Interviewer: Terry Rockefeller
Production Team: X
Interview Date: October 20, 1988
Camera Rolls: 3032-3037
Sound Rolls: 315-317
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Bobby Rush, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 20, 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.
What did it mean for you personally? Where were you coming from when you worked to found the Black Panther party here?
Well, basically, it, um, the Panther Party's founding in Chicago was, uh, a result of some political chicanery on the part of Stokely Carmichael, uh, who, uh, at the time, uh, was beginning to become a part of the Central Committee of the Panther party. And I was a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Chicago chapter, along with, uh, Bob Brown, and, uh, we were very close to Stokely at the time. And Stokely wanted to get a base of, of power on the central committee. And, uh, he asked us to come out and to form a chapter of the Panthers here in Chicago. Actually to evolve the SNCC chapter into the party apparatus here in Chicago. And I was, uh, asked to go out to Oakland and to get the authority, uh, to actually form a chapter here. I did go out, I think it was about October of '68, about 20 years ago, boy. And, uh, I met with Bobby Seale, I met with, uh, David Hilliard, Eldridge Cleaver, and I was, uh, and a guy by the name of D.C. And, uh, I asked, told them that we wanted to form a chapter of the Panther party in Chicago.
Now how did you first meet Fred Hampton, and how did he become part of that back then?
Well, I met Fred in ab--about a year or two before that, about six--well, no actually about '67. Again, uh, Stokely was in Chicago speaking, and he had a speaking engagement in Maywood, which is a suburb. So we went out to Maywood and in this speaking engagement, it was organized by Fred Hampton and the, um, the youth division of NAACP. Okay? At that time Fred was head of the youth division of NAACP. And that's where I met Fred Hampton at, uh, our first meeting. But getting back to the, to the actual formation, because it's quite, 'cause it's kind of interesting. There was a, when I talked with Bobby and David, they indicated that, ahem, there was already a chapter existing here in Chicago and they didn't need another chapter. But I knew what was going on, I was from Chicago, and I just thought that was kind of arrogant of them to say that there was always this chapter, already a chapter here, because the fact of it is that I knew that the people who were claiming to be Panthers weren't really doing anything. They weren't organizing the community, they had no following, they had no office, no one was able to reach them or anything like that. So, uh, when I got back to Chicago, I said, uh, you can, after they had turned me down out there, I said, "Well, we're going to continue to organize because we know what's going on." And plus, uh, Stokely was supporting us. So the first thing we did was to try to locate an office. And I was, I remember, um, in about, um, early, the same time, '68, early part of November, I was on the bus, on the Madison Street bus, and I saw this big building that was vacant and it's for rent sign on it, so I, I immediately jumped off, went to the liquor store next door and asked them, inquired about the building, and they said that it would, that it, uh, it was for rent. And, and I asked, I went back to one of our supporters, Alderman Sammy Rainer[SIC], who was a member of the city council, and also a prominent businessman. I asked him to rent the building for us. And he did, in fact signed his name to the lease and also got the gas and things turned on. So we had a functioning office with a functioning telephone. Ah, around December of, uh, '68, uh, there were two Panthers traveling from, members of the Central Committee, from Oakland, California, and they were traveling from New York back to Oakland. And they asked, uh, uh, I guess they were having some discussion on the plane, and they asked the, the, uh, stewardess whether or not the distance from Oakland, I mean from New York to Oakland was the same as the distance between, from, uh, New York to Cuba, or some, some question similar to that. And this stewardess got hysterical, ran to the captain, the captain called in and they landed here in Chicago, landed the plane here in Chicago, and swept these guys off the plane, because they thought these guys were getting ready to hijack the plane, okay? And, uh, uh, they put them in a county jail. And, uh, we got a call from Oakland, California, saying that, "Well, look we got two Panthers there in jail, and you're the only telephone number that we have in the city of Chicago, so would you see what's going on and take care of those guys that's in jail?" And so that's how we officially became the official chapter of the Black Panther party in the, in the state of Illinois, we, uh, because of that incident.
That's wonderful. That's great, that's great. Can you talk a little bit about what the Panther party was trying to achieve in terms of--you called yourself a revolutionary party. What kind of revolution were you hoping to bring about?
