A lot of young folks nowdays don’t really understand what the Black Panthers were – and what they really stood for.
There is even an imitation “Panther Party” of about 10 whack jobs who have captured conservative media imagination – and not much else. According to conservatives the appearance of two of these guys on the street outside of a polling place in 2008 constituted “voter fraud” and was directly responsible for a black man being elected President. In a conservative world where 1 black person on a street corner is “trouble”, 2 is a “conspiracy”, and 3 is a “riot” – the emergence of half a dozen black “militants” is cause for 24×7 wall-to-wall fearmongering. “The Nigras is out to get ya!”
Like a lot of the folks involved in the 60’s struggles, the author of this piece evolved. Jamal Joseph is now a Professor – but he maintains his activism.
I was 15 years old when I walked into a Black Panther office and asked for a gun so I could kill a white man.
It was 1968, Dr. King had been murdered. Ghettoes across America were going up in riots and flames and I was a fatherless, angry man child who had been called “nigger” and smacked around by white cops a few too many times.
I was an honor student, a choir boy and a member of the N.A.A.C.P. youth council. My adoptive grandmother, “Noonie”, did her best as a single parent to instill her Baptist Church rooted values of “love they neighbor.” I dreamed of college, becoming a lawyer or in moments of liberated imagination a star ship commander like Captain Kirk from my favorite TV show Star Trek.
I worked part time as a stock and delivery boy at the supermarket so that Noonie wouldn’t have to give me allowance from her tight income that was a combination of social security and part time housekeeping work. I would sweep, mop and vacuum so that Noonie would not have to do anymore bending or scrubbing when she pulled her tired, body up the stairs to our second floor apartment.
Noonie and I were close. I loved and respected her. But she was 70 and I was 15 — and the hip, cool path to manhood was on the streets. The Bronx and Harlem street corners I passed and sometimes hung out on had gangs, drugs, craps games, fights, hustlers, foxy ladies and patrolling cops that had to be eluded even when you were doing no wrong. The teens and men who held court there were living examples of how to walk, talk, swagger and fight your way into the manhood ranking system of being a “cool”, “bad” or “crazy dude” — which was highest honor.
The corners also had “warrior prophets” who talked about Black pride, progress and revolution. Some would be respected “bad” and “crazy” dudes who had gone to prison or to the Vietnam War and came back with something they called “Black Consciousness.” They critiqued drugs, hustling and violence as tools of oppression. They not only gave the corner contrast — they gave it context, and I was fascinated!
The evening news was filled with images of civil rights marchers and anti war protestors being beaten and tear gassed by Cops and National Guard Troops. Black Militant leaders like H.Rap Brown would appear on the news urging armed self defense and revolution. The Afros, dashikis and denim jackets the militants wore became the style of the day from schools to the street corners. We wore our Afros and dashikis to church, marches and N.A.A.C.P. meetings. The elders frowned but tolerated us with memories of the “wild styles” they wore when they were young. Continue reading