Interviewer: Louis Massiah and Terry Rockefeller
Production Team: B
Interview Date: October 13, 1988
Camera Rolls: 3009-3010
Sound Rolls: 304-305
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Emory Douglas, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 13, 1988, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
Could you talk about the reception that the Panthers gave for Betty Shabazz and how that influenced you to join the Panther Party?
Well, it, it influenced me in, ah, the sense that, ah, I was, was not active prior to that in any type of--
Let's just stop a second.
How did the reception that the Black Panthers gave--
How, how did you feel, I mean, what, what did you think when you heard about, ah, the reception that the Panthers gave for Betty Shabazz? And how did you learn about it and how did you feel?
Well, um, I learned about the, ah, reception for sister Betty Shabazz. It was in 19--uh--67. It was when I joined the Black Panther Party. And at this particular time there was, ah, a group of young brothers in San Francisco who called themselves the Black Panther Party. Ah, I had also heard about, ah, a group of young brothers who were in Oakland. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale who were patrolling the community and, ah, with law books and guns. And they were like, ah, watching the actions of the police who were at that time, ah, basically outright just murdering a lot of young Blacks. And nothing wasn't being done.
Once again, how did you hear about the reception for Betty Shabazz that the Black Panthers were planning, and you might tell about the history of the Black Panther Party and how you learned about it.
Well OK. There were two Black Panther parties. There was a Black Panther Party in San Francisco and there was a Black Panther Party for Self-Defense which was in Oakland. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense which was led by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and there was the Black Panther Party in San Francisco, ah, which was led by another group of, ah, young brothers. And I was under the impression at that particular time that the, ah, San Francisco branch of the Black Panther Party which was organizing the, ah, sister Betty Shabazz's, ah, ah, welcoming committee, ah, were a part of the, ah, Black Panther Party in Oakland. But, ah, just what happened is that Bobby Seale and Huey Newton came to an organizing committee meeting. And, ah, I seen them there and I was very impressed with the way they, ah, carried themselves and articulated their positions which were, ah, much more sound and much more in tune with the community than that of which I had, ah, ah, encountered with the, ah, Black Panther Party in San Francisco. So from there, ah, ah, I began to become a part of, ah, the ideals of, ah, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense which was, ah, under the leadership of, ah, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.
What were some of the first activities that you did as a member of the Black Panther Party? What was it that you did and, and, just describe some to me.
Well, the first ones was, ah, that were just the, being able to go on the patrols and to observe the actions of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in action in Oakland, California, ah, confronting the police in Oakland, California, who were notoriously known at that time in the Black community, when they would confront them in relationship to the rights of the, of young Blacks who were being stopped in Oakland and being harassed for no particular reason. And the police not being able to, ah, ah, deal with the fact that here were young Blacks with guns and law books being able to articulate the laws to them. This is one of the first activities of which I was involved in. Also being able to, ah, participate in, ah, in some of the rallies that took place in North Richmond around the murder of Denzil Dowell and also trying to incorporate North Richmond into a city of which it would be a base of political power for Black people because it was an unincorporated area.
OK, how did the march to or appearance in Sacramento take place?
Yes. It, well, OK, ah, ah, the Sacramento, ah, we went to Sacramento to the legislature. This was something that, ah, evolved out of a meeting that took place at the Black House. Black House was a place, a house in San Francisco which was in, was, ah, started in 1967. It was a place that was divided between those Blacks who were involved--more so particularly in the cultural aspect of African history in this, in this country and in the world--and, ah, Blacks who were more involved in, in the politics of this country and in the world. And, ah, that, those who were, ah, were involved in the more cultural aspect were like, ah, LeRoi Jones, Ed Bullins, ah, ah, Marvin X and, ah, ah, what have you. On the other side it was, ah, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther Party. And, ah, also you had the, ah, Black Student Unions of San Francisco and what have you. At, at the Black House there would be cultural events and there would also be your political, ah, discussions and debates, uh. So, ah, the whole thing with Sacramento came about out of, ah, a, a meeting of, of, ah, leadership of the Party at that time, which was Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and then incorporated, ah, Eldridge Cleaver, ah, because he was, ah, working at Ramparts Magazine as a reporter at that particular time. And, ah, from there the discussion was to go to Sacramento to observe the legislature and see what they were doing in relationship to, ah, some gun laws and some other things that were being discussed, ah, so--
So how did it feel to be marching in Sacramento into the state legislature with a gun? What, what, were you afraid, what was going through your head?
