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Black Panther Party

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
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
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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.