Well, I think that when you look at in essence we were, we were, we wanted to bring about, uh, a change, we wanted to bring about an empowerment, we wanted to bring about changing conditions. Now, the rhetoric might have gone, uh, a number of different ways. I think the Panther Party evolved to, to many different things in the short time that it was, uh, uh, alive and thriving here. It was cultural nationalist at one time, it was, then it evolved into a revolutionary nationalist, and then it evolved into, uh, internationalist, and then it evolved into um, had components of socialist philosophy involved in it, and then it ultimately evolved into what we call revolutionary inter communalist, you know, which was another, uh, uh, component of a number of different philosophies and ideologies and things like that.
What did empowerment mean to you? What were your goals, what were you working for with the programs and various alliances you formed?
Well, I think that, uh, power, uh, uh, very succinctly, and this is a quote directly from Bobby Seale, saying, uh, was, "is the ability to define phenomena and make it act in a desired manner." And what we were trying to do was trying to organize, um, Blacks, particularly in the Panther party, we were trying to coalesce with other organizations that was trying to organize, uh, natural allies of the Panther party and the Black community, and to, a, a community and a political vehicle and a political force that would be able to bring about fundamental changes in the lives of, in the quality of lives in, in, in the overall Black community. That's what's really the engine, that was the burn, that was the, the, uh, the motivation that most Panthers had, uh, was to bring about social and economic and, uh, uh, political justice for people who had been denied that, uh, since the, since the beginning of their existence in this country.
Can you share something with me about your impressions of Fred Hampton as a leader and why it made sense to pull him into the Panther party, how, how it was that he moved people?
I think that Fred moved people because most people felt as though he had a sense of conviction that was the height of, of, of, uh, of effective, of effectiveness. That he was, uh, a person who, if he said something, then you'd better watch out, within a few seconds he's going to be doing exactly what he said he's going to do, okay? And he was, uh, he was not a person who used his skills to influence and to move people and to motivate people. He did not use them in any kind of selfish manner. He used them strictly to, and, and, to get people to move from one point to another point in their own self-interest. Fred was so courageous. So, uh, extraordinary as a speaker. Ah, so powerful because of the fact that he was a simple, young man, although he was a leader of men much older than him, he was a simple, young man, and that- and his simplicity and his approach to life, uh, and the, and the enthusiasm and excitement and the, and the conviction that it, that it, that this all, uh, uh, uh, again, was a part of. I just think that, uh, that, uh, there are, there are only a few people, uh, ever, who have the same kind of qualities, charisma and leadership abilities that Fred Hampton had. And he only, and he was murdered at age 21, and, uh, if he had been allowed to, uh, to live, if he had lived longer, he would certainly have been a force on this face of, on this Earth.
You were speaking before about some of the alliances, tell me what- that the Panthers did seek alliances with other groups. What were some of the alliances you were seeking?
Well, we had, um, uh, the Panthers were always involved in coalition building. Always involved in coalition building, and, and that's how, one of the ways that we rejected certain--
Who were the Panthers seeking to build alliances, coalitions with?
Well, as you know, the Panthers, we wanted alliances with all progressive groups that we could work with toward a common goal. And we certainly and specifically with--here in Chicago, we, early on in the history of the Panthers we developed a very, very close relationship with, the Young Lords who were a Hispanic group of actually ex-gang members, and not only ex-gang members but they were also middle class students and things like that too. They were, they were, they were an organization we decided to work closely with under Cha-cha Jimenez. And then we also developed a close alliance with the Young Patriots which was, um, a young White organization that was involved in uptown. They were young, Appalachian Whites. And Bob Lee, who was the one of the field lieutenants within the Panther Party actually came from the north side and he was familiar with some of these groups. And he actually worked very hard to pull us closer together. And we developed what we called the Rainbow Coalition. It was the first indication that, I mean, first time that the Rainbow Coalition was used. And we actually had buttons, little small buttons with different colors on it, that there was some alliance, that we were promoting the Rainbow Coalition. And this was back in s--the early part of se--'69. So we also worked very closely with SDS and, and then other organizations throughout the city of Chicago and, and, and I'm just speaking sp--specifically of Chicago now because we thought that there was a role that needed to be played by all those groups, especially in their own neighborhoods, in their own communities. We had--
But you had a particular difference with some faction of SDS and the Days of Rage. Tell me how that came about and where your differences lay.
