An Exclusive Interview with Bobby Seale

Activist Bobby Seale, born in 1936, is best known as the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, formed with Huey P. Newton in 1966. The Black Panthers gained a turbulent public image and Seale was most notably charged as one of the original Chicago Eight after the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He also underwent surveillance by the FBI during the CONINTELPRO program, which aimed to disrupt political entities it deemed subversive. Seale’s involvement with the Black Panthers was also defined by the creation of grassroots community programs across the country, such as the Free Breakfast for Children Program.

Seale resigned from the Black Panther Party in 1974 and since then has involved himself in projects ranging from continued activism to teaching at Temple University to cookbook writing. Seale addressed McDaniel College on Oct. 1. The following are highlights of his exclusive interview with the Free Press. For full audio, click on the link.


Seale explains a current project, a film in the production stage entitled “Seize the Time: The Eighth Defendant,” which he says will portray:

“My life story, my action-adventure human involvement in the 1960s protest movement era as the Founding Chairman and National Organizer for the Black Panther Party of the United States of America.”

Moving back to the era that the film portrays, Seale speaks about the Black Panther Party protest against the Mulford Act of 1967, a bill in California which aimed to prevent the carrying of loaded weapons within city limits. The protest gained national attention and was a factor in the shaping of the public memory surrounding the Black Panthers as one of violence and militancy. Seale reflects on the public conception of the Black Panther Party, explaining:

“They were about stereotyping us. We were, what, six, seven months old. We were a young ragtag organization. I say ragtag because at the time I don’t think we had 30, 40 members at best in this period. In fact, in that whole year, from October 1966 to October 1967, we had no more than 50 members in a whole year Oakland, California, Berkeley. So May 2, halfway through that period, I led an armed delegation and this delegation consisted of about 12 actual Black Panther Party members.”

On the passing of the Mulford Act:

“By the end of May 3 or 4, weeks later they made law of the Mulford Act. And the Mulford Act said no one could carry loaded weapons inside city limits. That’s very important: inside city limits. Why did they do that? That meant you could carry a loaded weapon still outside of city limits. What happens is if they had said no one could carry a loaded weapon anywhere in the state of California that meant hunters could not carry a loaded weapon. So that meant the law was specifically structured for who? For the Black Panther Party who did have legal weapons when they patrolled the police. They observed the police. And the action was very legal because we had researched the law. Huey P. Newton was two years in law school by this time and we had found the law in a California State Supreme Court ruling that all citizens had the right to stand and observe a police officer carrying out their duties as long as they stood a reasonable distance away.

“So with our guns we stood a reasonable distance away. But they didn’t want that so they made a law that you couldn’t carry a loaded weapon in city limits and they further went to say and you couldn’t carry that weapon in city limits within 150 feet of public property. Now, you’re thinking about public buildings, right? But the Mulford Act went further to say that public property included all roadways and byways. In other words if you’re on the street and if you have a sidewalk, that’s public property. And you have to be 150 away from that public property before you can do what? Load your weapon. Ah, interesting, right, the way they did that. They concocted a law so that we could not carry loaded weapons while we stood a reasonable distance away and observed the police.”

When speaking at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Seale referred to the racist governmental power structure and stated, “We are here as revolutionaries to let them know that we refuse to accept those political decisions that maintain the oppression of our Black people and other people in the world.” Seale shares his current opinions on whether the power structure in the United States is racist and oppressive:

“Yes, the power structure, etc. but you can identify them more specifically nowadays. Look at the whole Republican Party and the Tea Party. They may not say it; they may not use racial slurs or racial words, but the very actions of them, the very act that they would engage in suppressing the vote. Look, the Hispanic people, Black people, and even young white people, students…they are trying to do everything they can to suppress the vote. Why? Because these white people, black people and other people…are concerned with what? Basic civil human rights for all people for all people, including our citizenry.”

On the power structure and activists:

“Whatever you do, try to creatively come up with some kind of relevant community programs in the community. But in doing that, you must research. Be avid readers and researchers and check the facts…Why are they important? Because your ideas must correspond as much as possible correctly to reality. And you’re gonna get a better understanding of the arguments, the political arguments, you’re gonna get a better understanding of the manifested, quiet, hidden racism behind the Tea Party and how they work and support the avaricious corporate money class.”

“…Programs unify the people. Then you can get them to register to vote, and if we can get them to vote and educate them about what kind of politician you want. You need a progressive kind of politician who is really gonna stand up for you.”

“…And they have to identify the difference between a friendly billionaire like Bill Gates and an avaricious billionaire, like the Koch brothers. You see what I’m getting at?”

Regarding violence and justice for minorities in our country, Seale said:

“Police brutality and murder of people of color, not just black folks…still exists, literally. We get a few more courtroom trials than in the early days. Black people got murdered, shot and killed, they didn’t even put people on trial in the ‘60s, you know what I mean? Nowadays we get a few trials. We lose some, they get away with some, like Zimmerman got away with murdering this young Trayvon Martin in Florida.”

Seale’s next big project:

“With my film, I hope to make money. And I would love to make about $5 million off of this if I do an independent film… I would automatically take $2 million dollars out and set it up on a non-profit entity framework and I would set up what I call the Environmental Renovation Youth Jobs Projects.”

“…What we’re talking about is just creating jobs, profoundly. You take a city like Philadelphia. I mean, they have so many abandoned houses… I was there; I ran a youth jobs program repairing and renovating houses, back in the early days when I was living in Philadelphia.”

“…But that wasn’t the very first youth jobs program I ran. Back in 1964 in North Richmond, California, not far from Berkeley and Oakland, California, where I lived, I set up a tutorial program, but it was a youth jobs program. I love youth jobs program concepts. “

On the grassroots programs that characterized his involvement with the Black Panther Party:

“The first program I created was the Free Breakfast for Children Program. A week after that, I created the Free Preventative Healthcare Clinics. We created an extension of the healthcare clinics called the Free Sickle Cell Anemia Testing Program.”

“…We evolved 22 different programs. Winston-Salem created the first free ambulance program, complete with 501c3 nonprofit status. The Richmond, Virginia chapter created the Free Pest Control Program.”

“…These young folks got creative and understood the meaning of demonstrating the issue in a real program that really served the people. I mean, you had to make friends with doctors and all kinds of people. You had to organize and get those resources.”

Seale’s advice to young activists:

“You don’t need any guns. We have enough technology; we can observe the police with our technology. Man, these cameras and telephones really expose and let these guys know. So we can observe and patrol the police with all of our cell phone camera technology. If we see something happen, we do not have to go argue with the police.”

“…I want you to make billions of dollars. I just want your heart, mind and soul in the right place. If your heart, mind and soul hits to the avaricious, you’re wrong. You need your heart, mind and soul in the right place like Bill Gates and his wife and all the foundations and moneys that they put in place.”

“…This is a fight. It’s about constitutional, democratic, civil human rights politically, economically, ecologically and social justice-wise. This is what I give to you. And you don’t have to have a New Black Panthers. As far as I’m concerned, the so-called “New” Black Panthers, they just hi-jacked our name. Their rhetoric is racist. I have no time for that. I’m talking about all humanity. My slogan in the Black Panther Party was “All power to all the people” whether you’re black, white, blue, red, green, yellow or polka dot. It boils down to us having legislation and policies that make human sense, progressive kinds of politics and politicians that’s gonna legislate programs and frameworks that contribute to our human liberation, the general liberation of all humanity living on the face of this earth.”

FEATURED IMAGE PHOTO SOURCE: courtesy of Lauren Murray