---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 21 Oct 2002 11:42:02 -0700
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Bobby Seale back home, ideals intact
Bobby Seale back home, ideals intact
Panther co-founder a weary 'humanist'
by Chip Johnson
Monday, October 21, 2002
The last time the Black Panther Party for
Self-Defense was a political and social force,
Emeryville was a factory town and BART had
operated for less than a year.
And now Bobby Seale has come home to Oakland,
where he co-founded the militant group in the 1960s.
In between, he has lived a nomadic journey that
carried him to half a dozen U.S. cities and Cuba.
Seale, now 65, is no longer the fiery orator whose
leather jacket and beret were the recognized
trademark for an armed social movement.
He's a senior citizen who wears bifocals, suspenders
and a baseball cap atop his head. He thinks some
about getting into politics, but he's also weary.
He has a heart condition that restricts his diet, and
he resembles a retired farmer from Oakland, Iowa, or
a retired auto worker from Oakland, Mich. , as much
as a former radical leader from Oakland, Calif.
"I consider myself a political revolutionary humanist,"
Seale said in an interview last week.
If Seale's post-Panther experience defines anything,
perhaps it is that being a revolutionary icon, a living
legend, sometimes isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Look at what happened to former Symbionese
Liberation Army associate Sarah Jane Olson,
sentenced to prison for a bombing plot, or Panther
party co- founder Huey Newton, who became a drug
addict and was gunned down on the West Oakland
streets in 1989.
While most former party members, including several
who left Oakland for Sacramento, have moved on with
their lives, Seale and former Panther David Hilliard
have marketed the Panther legacy.
It's a legacy of black men in black leather jackets,
sunglasses and berets who became an international
symbol of rebellion for many African Americans four
Last month, Seale and Hilliard threatened legal
action against a group calling itself the New Black
Panther Party, alleging copyright and trademark
infringement. Seale is also offended by the new
group's extremist Islamic views and lack of social
"They're a bunch of idiot extremists in the same way
that a racist Ku Klux Klan and a racist Nazi is," he
Still, the original Panthers had more or less faded
away within 15 years after the group's zenith, with
members murdered, jailed or living their own private
Hilliard, who remained in the Bay Area, said even
police officers lost respect for the once-powerful party
members. During a drug raid at his home in the
1980s, one of the officers flipped through old party
photos and told his rookie partner about the force the
The officer handcuffed Hilliard and led him from his
apartment to a patrol car, but then let him go,
"You're not even worth arresting," the officer told him.
Since then, Hilliard has been clean and has
convinced Stanford University to buy original Panther
documents for its archives, but Seale has lived a
feast-or-famine existence since he left the party in
Still, said Newton's widow, Fredrika Newton: "It's
idealism that makes Bobby who he is."
Seale moved from Philadelphia back to the family
home on 57th Street in North Oakland last May with
thoughts of a political career based on the same
social programming the party had promoted.
He and his wife, Leslie, wanted to live close to their
daughter J'aime Bobby Seale, 24, a junior at San
Francisco State University.
And while he has doggedly clung to Black Panther
principles outlined in the party's 10-point plan, his
radical chic celebrity is what opened doors that
would never have happened otherwise.
After he was acquitted for conspiring to murder a
party member turned police informant in New Haven,
Conn., Seale returned to Oakland and ran an
unsuccessful campaign for Oakland mayor in 1973.
Seale left Oakland for Dallas, then lived in a string of
cities and even took flight to Cuba with Newton to
avoid indictment on drug charges in 1974.
For a time, Seale tried his hand as a radio talk show
host in Denver. He outraged residents when he
proposed canceling Halloween after cyanide-laced
Tylenol capsules killed seven people in the Chicago
area in 1982.
He was a youth program director in Washington,
D.C., and spent 10 years as a community liaison
officer for the Afro-American Studies Department at
Temple University. He now makes his living on the
college lecture circuit.
Seale and Hilliard have received royalty payments for
the film "Panther," which was released in 1995, but
none of his adventures rivals his life and times as a
national radical leader.
Like most of his contemporaries, Seale is at a time
in his life when many people reflect on their deeds
and accomplishments as well as their regrets.
And while there is nothing about his work as a
revolutionary that he would change, there is an
underlying sense that perhaps if Seale had had a
choice, he would never have left the Bay Area.
These are much different times in Oakland, and
re-creating those glory days on anything but the
silver screen would be a most difficult feat.
"Youth leads revolution, and we're not so young
anymore," Leslie Seale acknowledged. "I hope
Bobby's not being too idealistic about all of this."
E-mail Chip Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org
or write to him at 483 Ninth St., Suite 100, Oakland,
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