Well, we, first of all, we never were advacant--advocates of spontaneity. Ah, we thought that uh, i--the need in the Black community was not so much to confront arbitrarily and, and spontaneously the, the police agencies. But that we wanted to develop a programmatic, a programmatic thrust. Um, as you know, the Panthers even split over a similar issue. Ah, that's when Eldridge Cleaver broke with the Panther Party, primarily over the issue of whether or not the party was going to take a, on a ultra-militaristic point of view or whether it was going to actually go in and do some real organizing in the community. And we saw the, the Days of Rage and the Weathermen as not being relevant in that they were only talking about the confronting on them in a, in a, in a quasi military manner, to agencies, the police agencies, whereas we wanted to really organize people and to force--
What were the other fears about Days of Rage?
Well, we knew that, that the Days of Rage, just like the, the Democratic convention, that the Black community would, would, would, would receive the brunt of it. I mean, and, I mean, it's historical, that's been the situation. I mean, if you look at Patty Hearst, I mean, Cinq--Cinq--Cinque is dead, Patty Hearst is, you know, living her life, and the Black community always gets the brunt of the action. And, and that's one of the things that prevent coalition, some serious coalition buildings because, present--prevented it then because if you, if you, if Black, if Blacks get involved and, and rousing the police agencies and enforcers, then they're going to get the brunt whereas Whites are always got the op--the option of forgetting about the involvement, or the system is always going to be manipulated in their behalf and things like that. So I mean, all of those things came into play and we totally rejected the, the, the, the Days of Rage. We knew that we did not want to see the police launch an open attack on the Black community, and they would have done it if Black folks had tried to do the same things that, that the Whites did within the Days of Rage.
You brought up this issue of police repression. As the Panther party was growing and, and, and, becoming more active and , and, and more involved in the community, what were some of your personal experiences with the way the police were responding to the Panthers?
Well, I think that, that the police, they made a concentrated effort, and I'm not just, when I say, I'm not j--just talking about your local cop, okay? I'm talking about those guys who provide the foundation and the, and the, and the theoretical basis for police actions, okay? I mean, in the hierarchy, the, the Justice Department and, and various other police agencies, they concentrated on the Panther Party because I think the Panther Party, for two reasons. One is that the Panther Party developed a rationale that was acceptable by a lot of, of, of Black and progressive White folks in regards to what needed to be done, okay? And two, the second reason, rather, is that I think that the Panther Party allowed itself, because of the rhetoric that we were espousing, allowed itself to become a victim of, of, of police attacks and things like that.
How did those attacks, what, what were some concrete examples of some things that you were having to face from the police?
Well, say for instance, I mean, it was on a lot of different levels.
Okay? You know, we certainly believed that all our phones were wire-tapped at all times. And, and, and a lot of data's come out that they were. We were harassed by having Panthers who were say selling newspapers on the corner arrested, and bond money had to be paid for that. They were charged with a number of different types of charges. We, again, Panthers were actually murdered. Okay? Panthers were charged with a number of, of, of, of, of, of, of crimes, and thus increasing the need for bond money and that type of thing. There were occasions when, I mean, the police attacks here in Chicago, I think the first attack that we had was in June of '69. Okay? Where they actually attacked our office, supposedly looking for a runaway individual who was, in fact, as it came out in the, later on, in fact it was an informant for the, for the police forces, okay?
What did, what did the police do when they attacked?
Well, they, they attacked--
Just say the police, instead of they.
Yeah. The police, at the time, on, I think it was about June 6th of 1969, e--early, early one morning they came and they says, the, the FBI led this raid. And they were embarrassed about this. They led the raid. They shot up the door at the office there, arrested some Panthers, and just to show you the, the nature of, of the raiding officers there, they burned boxes of cereal that we had on the third floor. And this, this cereal was for our breakfast for children, I mean, the, all the breakfast food that we had collected and stored upstairs was, well they d--deliberately set fire to that. They didn't set fire to the second floor. They set fire to the third floor where all the, you know, and was, that was kind of indicative of, of, of, of the, what they were thinking and how they, how they were moving.**. But we, of course probably the most, again, the most poignant, poignant example of, of police repression was the murder of Fred Hampton. And it was very, it was very, it was well thought out, well-planned. It didn't happen to h--if they wanted to get Fred off the streets, he was supposed to have gone back to prison on the 13th of December, th--which was nine days prior to them actually murdering him. So they did not want him to survive. They wanted him to, they wanted him dead. And that's the reason why they, and so that's, that's the most, one of the most extreme examples.
I'd like to talk about December 4th. How did you first hear about what had happened at Monroe Street? Where were you when you heard it?
Well, I was at home--
Well that's great, we ran out of film, so you can have some tea and we'll start--
How did you learn about the murders on Monroe Street?
