Seattle Black Panther Party: How & Why Did Oppression Exist? Sources: Kurt Schaefer, Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project Northwest African American Museum, Seattle Chapter Black Panther Party Exhibit BACKGROUND: THE NATIONAL BLACK PANTHER PARTY The Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPP) was founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale who met in 1961 while students at Merritt College in Oakland, California. They founded the Black Panthers in 1966 after police in San Francisco shot and killed an unarmed black teen named Matthew Johnson. The Black Panthers’ early activities primarily involved monitoring police activities in black communities in Oakland and other cities, like Seattle, in order to prevent police brutality against blacks. They also instituted a number of social programs to support the black community. By 1968, the Black Panthers had roughly 2,000 members across the country & all chapters of the BPP followed the same Ten-Point Program which outlined the community’s perspective on “What We Want” & “What We Believe”. The Ten-Point program was established based on German philosopher Karl Marx’s idea that the liberation of oppressed people depends on their gaining control of their own communities. The Ten-Point Program states the following about BPP demands (see picture below or link above): To ensure a physical means for self-defense, the Black Panthers armed themselves with guns and knowledge about military-style defense tactics. Due to some of the California branches of the Black Panther Party having violent run-ins with police and other organizations, all Black Panther Party members were considered gang members by the U.S. government and the entire Party was deemed a “national threat,” even though branches like the Seattle BPP never actually led any acts of physical force. In 1967, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover began a counter-intelligence program (officially known as COINTELPRO) to weaken the Black Panther Party and other organizations deemed “Black Nationalist hate groups”. These government actions continued to outrage many in the black community whose lives were consistently threated by government institutions, such as the police. BACKGROUND: BPP SEATTLE BRANCH The Seattle branch of the Black Panther Party was formed out feelings of anger and frustration. Blacks in Seattle, as well as across the nation, had heard many promises with regard to the attainment of racial equality. However, time and time again, the promises were only partially kept, or simply forgotten. While racism was less overt (shown openly) in Seattle, many white citizens still had racial biases that showed itself in the form of hiring discrimination and housing restrictions. Eight members of the Seattle Black Panther Party occupy the steps of Legislative Building, Olympia, 1969 Black citizens were less likely to be hired for high-paying jobs and were often paid less than their white coworkers for the same kind of work. Additionally, white land owners and realtors stopped the black community and other people of color from moving into predominantly white neighborhoods. This was partly because bankers were less likely to offer financial help to people who lived in neighborhoods with people of color. In segregated neighborhoods, black citizens had little no access to quality education, healthcare, food, and recereation. Some blacks in Seattle also had experiences with police brutality, which was a major reason for the creation of the national Black Panther Party. As a result of this oppression, some Seattle blacks felt that they had invested enough patience and hope into the government. A handful of Seattle blacks concluded that the platform of the newly formed Black Panther Party offered a more effective method of securing racial equality. BEGINNINGS OF THE SEATTLE BPP In Seattle, Black Student Unions (BSUs) were the stepping stones of activism that would eventually lead to the creation of the Seattle Black Panther Party. The first BSUs in Seattle were started at Garfield High School (by Elmer Dixon & Carl Miller) and the University of Washington (by Kathy Jones, Anthony Ware, Aaron Dixon, Larry Gossett, and Garry Owens) in early 1968. Both BSUs organized to support black students and ensure racial equality in schools. For example, in 1968 at Franklin High School, a black student and Young activists Penny Audley, Mary Butler, Darlene white student got in a fight. The black student was suspended and Johnson, Mary Kizzie, Linda Mackey, and Voncella the white student went unpunished. This unfair punishment was Stockey were members of the UW BSU, 1967 common in the public schools. Together, the BSUs at Garfield and UW marched with Franklin students, occupied the principal’s office, and held a rally in the school auditorium. While the police arrested some protesters, the students were determined to fight for their rights.. In April 1968, Aaron and Elmer Dixon, and Anthony Ware started the Seattle Black Panther Party branch after meeting dozens of Panthers at a San Francisco BSU conference. At the conference, the students attended a memorial service for Bobby Hutton, a 17 year old Black Panther who was murdered by police. As Elmer Dixon (also 17 at the time) looked in the coffin, he understood what it meant to be a Black Panther. His brother, Aaron, became the “captain” of the Seattle branch. ATTEMPTS TO STOP THE SEATTLE BPP Word spread that the Panthers were organizing in Seattle. For much of the black community, the Panthers’ presence signaled a reliable community resource when others failed. It also resulted in increased police surveillance and suspicion of their activities. Panther membership grew and confrontations with Seattle police became a near-daily occurrence. Police patrols staked out the office and often followed members around town. On a hot July morning, Aaron Dixon arrived at the Panther office to find police confiscating items. He was then arrested for supposedly stealing a typewriter he thought had been freely given to the panthers. He was set up. When word of Aaron’s arrest spread, his brother Elmer organized a rally and marched to the jail. Protesters were told to leave and returned to Garfield Park. Along the way, everything exploded. Frustrated by continued injustice, community members overturned police cars and shattered the windows of local businesses. Chaos and violence lasted three days and the Panthers were blamed. The events made national headlines and marked the beginning of a long battle between Seattle Panthers and police. Eventually Aaron Dixon was released, but he and the rest of the Seattle BPP faced threats from local and federal government. Party members were routinely stopped by police, arrested on made up charges, and held at gunpoint. The FBI secretly offered a $25,000 reward for Aaron Dixon’s capture, and intended to “take out” the Seattle Chapter by the end of 1969. At the height of COINTELPRO activity in 1970, Aaron Dixon was hit personally. Someone tampered with his gun shells, and he nearly lost his right arm at a practice firing session.