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks at the Voting Rights Act signing

Friends, do not let the Court’s decision reverse decades of progress we have made to protect our voting rights. The United States Congress must immediately revamp the Voting Rights Act to create a formula which takes into account current and historical discrimination and bias while meeting the requirements the Supreme Court has set out. I urge you to let Congress know that it must act now to protect the voting rights of millions of Texans.

However, this past June, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted this essential protection when it ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 4 outlines which states are subject to the extra protections provided by the preclearance requirements of Section 5. So while Section 5 survives, it remains unenforceable until Congress updates the formula for which states and jurisdictions are subject to the preclearance requirements.

Writing for the majority of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problems speaks to current conditions.” I don’t know what America the justices are living in to pretend deliberate and blatant attempts to disenfranchise people of color at the ballot box do not exist. I believe this decision is outrageous and nonsensical, and the fight to protect our right to vote goes on to this day.

Instead of poll taxes and literacy tests of yesteryear, states now use controversial voter ID laws and gerrymandered districts to suppress the vote. The Texas voter ID law, approved in 2011, will make it significantly more difficult for approximately one million eligible Texans to exercise their right to vote. A federal court has already ruled that the law will have a discriminatory impact on minorities and impose “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor.” When it comes to redistricting, Texas is now 55 percent minority – and still increasing – yet only one-third of Texas legislative seats provide minorities the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice. Shamefully, Texas was the only state in the country which adopted redistricting plans following the 2010 Census that have been ruled to be deliberately discriminatory against African American and Latino voters.

Both the voter ID law and the discriminatory redistricting maps were stopped because of the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Due to the Supreme Court’s decision, however, these types of voting changes will be much more difficult to prevent from taking effect. The legislature has since passed new redistricting maps, and ongoing litigation continues to sort out the future of the voter ID law. In fact, today the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would be filing a new lawsuit against Texas over the law.

The fight to protect our right to vote continues, as there are pending lawsuits filed by citizens attempting to pull Texas back into a preclearance requirement based on a different section of the Voting Rights Act. However, unlike Section 5, this provision shifts the burden of proof to the challenger to prove a voting change is discriminatory rather than the state being required to prove it is not. Once again, it is up to the citizens to fight to preserve their voting rights.


RE Signature

Rodney Ellis