Well, I learned, I was told about the murders early on the morning of December 4th. I was at my apartment. And I got a call about 2:30 a.m. And a member of the Panthers told me that there was, police had b--cornered off the entire area around Fred's house and that they thought it was a shootout. And they didn't know what had happened. So I immediately got dressed and had someone to come by and pick me up. And I went over to a f--a member of the Panthers' apartment who was, lived down the street, about a block away from Fred, from where Fred was staying. And we were listening to the news accounts. We didn't know what was going on. No one could penetrate the area. We didn't know what was going on. And I guess it must have been about six, 6:15, the report on the radio came over and said that Fred Hampton had been taken to Cook County Hospital. It was a shootout, and I think at the time they said all of the individuals in the apartment had been killed. And there were some police wounded and things like that, and the, but that Fred happened to have been taken to Cook County and they thought that he was, that he had been killed. And I guess maybe about a half hour, forty-five minutes late--later they indicated Fred had indeed been, been, been killed in the, in the raid. And that's how I f--that's how I found out about it.
What did you do for the rest of that day? How did you try to organize the community or cope with the situation or respond to the situation?
Well, we stayed in this apartment, this a basement apartment for a little while. I guess it must have been about ten or ten-thirty, eleven o'clock. We finally, and the police had left the area. We finally came out. And we went into the apartment. And we saw what had t--taken place there. And by that time the news media was desperately seeking our positions and what we were, you know, our responses and things like that. And I recall a gentleman who was a producer of the twelve o'clock news on the local station Channel 5 asked us all to appear, or asked me to appear alo--at the, on, live on the, on the twelve o'clock news with, with the state's attorney, Edward Hanrahan. And we did appear. Hanrahan did--Hanrahan didn't show up. And we told them that from our evidence it looked like it had been a clear case of murder. From the responses that we got from our attorneys and other individuals who viewed the evidence, the physical evidence in that apartment, that it could not have been a shootout. And we proceeded to accuse the state's attorney and the state's attorney's police of murdering Fred Hampton. And it, that led to a number of charges and countercharges and lies being told. And, by, by state's attorney Hanrahan at the time, and led, it led to the police enactment, re-enactment of the, of the, of the, I mean, of the murder and the police assault. It led to lies that were being told when the state of Chicago Tribune at the time painted, they ran a picture of the supposed what was the back door of the apartment leading into the, into the, into the apartment. W--and there was some s--large around, or not large, small round configurations and the police were--
Can you start this over again and say the Chicago Tribune?
Yeah. The Chicago Tribune ran a, a photo--I think it was on the front page--that showed small, round circles and they indicated these circles were supposed to have been evidence of gunfire, that these were actually holes that were cre--was caused by a Panther shooting out at the police. And upon study on it, and upon just looking at the back door, we saw that those were nothing but nail heads, and we were really able to nail the Tribune for, for printing that picture. And, and, but they had bought Hanrahan's story lock, stock and barrel. And their only purpose was to try, to rally public opinion around the story which was totally a falsehood. So, we were able to, to marshal the facts and we were able to present the facts in a, in a way that really proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Fred Hampton was murdered in his bed while he s--slept, and we were able to also establish the fact that there was a strong, extremely strong possibility that he had been drugged. We had an independent pathologist who indicated that Fred Hampton had enough secobarbitol[SIC] in his body at the time he was killed that it would have really just i--immobilized an elephant, okay? And, um--
One of the characters who is part of this whole story--
How, um, how did you think about William O'Neal at the time. How had he gotten involved and, and, and what were the feelings around the party about him?
Well, uh, there was mixed feelings around the party about him.
Can you use his name?
B--Yeah. About O'Neal. William O'Neal. Ah, he was--you know, we had, had mixed feelings about William O'Neal. He, um, was able to get close to the leadership of the party because of the fact that, you have to understand that the party was a group of young individuals who had very little resources. Ah, and, and in a lot of cases very little skills. He came in, had some skills, uh, had some resources, including a car. Okay? And because of, uh, sometimes when we needed to go places we'd just tell O'Neal, well you know, take us over here or take us there and that kind of thing. So he was able to get close to the leadership. Ah, he had some carpentry skills and so at the time, you know, we basically allowed him to, to get, to get close because he could do certain things. And, um--
Were there suspicions about him?
Ah, yeah. Fred had suspicions about him. It's very ironic. Fred had some strong suspicions about him. Because of the fact that he would disappear for days without anyone--
Always use names.
Because O'Neal, because O'Neal would--
Start over again.
