Black Panthers' leader defines a new revolution: Julian Kossoff reports on a stormy meeting addressed by the Sixties radical Bobby Seale
Monday 05 October 1992
founder of the Black Panthers whose clenched-fist salute became a symbol of the late 1960s, is now 56 years old and a teacher, the pistol that once hung from his waist replaced by a paunch.
But even so, a 2,000-strong audience crowded into the Brixton Recreational Centre in south London at the weekend to hear his message of black power.
However, after an hour of oratory Mr Seale became angry at questions demanding an explicit programme for black people. 'I can't do everything,' he cried, and stormed out. Before his exit he implored the mainly black audience to develop 'political education, discipline and organisation'.
The passion and anger of the Panthers endures. Mr Seale, invited to speak by a newly-formed group of black and Asian people, Panther UK, can still preach the evangelical message of black socialist unity.
Stalking the platform, he expounded the movement's 'race-class line', emphasising that different peoples - black, brown and white - had similar experiences of oppression and should unite against their common oppressor, the exploitative capitalist system. 'Don't you get the connection?' he asked repeatedly.
The ideology had not changed substantially since the new left hailed the Panthers as the first genuine American revolutionaries since 1776 and Herbert Hoover, the FBI chief, called them 'the number one threat to the internal security of the nation'.
Mr Seale, the only Panther leader still alive - many were killed by the police and his co-founder, Huey P Newton, was murdered by a drugs dealer in 1989 - made no mention of his own 'martyrdom' at the Chicago Seven trial when the judge ordered him bound and gagged while he was charged with incitement to riot during Democratic Convention in 1968.
When he remembered the past he preferred to recall when the Panthers had stopped snarling. Armed defence, the controversial concept that all black people have the right to bear weapons to defend themselves from the racist state, was outdated, he argued. 'We don't need guns in the USA, at the moment . . . co-operation, humanism and grass roots organisations is where it's at.'
According to a Panther UK spokesman, the Seale tour had helped recruit 800 new members, quadrupling their numbers. Colin De Freitus, Panther UK's leader, said the movement aimed 'to build a powerful and democratic organisation capable of fighting on behalf of black people'.
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