It is impossible for one to study and discuss the history of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense without studying and discussing Bobby Seale, the group’s founding Chairman and colleague of Minister of Defense, Huey P. Newton.
Born in Liberty, Texas, in 1936, his early life was marked by poverty. Despite his father working hard for the family, it was a protracted and bitter struggle to provide basic necessities, which was common among Americans of all races during this period in history. The family move to Oakland, California, when Seale was 8 years old, decently paying war work was available in that region.
Seale dropped out of Berkeley High School and joined the United States Air Force in 1955. However, he had to fight against constant harassment and racism within this organization, and was punished with a dishonorable discharge. He was a talented draftsman and sheet metal mechanic and was easily able to find work, that is, until his dishonorable discharge was discovered by a succession of employers.
During this precarious period, Seale studied at night for his high school diploma. He subsequently enrolled in Merritt College and studied there until 1962, taking courses in engineering and political science. While at college, he became politically active, joining the Afro-American Association and meeting friend and future BPP founder, Huey P. Newton.
He began studying revolutionary writers and thinkers, such as Malcolm X, Frantz Fanon, Mao Zedong, Karl Marks, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin. This sharpened his class and political consciousness and, with Huey P. Newton, led him to found the Black Panther Party for Self Defense on October 15, 1966, in Oakland, California, with Seale as Chairman and Newton as Minister of Defense.
The organization connected with the masses of Oakland and the entire Bay Area by serving them practically, fighting against the corporal punishment of Black schoolchildren, forcing the city to put a streetlight at a dangerous intersection where several children had been killed, and investigating the death of Denzel Dowell, a Black man who was executed by the police. This led to much respect and interest in the party, and it grew throughout the nation.
Newton, Seale, and the Party as a whole became targets of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, which had as its stated goal to combat revolutionary formations by any means necessary. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, labeled the BPP an objective and most dangerous threat to the United States. Seale found himself railroaded through several trials, including the Chicago Eight trial, in which he was bound, gagged, and shackled by Judge Julius Hoffman in response to his demanding his constitutional right to defend himself. As a result of this and other cases, Seale spent much time in prison as a political prisoner. Nevertheless, he continued working for a revolution.
To counter the negative publicity and continue serving the people, the Free Breakfast Program for Children was established. This initiative subsequently spread across the country, along with free health clinics, free clothing stores, and other support programs. Providing for the needs of the black community was a concrete act intended to allow the community to carry out the 10 Principles of the Black Panther Party Program.
However, the Party continued to attract police attacks, with many agents and officers harassing children and parents participating in the programs. Undercover agents were also utilized to disturb the peace and derail the party from within. These actions, in combination with a myriad of other factors, led the party into decline and eventual disbandment. Nevertheless, Seale continues to work and is a vital and key link to our past and teacher for our future.