Yeah. Fred had strong suspicions about him because O'Neal would disappear for, for days without anybody knowing exactly where he was at. Ah, he was, he had al--there was a side of him that was never revealed. And Fred was always suspicious of that side. Ah, I, I, have a liberal attitude that we took on O'Neal at the time allowed him to get away with a lot of things that, uh, probably uh, in hindsight we should not have allowed him to get away with. We should not have allowed him to get as close. But it was human frailties uh, that allowed him to, to, to, to get to that point. He even emerged or was able to become the Chief of Security for the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther party, and he was, he had access to sensitive, or people of authority, people in positions of power. As a matter of fact, on the day that Fred was, was murdered, on the, the night before Fred was murdered, he was in fact in the apartment at 2337 West Monroe. And O'Neal certainly, certainly was one who was not ideologically or programmatically in tune with us. He accepted the, the philosophy of the Panther Party in, in, in, in, in words but he was always, he always acted differently then say the rank and file Panther or the, the leadership of the Panther Party of the Illinois chapter here. He was always trying to get Panthers to invo--get, involve themselves in uh, petty crimes like robbing gas stations and, and doing that kind of stuff, okay? Which we, which we, most of us rejected, okay? And there might be the one or two who went along with him. But he was always advocating moves that would put us into direct conflict with law enforcement agencies in an immediate way.
And he rejected the other aspect. He rejected the discipline. And I think this is what really--
Start that with O'Neal, see, using again the name.
Yeah. O'Neal, I mean, he, he would advocate all these in, in, in s- in saying excursions but he rejected the discipline of the Panthers. He did not like to sell newspapers or would not sell newspapers. He would not attend the breakfast for children programs and become a part of that. That program.
I wanted to ask you about, after the murder of Fred Hampton, the fears you had for your own safety and perhaps life, and, and what you did.
Well, you know, after th--they killed Fred, well, I had no more response in any time, even when we expected there was going to be a raid was for the leadership of the, of the chapter to go underground. Okay? Um, and after they killed Fred and the, the day following those activities, it was determined that I should not return to my apartment, that I should go underground. And in fact, that's exactly what I did. I, that evening I was protected, hid out in Father Clements' home. Okay? He hid me out over that evening, right on 39th Street, and I always have the utmost of respect for Father Clements, not s--that was just one s--one in a series of things that he's, he's done for the Black community and, and, and, I certainly would su--support him because of that. But they, police did come to my apartment the next morning. They shot the door down, and this is verified by my neighbors and also verified by the evidence. They didn't--they came in and just kicked the door in, they opened a, a, unprecedent--unprecedented chase and, and they were just trying to find me all over the place, and they had my picture on all the local news channels that I was wanted, and, but we had allies and people who were concerned and people who were supporters throughout the city. And I was able to move from place to place until I, I ultimately turned myself in on the stage of Operation Breadbasket on that following Saturday after, after December 4th.
Could you describe that event for me? You know, what you had decided to do, and who was there, and who was supporting you?
Well, we had been in, in contact with, through my lawyer, Kermit Coleman, we had been in contact with the police l--The Afro-American Patrolmen's League, and we had been in contact with Operation Push, and I knew that if the police had arrested me on the street or if they, that I would be dead, okay? And so therefore we arranged to, for me to be turned in publicly so that the entire c--city could see that I had no broken arms, that I was in good condition and that I had no bullet holes, that I wasn't walking around with any bullet holes in me. So that's why we made the, the, the, my, my, to turn myself in, we made that public, and before a, a national or at least, well, a national audience really. And steps according to that, the police they actually charged me with, I think possession of, of marijuana, something like that. They, they, they accused me of having marijuana in my house, and upon further evidence, I mean, this is then taking a long period of time, they saw that the bag of what they thought was marijuana was nothing but birdseeds. I had a, a, a bird in my house and that was bird--those were birdseeds. So they did--they didn't have any charges to hold me on. And th--that's exactly what happened.
I wanted to go back to something we kind of skipped over, which was the Panthers' relationship with the gangs, especially the Black, Black Peace Stone Nation. What were some of the events that happened around trying to?
