BOBBY SEALE Biography - Activists, Revolutionaries and other freedom fighters


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Robert George Seale (born 1936) was a militant activist who, with Huey P. Newton   
and Bobby Hutton, founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in 1966.         
Born to a poor African American carpenter and his wife in Dallas, Texas, on         
October 22, 1936, Robert George (Bobby) Seale and his family moved to Port         
Arthur, Texas, and then to San Antonio, Texas, before finally settling in           
Oakland, California, during World War II. Attributing his failure to make the       
basketball and football teams to racial prejudice, Seale quit Oakland High         
School and joined the U.S. Air Force. After three years in the Air Force, Seale     
was court-martialed and given a bad conduct discharge for disobeying a colonel     
at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.                                       
Seale returned to Oakland and, while working as a sheet metal mechanic in           
various aerospace plants, earned his high school diploma through night school.     
In 1962 he began attending Oakland City College (Merritt College). Seale became     
aware of the African American struggle for civil rights when he joined the         
Afro-American Association (AAA), a campus organization that stressed black         
separatism and self-improvement. Through the AAA he met activist Huey P. Newton     
in September 1962. Seale and Newton soon became disenchanted with the AAA,         
however, believing that the organization offered little more than ineffectual       
cultural nationalism. In their view, this cultural nationalism would not help       
lessen the economic and political oppression felt in the African American           
community, especially in the Ghetto. Both greatly admired Malcolm X and were       
particularly impressed with his teachings. They were especially drawn to the       
idea that Black people had to defend themselves against white brutality and         
inaccurate education. The assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 pushed them to         
adopt Malcolm's slogan, "Freedom by any means necessary," and they founded the     
Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in October 1966.                               
The Black Panther Party for Self Defense                                           
Beginning as an armed patrol dedicated to the defense of Oakland Blacks against     
the brutality of the city police, the Black Panthers gained local notoriety for     
their fearlessness and militant demand for Black rights. In 1967 the Black         
Panther Party (BPP) garnered national attention when it sent an armed contingent   
to the state capitol in Sacramento to protest a proposed gun-control law and to     
assert the constitutional right of Blacks to bear arms against their white         
oppressors. Coupling food programs for needy families and "liberation schools"     
for political education with defiant calls for Black control of community           
institutions and for "power to the people," the BPP opened recruitment centers     
across the nation in 1968. According to J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the Federal   
Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the BPP had become "the No. 1 threat to the         
internal security of the nation." Fearful of the growing popularity of the BPP     
and their insistence that Black Power grows out of the barrel of a gun, Hoover     
ordered the FBI to employ "hard-hitting counterintelligence measures to cripple     
the Black Panthers" in November 1968                                               
For their participation in the demonstrations at the Democratic National           
Convention in Chicago in 1968, Seale was brought to trial with seven white         
radicals, including Youth International Party founders Jerry Rubin and Abbie       
Hoffman, and the founders of Students for a Democratic Society, Tom Hayden and     
Rennie Davis, on September 24, 1969. The eight were indicted in a federal court     
in Chicago under the new anti-riot provision of the 1968 Civil Rights Act, which   
made it illegal to cross state lines to incite a riot or instruct in the use of     
riot weapons. Because his attorney, Charles Garry, had just undergone surgery       
and could not be present, Seale asked for a delay two weeks before his trial.       
Judge Julius Hoffman refused. Seale then retained William Kunstler, who was         
representing the other seven defendants. Upon Garry's advice, fired Kunstler and   
asked to represent himself, which would have given him the opportunity to           
cross-examine witnesses and present evidence during the trial. However, Judge       
Hoffman insisted that Kunstler was sufficient representation and proceeded with     
the trial.                                                                         
When Seale continued to protest, with repeated outbursts and by refusing to         
follow courtroom procedure and decorum, Hoffman had him bound and gagged during     
the trial. On November 5, 1969, the judge sentenced Seale to four years in jail     
for 16 counts of contempt of court, each of which contributed three months to       
his sentence. During his prison term Seale was also indicted for ordering the       
torture and execution of Alex Rackley, former Black Panther suspected of being a   
government informer. On May 25, 1971, the conspiracy trial ended in a hung jury     
and the judge ordered all charges dropped against Seale and the other               
defendants. The following year the federal government suspended the contempt       
charges and released Seale from prison.                                             
Return to Politics                                                                 
Seale returned to Oakland to find the BPP decimated by police infiltration,         
killings, and arrests. At least two dozen Black Panthers had died in gun fights     
with the police and dozens more had been imprisoned. The BPP had also been         
rendered impotent by internal disputes in which Black nationalist advocates         
warred against the program of revolutionary socialism called for by Newton and     
Seale. In 1973 Seale ran for mayor of Oakland, finishing second out of nine         
candidates with 43,710 votes to the incumbent's 77,476.                             
Claiming combat weariness, Seale left Oakland and the Panthers in 1974. In 1978     
he published his autobiography, A Lonely Rage, which described the emotional and   
psychological changes he had undergone as a black activist. His 1970 book, Seize   
the Time, portrayed the story of the Black Panthers and the political views of     
Huey Newton. In retrospect, Seale found consolation in Newton's belief that, to     
move a single grain of sand is to change a world. "We moved a grain of sand and     
several hills beside," Seale affirmed. "I swear I'm surprised we lived through     
Throughout the 1980s Seale continued to develop and support organizations           
dedicated to combating social and political injustices. He still lectures about     
his past and current experiences struggling for civil rights for African           
Americans. In 1987 he published Barbeque'n with Bobby, the proceeds from which     
go to various non-profit social organizations.                                     
The career and beliefs of Bobby Seale are dramatically described in A Lonely       
Rage: The Autobiography of Bobby Seale (1978); and in his Seize the Time: The       
Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton (1970). Also see his           
contributions to G. Louis Heath, editor, The Black Panther Leaders Speak (1976)     
and Philip S. Fonder, editor, The Black Panthers Speak (1970). Further             
background on Seale's life and activities as a leader of the Black Panther Party   
appear in Gene Marine's history The Black Panthers (1969), Don A. Schanche's       
analysis The Panther Paradox: A Liberal's Dilemma (1970), and Reginald Major's     
study of the party's roots and development, A Panther Is a Black Cat (1971). His   
murder trial is studied by Gail Sheehy, Panthermania: The Clash of Black Against   
Black in One American City (1971).