Well for me it was a new experience, not because of, ah, you know, this is, ah, here, this is still 1967. This, you know, this, this is Huey and Bobby who were veterans of, ah, doing this routine on a daily basis in Oakland. So but for me it was something of, of, new but it was something I knew that had to be done, ah, to stand up for and to demand respect. So it was like a, it was a fear but not a, a fear of the unknown, more it was the fear of wanting to not be there and be a part of that, ah, to want to run or what have you. It was just the unknown. But all that, ah, kind of, ah, ah, was, became mist in the air, ah, as we, ah, got to Sacramento, ah, because you could, from the leadership and observing them and, and, and the whole, whole delegation. See the delegation wasn't just Black Panther Party members. There were, ah, community people who were there at the particular time the Denzil Dowell family. They were a part of the delegation. There were also other men, women and children who were there, who were part of the delegation.
How did your family feel and your neighbors when they learned that you were a Black Panther and that you were patrolling the Oakland police and that you were carrying a gun? What was their reaction?
Well there was the same stereotype kind of thing that you're moving too fast, and that, ah, you know, you should slow down and, ah, you, be more conservative uh in, in the way that you do things, you know, that perhaps that you going to killed, ah, or what have you.
Could say my parents, my neighbors would say, so we know what you're referring to?
OK. My parents, or my neighbors were, were kind of reluctant, ah, ah, or kind of, ah, standoffish in their attitudes towards the Black Panther Party because here you had a new dynamic kind of, ah, organization coming out and doing things that never had been done in the history of this country before--carrying guns, standing up to the police, standing up to the power structure**, demanding, demanding, ah, the rights that were, ah, that we were supposed to have when we came to this country.
In the Panther writings there's a lot of talk of revolution, did you believe that this was the beginning of a revolution, you know, your work within the Panther Party, did you believe that you were part of the revolutionary vanguard or--
Did you really believe revolution was beginning to happen, was going to happen through your involvement in the Black Panther Party?
Well, you know you see a revolution is a process, and you see that our processes about making social change. So you know if you could, ah, bring about community control of the police and the community that's a part of the process of bringing about the revolutionary change in the whole concept and thinking of the, ah, the police and establishment in this country. So that's a part of the process--I felt that we could influence and change the thinking of people in this country, ah, yes.
Could you just talk about the patrols. Just explain how they worked, when you were patrolling the Oakland police. What was the process?
Well, ah, Huey and Bobby, it would be in groups. Huey would be, would be with a cadre of party members. Bobby Seale would also with a cadre of party members. And they normally would be patrolling, just riding around the community, observing, seeing what was going on, talking to people. And if they seen the police harassing someone in the community, they would get out, come out, observe what the policeman was doing. Policeman was violating that person's, ah, rights, they would interject themselves into the, ah, into the, ah, the, ah, the situation, and to let them know what the rights of that individual was.
Could you answer that question just once again? Explain the process of community patrols.
OK. The process of community patrols--
Well, it was about going out into the community, observing the, ah, the, ah, police when they were out, ah, ah, stopping someone for no particular reason, harassing people in the community. Being out there to be like a, a watch, to make sure that these people weren't, ah, brutally beaten or, or shot for no un- un- unknown reason.
OK. What was your involvement in the survival programs of the Black Panthers? What did you do? What was your day like, in relation to the survival programs?
Well, I worked on the, ah, breakfast programs. I also, ah, did, ah, a lot of the, ah, the, ah, the, ah, information. Developing the, ah, the print material, that had to be, ah, distributed to let people know about the different programs. So, I, ah, did a lot of the, ah, artwork that, ah, reflected the, ah, survival programs and what they were about.
How did the Panther paper come about?
Well, the Panther paper came about, ah, ah, out of a newsletter, ah, 8 1/2 by 14 newsletter--
How did the Panther paper come about?
The Panther paper came about out of a newsletter that Huey and Bobby had put together. The first one dealing with the, ah, Denzil Dowell, ah, murder of Denzil Dowell in Richmond, California. And, ah, from there it, ah, they had a second edition which was also a newsletter. Then the third edition which evolved, which became a tabloid was, ah, when the, ah, march on Sacramento to the legislature.