Well, you know, I think early on the Panthers r--r--remember now, we organized a, we opened our office on November the 17th of '68. Okay? And earlier on, within that period of thirty days we, we had created a, a, quite a furor within the city of Chicago. Ah, we, the press was hounding us, I mean, we were getting, you know, so we were really a, a newsworthy event. The Stones had become aware of us, okay? And Jeff wanted to meet with us, and we decided that we would meet with Jeff because we wanted to try to influence the gangs in Chicago to stop killing each other and stop perpetuating crimes in the community but an--and to join and try to do, do some programmatic thrusts that would benefit the community from our point of view. And so Jeff wanted to meet with us and we wanted to meet with him. Fred--
There was a meeting one night--
Sure. And Fred, Fred had a real keen ability to understand power relationships, okay? And he knew, uh, and had been told--
We need to stop. You're doing great, we just need to change the batteries--
You and Fred Hampton went to meet Jeff.
Yeah. Well, Fred Hampton s--definitely had a, a unique and strong sense of, of power relationships, and he knew that any meeting that was going to be conducted between the Panthers and the Stones was going to send out certain messages. And he wanted to make sure that the messages that the Stones received from the Panthers was that the Panthers were, was not intimidated. As a matter of fact, they, not only were we not intimidated but we intended to represent strength and that we were, if there was going to be any intimidation being done then it was going to be done by the Panthers, not by the Stones. He also had been told that the Stones rival in the city of Chicago, a gang called the Disciples, that Jeff did not res--Jeff Fort, the leader of the Stones, did not respect them because he didn't think that they had any discipline, that they were just a bunch of brutes with no discipline. And Fred wanted to make sure that the Panthers, that Jeff knew, knew and understood that the Panthers were a very disciplined organization. And as a result of that, we decided that what we would do was be very organized when we went over to the Stones' headquarters. Now we were invited to come to their headquarters to talk with Jeff. The night before, we arranged on the third floor of our headquarters, we arranged chairs to s--simulate automobiles or getting cha--seats in automobiles. And we actually had Panthers to practice getting in and out of a automobile with military d--f--p--precision. I had been in the service. I knew about military precision and things like that. And so we actually had Panthers getting out of automobiles at precisely the same time. We also taught them about formations and how to march, and what happened was that on the morning of the meeting--I think we were supposed to meet about 11:30, twelve o'clock, we left our office on the West Side, drove to the South Side. We had weapons, all of us had shotguns and, and, and rifles. And we pulled up on a s--on 67th and Blackstone and on the side of the Stones' headquarters we got out of our vehicles and military, with military position, uh, precision, got into a military formation and actually marched about a block to the Stones' headquarters, okay? Ah, so, and when we went in to the headquarters uh, we announced that we were Panthers from the West Side and that we wanted to, we came for the meeting with Jeff Fort. Well, all hell broke loose. I mean, when we walk, marched in there with shotguns and the rifles. They just, you know, went hysterical. And Jeff wasn't there. So we went back to the West Side. Well, what happened on the way back to the west side, we, we, we had organized ourselves to get in there. We hadn't organized ourselves as effectively in terms of getting out, okay? And the police had been called and told that there was you know, thirty or forty people walking down the street with guns and things like that. So they had descended on us and waited until we actually disbanded. And we went separate ways and they were able to arrest a number of Panthers. And, and it, the weapons were, were in the trunk of most of the cars and things like that. So what happened w--after that, we went back over to our headquarters and an emissary from Jeff Fort came over and said that he wanted to meet with us later on that evening. Okay? Well, at the time most of our people were, were either, they were away from the headquarters. We weren't able to get in contact and a lot of them were in jail at that point because of the fact they had been arrested by the police. So we decided that we would take the, we would meet with him and that we would take a contingency Panthers with us. And so we went, actually went over to the Stones' headquarters, a, another one of their headquarters in the same area, this was a church, at about ten o'clock one night, and we got out of the car and we wasn't, wasn't able to do the military precision bit anymore because of the fact that, you know, we just didn't have the people. Um, but we, I remember getting out of the car and going into this building. And it was pitch Black. And we were told to walk up the steps. And there was about five of us and I think out of the five there were two women. Okay? So it was about three men and two women. Okay? And we were all, of course we were all, had our, had our weapons with us, handguns and things like that. And we, we, we went up these steps, these long, these long steps. I think we went to about the fourth floor of this building. We went past someone standing on the w--
Okay, what I need is to have you just start, describe--
What happened? You walked up the stairs.
