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April 16, 2024
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Bobby Seale: Co-Founder of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense

Bobby Seale is an African-American political activist and co-founder and national chairman of the Black Panther Party.

The son of a carpenter, Seale was born in Dallas, Texas, on October 22nd, 1936. During the Second World War the Seale family moved to Oakland, California and after leaving Oakland High School he joined the United States Air Force. Seale served for three years until being court-martialed for disobeying the command of a colonel at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

Bobby SealeBobby Seale and Huey P. NewtonBobby Seale

He returned to Oakland and began attending Merritt College, intending to become an engineer. At Merritt he was exposed to an emerging Black Nationalist discourse and first met Huey P. Newton. Inspired by Malcolm X, independence movements in Africa, and anti-colonialist intellectuals such as Frantz Fanon, he founded with Newton in 1966 the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

While working at a War on Poverty program, he and Newton wrote a ten-point program that outlined the outlook and goals of the BPP. The Ten-Point program demanded that blacks have the “power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.” Control of their own community would allow blacks to gain “land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.”

Seale gained national prominence when he was arrested, along with seven other activists, on the charge of inciting a riot outside the Democratic National Convention in 1968, thus becoming one of the famous Chicago Eight (later seven) defendants. After his arrest, he requested that his trial be delayed so his lawyer could recover from surgery. When denied a delay he requested that he represent himself, which the presiding judge, Julius Hoffman, also refused. The court refused to allow him to have his choice of lawyer. When Seale repeatedly rose to insist that he was being denied his constitutional right to counsel, the judge ordered him bound and gagged. Hoffman then sentenced Seale to four years in jail for contempt of court.

While in prison Seale was charged with murdering Alex Rackley, a former Black Panther suspected of being a police informer. On 25th May, 1971, the trial ended in a hung jury and the judge ordered all charges against Seale to be dropped.

After being released from prison in 1972, Seale renounced political violence and concentrated on conventional politics. He returned to Oakland where he found the BPP decimated by arrests, killings, internal schisms, and successful efforts by the FBI to destroy the organization. In 1973 Seale ran for mayor of Oakland and came second out of nine candidates with 43,710 votes.

Over the years Seale has worked on a variety of community projects and published several books including Seize the Time (1970), an autobiography, A Lonely Rage (1978) and Barbeque’n with Bobby (1987).


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