And could you talk a little bit about some of the alliances that the Panthers formed with other White radical organizations. How did they come about, and what were some examples of those? You might talk about the Peace and Freedom Party and also the Vietnam War Veterans.
Oh, well, the Peace and Freedom Party, that alliance came out of, out of the time when, ah, Eldridge Cleaver was in prison, and, ah, to bring attention to his, ah, his case at that particular time. So there was an alliance for him to run as President of the United States. So he ran as President of the United States on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. At the same time is also the time when Huey Newton was in prison, and he ran, ah, for Congressman, I think in the 7th congressional, 8th congressional district in Oakland on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. Our alliances with the Vietnam Veterans was, was one because we had a lot of veterans who were involved in the party.
Can you talk about the anti-war work that the Panthers were involved with? Any alliances dealing with anti-war work?
Well, you know, the anti-war work alliances was just that we were involved with, ah, the different, the student movements on the different campuses who were involved in the, ah, the, ah, Vi--ah, the Vietnam veterans, the Black Vietnam vets, who, who were, ah, who were also, ah, participating. And you had a lot of young, young Blacks who were coming out of the service, or who, who were, who were expelled, you see, from the service, who, who were also involved, in, ah, in the, ah, in that particular, ah, struggle.
OK, I'm particularly interested in the work of the Panthers in alliance with White radical organizations. And I know there were a number of mobilizations in the spring of '68 dealing with anti-war work. Do any of those come to mind? Or any work with radical White organizations?
OK, I have a list, but I don't have it with me here.
Huey Newton was arrested, shot and arrested in October of '67. And there were a number of rallies that took place afterwards, one at Alameda Courthouse. Can you talk something of the feelings that you experienced at those rallies, to see so many people there gathered in support of Huey Newton, facing the state. That was a pretty big deal.
Yeah, well, you know, you got the, ah, the feeling that there was a camaraderie there. That there was a unity of ideals on the, ah, issue of police brutality and murder.
Let's just do that once again because of the car.
You got the feeling of there was, ah, unity of ideals, a camaraderie there. That people were, ah, ah, ah, had a unity of ideals around the issue of community control of police. You had this, ah, also had the feeling that, ah, that there was, you know, that you could, ah, within the numbers and amount of people, that we could overcome a lot of the difficulties. You had a, ah, positive, ah, energy, that you could say that existed, that carried over not only into, ah, there, but carried over into developing and people becoming a part of the, ah, programs themselves. So, it, it, it was a carry-over, from not just people coming out to support Huey, and the, and the, and the, and what was happening at the courthouse, but also becoming involved in, in, in what was happening in the community.
Emory, could you talk about your decision to join the Panthers, and the feelings that Terry just referred to?
Yes. My decision was, ah, was, ah, very easy. Once I seen Huey and Bobby and what they were about, ah, and the, ah, positive, ah, energies, and things that they were doing, I was ready to join. It brought, it, ah, the feelings were, it brought a lot of pride. It was like being a part of, of, of a movement that you had seen on TV, and now being able to participate and share in that movement. When you, ah, you heard and talked, heard talk about Malcolm, seen Malcolm on TV, ah, at that, at that time. You had heard and talked about Stokely Carmichael, Rap Brown, SNCC and what have you, and all the different things that were happening. And to become a part of a movement that had encompassed all these different concepts and ideals, ah, in its own creative way. It brought a sense of pride. But there was also, there was the doubts and the fear of whether you were going to survive or exist, but which became a part of your make-up, and you, you know, went on and took care of business the way you had**.
At the Betty Shabazz, escorting her, did- was that something that produced a real emotional reaction? What did it look like?
OK, well, it was a very, it was, ah, it was a very, ah, ah, colossal event, ah, because of the fact that you had, here you had Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, ah, going to the airport with the cadre of Black Panthers and community people with guns to meet Sister Betty Shabazz as she got off the airplane. They went all the way to the runway of the airplane to meet her and to escort her off- and went off someone else to escort her off the plane. I think this had a powerful impact, ah, ah, ah, wi- w- within the, ah, ah, to the world, as a matter of fact. It was also a powerful event, the fact that when she went to visit I believe Rampart's Magazine when she was here also, ah, so it, it had, it was a very dynamic experience.