Yeah. We were walking up the, uh, up the steps. And as we, I mean, I noticed as we were going up the stairs, although you could hear really, uh, guys standing on the steps with walkie-talkies. And they would say something like "They're on the second floor approaching the third floor." And then, "They're on the third floor approaching the fourth floor." And then... So we finally reached the fourth floor and I mean, this was pitch dark. You couldn't even see the hand in front of your face, okay? We finally re--reached the fourth floor and we went into this big massive room which I think it was probably a gymnasium. Okay. And Jeff Fort walked over to us and welcomed us to his, to his, his, his home, to his, his, his business or to his headquarters there. And he asked us to come over. And they, they had this long table sitting down the middle of the room. Okay, and after exch--a few exchanges he said, "Well, you all came over to our headquarters and you showed us some of your, your artillery. We'd like to just show you, uh, reciprocate by showing you some of ours." And he got on his walkie-talkie and started saying, uh, "Bring out the rocket launcher and bring out the machine guns," and you know, and they, and they, and when he'd say this, a couple of people would come up and they would march in front of us and they would have these rocket launchers and then they would have mach--you know, machine guns and then forces and things like that, know what I'm saying, and he after he impressed us, uh, very much so with his artic--artillery, we sat down and we started talking about things. And I think, but because of the fact that we were organizing, we were disciplined, there developed a respect between the Panthers and the Stones that even today we still have a certain sense of, of, of, of rapport based on the respect. Ah, he, he respected our ability to be disciplined. He respected our ability to be organized and he respected our courage, and I think that's, that, that, that's everlasting. In regards--as a matter of fact, on the, at Fred Hampton's funeral, there was a large contingency of Stones who marched in a military formation to come and pay their last respects for Fred Hampton. I think that, that all became, came about as a result of the, what we would have, the approach that we had in terms of defining our relationships with the Stones.
I would like you to tell me the story about how the chapter here got recognized by Oakland.
Well, basically what happened was that when I went up to Oakland and talked with Bo--the leaders there, Bobby Seale, Huey Newton, well, not Huey, he was in jail, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, uh, David Hilliard. They said they already had a chapter established. But I know that they didn't have a chapter established. I know that some guys was out faking as famil--as Panthers but they, they weren't really Panthers. Ah, so we began to proceed to organize anyway, okay? We opened up a office, got a telephone and that type thing. And w--finally began to, to do some organizing. A couple of weeks later, after we opened our office up, we got this frantic phone call from Oakland, California. Ah, we were the only number that they had of the, for anyone in Chicago. Even though they had said that they had a chapter here, they didn't have a telephone number for those guys. And they didn't have an office. They called us and told us that two of their Central Committee members of the national organization had been arrested for attempting to hi--attempting hijacking. What had happened was that they were on a, on a plane on their way from New York to California, engaged in some innocent conversation. And they asked the stewardess, I guess they were discussing the distance between Cuba and New York and Cuba and, and wherever, you know. And it, they were ask, they asked actually in fact asked the stewardess well, is, "Would it take the plane just as long to get from New York to Cuba as it would take the plane to get from New York to, to California?" And the stew--the stewardess went hysterical because this was the era where they were doing a lot of hijacking at. And she ran to the, to the, to the captain and they evidently called somewhere and they were told to land the plane in, in Chicago. And they actually landed in Chicago, snatched these guys off the plane, put 'em in jail. These guys made their only phone call to Oakland, California and Oakland didn't have anybody else in Chicago. They called us, told us, "Okay, uh, you know, take care of these guys." And we became officially recognized as the official chapter of the Black Panther party in Chicago based on, on, on, on these guys' innocent conversation and their discussion about distance. Okay?
You were talking before about some of the benefits that you, your time working with the party gave you, the sense of discipline, you know--
Yeah, well I think that the sixties, one of the things that the sixties represented to a lot of people, and a lot of young people, was an, an opportunity to get actively involved in, in making, uh, taking control of themselves and taking, and having some impact on the, on the environment that they were, involved themselves on, that they were in. We, I think that the sixties definitely for me, and for a lot of others, uh, uh, gave us an opportunity to exercise leadership, to make decisions, uh, to realize a sense of self-worth and self-accomplishment. And you have individuals 18, 19, 17. I mean, Ronald "Doc" Satcher was about 18 years old when he became a Panther. I mean, this guy created a free medical cli--clinic, a thriving medical clinic where, and he was able to interrelate, uh, interact with physicians, older physicians, heads of hospitals, and things like that. And I mean, you know, where else was he going, was he going to get that type of experience? Fred Hampton was a, a leader of men. I mean, Fred Hampton would, could get men three times his age to follow him. Okay? Ah, uh, so we were able to create a sense of identity and a sense of self-worth and a sense of achievement. And we were able to get a bearing and, and that experience is, and that is experience that just can't be duplicated. Ah, uh, I, I certainly feel as though I did not, as an elected official in the city of Chicago, I did not get to this position using a traditional approach. I was not a Young Democrat. As a matter of fact, I have a lot of fun ribbing other elected officials now and other members of the Central Committee because they, they, they all came up through the, through the Young Democrats and those kind of apparatuses. You know, my training was in the Civil Rights Movement. My training was in the, was in the, was in the Black Panther party. And we've been being a regular democrats for a while now. So I figure my training was probably a little bit better than theirs, okay, so--
Can you tell me how you, how it came about that you went to the Gary convention?
