[sixties-l] Bobby Seale back home, ideals intact (fwd)

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Date: Mon Oct 21 2002 - 14:59:14 EDT

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    Date: Mon, 21 Oct 2002 11:42:02 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.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
    decades ago.
    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
    Panthers were.
    The officer handcuffed Hilliard and led him from his
    apartment to a patrol car, but then let him go,
    Hilliard said.
    "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 chjohnson@sfchronicle.com
    or write to him at 483 Ninth St., Suite 100, Oakland,
    CA 94607.

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