The revolutionary mind of Bobby Seale

I was several minutes into an engaging conversation, when it hit me:
I’m talking to Bobby Seale.
The co-founder of the Black Panther was explaining a detailed history of the Black Panthers.
I had shared my work with David Hilliard and Ericka Huggins in a seminar sponsored by the California Council on Humanities to finish Volume Three of Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, 1950-2000.
But our connecting link was food. In connection with Black Restaurant Month in March, I had read over the weekend his Bobby-Que web site, promoting his barbeque sauce.
This morning, I was in a meeting at the Game Developers Conference where someone mentioned their connection to Seale. I responded that I had just linked to Seale’s barbecue site.
This evening, during the Blacks in Gaming networking event, he brought Seale over to meet me.
In just a few minutes, I realized why Seale made such an impact on American society. And he’s not finished yet.
The barbecue has been a product since the 1968 trial of Seale and other defendants in Chicago. He and Abby Hoffman would talk about their favorite foods while in jail.
Seale is now in discussions with producers about a nationally-syndicated cooking show.
It isn’t as incongruous as one might think. The program he considered the biggest legacy of the Black Panthers is the free breakfast program.
The Black Panther leader recalled that then-Assemblyman Willie L. Brown passed legislation to require free breakfasts for all pre-school students over the late Gov. Ronald Reagan’s veto.
“I remember having an argument with Eldridge Cleaver about free breakfasts, which he considered a sissy program,” said Seale. “I reminded him that Mao Tse-Tung said if you want to organize the people, you must first serve the people.”
Similar social initiatives boosted the party to 49 chapters and 5,000 members at its height. These included free health care, free ambulance and free pharmaceuticals services.
After leaving jail in 1968, Seale focused on community organizing. He said the party ranks grew ten-fold after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He’s now working on a documentary to chronicle what the chapters accomplished. Former members like Rep. Bobby Rush and Winston-Salem Alderman Larry Little went into politics, as did Seale with a run for mayor in Oakland. He recalls giving out 10,000 bags of groceries during that race. By the party’s anniversary in October, Seale expects more than 1,000 to have signed up for the Black Panther alumni association.
Mind you, we were having this conversation at a gaming convention.
For the second consecutive year, Seale was attending Blacks in Gaming.
“I’m working on a game to be tentatively titled Bobby Seale: Seize the Time,” he said. It was ironic that in a convention with thousands of titles devoted to various fictional shoot-em-up titles, that someone who actually was involved in street battles with police would come forward with a game of his own.
Seale gave me a fascinating nugget of history. After the death of Little Bobby Hutton, Seale wanted to make sure the Black Panthers were trained in the use of weapons for self-defense. He recalled that Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett and other doctors in northern California gave the Panthers use of a plot of land in the Sierra mountains for weapons training. “They pulled up in several Cadillacs to pick us up,” Seale recalled. Only two Saturdays ago, I did a session on the civil rights activities of black doctors during the 1960s. “One of the guys wouldn’t let them in, calling them bourgeouis. I pulled him aside and said, you’ve got to know who your real friends and enemies are.”
But as an organizer of the Blacks in Gaming had said earlier in the week, “There are stories of the black experience waiting to be told through gaming.”
Seale wants to seize that time.
Speaking of which, the seventh session in the Come to the Water: Teaching California Black History series is this Saturday, March 5, the anniversary of the death of the original American revolutionary, Crispus Attucks, in the Boston Massacre.
We meet at 1006 Webster St. in the offices of the San Francisco African-American Chamber of Commerce at 1 p.m.