Yeah. I, I was at, uh, in Gary as a part of the entourage of, of Bobby Seale whenever he would come or any of the leadership, the national leadership that would come to the city of Chicago or come near the city of Chicago I would always be responsible for taking care of all of the, whatever logistics and everything and making sure that everything went smoothly. And basically that was my purpose at in, in Gary. I was a part of the leadership team there and I was not an active conference participant. Over the long haul of the conference I was primarily there to, just during Bobby's brief episode there in, in, in, in Gary.
Can we cut for a second?
Again, going back to seeking out protection--
Well I think that one of the, the things that stands out most in my mind about that whole, the, the whole series of things that happened after Fred was murdered was that how the community responded. I mean, we just had enormous out--expressions of support. I mean, we've had, we had White folks from the suburbs who would come in and, and stand guard at our office, okay? During that period of time. We, of course there was about 25,000 people who marched through that apartment to see what was going on. And this whole period, you know, was, people were outraged that, that Fred, that Fred had been murdered in his sleep. And I--but there was also a, a feeling, a feeling of, of, of support and strength and protection that surrounded the, the, the Panthers, including myself. And that certainly was evidenced on the morning that I turned myself in. I turned myself in to literally, I mean, to the police, but in front of, you know, thousands of people. At least two or three thousand people who were at Operation Breadbasket at the time. And there was no other place in the world that I could have, could have, could have done that except there. Of course, Operation Push and private Operation Breadbasket has always served as, as a forum for a number of different things in the Black community. And this was not out of character with them. Ah, however, uh, there was even, not even any discussion about it there. We knew that we were going to turn ourselves in to Jesse Jackson and in to Operation Push- Operation Breadbasket at the time.
What were the forces coming together at Gary?
We had a, a wide array of political thought, uh, Black political thought represented by you know, uh, Baraka to Bobby Seale to Richard Hatcher to religious leaders. I mean, you just had the whole array of people coming together. And I think that for the first time, there was an acknowledgement and a consent from a broad spectrum of the Black leadership that electoral politics represented an option that we should certainly actively seek and investigate. And I think that it was historical in that--
--kind of broad, uh, uh, endorsement and consent.
What kind of array of people were acting on--
Well, you had people from Imamu Baraka to Bobby Seale to Richard Gordon Hatcher, to Mary Hatcher, to religious leaders, educational leaders. I mean, you had a broad spectrum of political leadership that I think that, to--together for the first time and consented, uh, gave, gave their consent to the fact that pursuing electoral politics was a legitimate option that the Black community should, should investigate in, should involve themselves in. And it, it raised electoral politics to a level whereby you had activists from the sixties actually involve themselves in electoral politics. It certainly laid a broad philosophical foundation that I think that is still present today. I can't say that, that Gary, the, the convention in Gary directly affected anyone's election or non election but I can say that it gave impetus to a number of Blacks looking at electoral politics as a legitimate way to involve themselves and contribute to the welfare of, of, of the Black community.
What kind of reception did Bobby Seale get?
Bobby Seale got a very good reception. Ah, he was a, a, a welcomed speaker. He was highly appreciative in terms of his remarks. Ah, and I, after that, I think that Bobby made a decision to run for mayor of the city of Chica--mayor of Oakland, California at the time. And of course, you remember he got into a runoff there. It was a very effective campaign. Ah, so Gary you know, represented a, a bridging, a coming together of a, of the different elements. The conservative elements with the more radical elements, uh, and all the elements in between. And again, I think it laid the philosophical foundation that said, "Okay, we don't have to all operate from what we, some of us would call operating out of system, that we can get involved in a system and that we can effect some changes within the system, or at least attempt to fix, effect some changes in the system." And you're not going to be viewed as someone who had, had sold out to that same system.
Cut, great. That's terrific.