In 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland, California, taking their identifying symbol from an earlier all-black voting rights group in Alabama, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. Two years later, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the Black Panthers “the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States.” Created, in Newton’s words, “to serve the needs of the oppressed people in our communities and defend them against their oppressors,” the Panthers patrolled black areas of Oakland with visible, loaded firearms—at the time in accordance with the law—to monitor police actions involving blacks. The organization spread throughout Northern California in the form of small neighborhood groups. They came to national prominence in May 1967 when they arrived armed at the California State legislature in Sacramento to protest a bill banning loaded guns in public places. In October 1967, Newton was wounded in a gun battle with police and charged with killing an officer. His three-year incarceration became a cause célèbre for many young African Americans and chapters of the Party rapidly opened throughout the country. The Panthers initiated community social programs, such as free breakfasts for children, issued a newspaper, and trained recruits with guns, lawbooks, and texts advocating world revolution. In the following years, police and FBI agents arrested more than 2,000 members in raids on Panther offices that resulted in a number of deaths. Although the Panthers became involved in electoral politics in the 1970s, the Party died out by the end of the decade due to repression and internal strife. In the following testimony before Congress, a former managing editor of the Party’s newspaper discussed the group and debated the meaning of a slogan and a gruesome cartoon.
Mr. PREYER. It is an objective of this hearing to develop information on the activities and objectives of the national office of the Black Panther Party. We are particularly interested in whether the statements and pronouncements of revolutionary violence which emanate from national leaders or are printed in the Black Panther Party newspaper are intended as mere rhetoric or the advocacy of a recommended course of revolutionary action. . . .
During the 10-year period, 1960–1969, there were 561 law enforcement officers feloniously murdered while protecting life and property. In 1969, the last year for which complete statistics are available, there were 35,202 assaults on police officers, 11,949 resulting in injury. Eighty-six police officers, a 34-percent increase over 1968, were killed. While there are no complete statistics for 1970, the trend, if anything, would appear to be increasing. News accounts have alleged that certain of these killings and assaults have resulted from Panther activities. Statements by Panther leaders and remarks in their newspaper would seem to leave little doubt that the Panthers attempt to encourage physical attacks on police.
There are at present at least 10 bills pending before the House and 3 before the Senate which would make it a Federal offense to kill or assault a State or local policeman or fireman. . . .
TESTIMONY OF FRANK BENSON JONES
Mr. ROMINES. Mr. Jones, are you now or have you ever been a member of the Black Panther Party?
Mr. JONES. Yes, I have been but I am not now.
Mr. ROMINES. When did you join the Black Panther Party?
Mr. JONES. The date is a little difficult; I can’t give you an exact date, sometime in May or June of 1968.
Mr. ROMINES. Why did you join the party?
Mr. JONES. In Oakland, California.
Mr. ROMINES. Why did you join the party?
Mr. JONES. I thought the Black Panther Party was doing something that needed to be done. They were opposing racism, and I felt that because racism was a problem in the United States that the party was serving the necessary need.
Mr. ROMINES. Why would you have selected the Black Panther Party over certain other organizations which were in existence at the time?
Mr. JONES. Well, the other organizations that I knew of had been in existence for quite a while and the problem still existed. The Black Panther Party was new and I thought maybe a new approach might solve the problem.
Mr. ROMINES. Did the Black Panther Party have any approach that you saw at that time which you thought was perhaps going to be more advantageous or beneficial?
Mr. JONES. Yes, taking the stance that we were entitled to and have the right of self-defense as opposed to nonviolence.
Mr. ROMINES. When did you leave the Black Panther Party?
Mr. JONES. Approximately a year later, probably May or June, probably May of 1969.
Mr. ROMINES. For what reason did you leave the party?
Mr. JONES. Basically, primarily because I think the party had changed its emphasis and was no longer emphasizing racism as the problem to be combated and I felt that was where I wanted to continue to place my emphasis.
Mr. ROMINES. You indicated a change in emphasis, which would at least infer a change from an emphasis on racism to an emphasis on something else?
Mr. ROMINES. Yes.
Mr. ROMINES. What would that something else have been?
Mr. JONES. The party started to oppose capitalism, saying that was the primary problem.
Mr. ROMINES. And you thought that was incorrect?
Mr. JONES. Yes. . . .
Mr. ROMINES. Could you explain to the committee, please, how you went about joining the party?
Mr. JONES. Okay. It started, I guess, with the fact that I owned a bookstore.
Mr. ROMINES. Where would this have been?
Mr. JONES. This was in Berkeley, California. I specialized in black books. Most of the books I had in my store were books on black awareness, black history, and a number of people were coming in and out of my store telling me about existence of the Black Panther Party. On one occasion a lady who had been a frequent customer told me she had just been to the Alameda County jail to talk to Huey Newton and said if I wanted to really know what the Black Panthers stood for and what they represented that I should go talk to Huey. With that, I did; I went and talked with Huey, and he offered to correspond and we wrote to each other. I think I wrote to Huey twice and got an answer on one occasion. In the meantime I was still going to visit him at the Alameda County jailhouse. He asked me if I would start to write for the newspaper and I told him I would.
I guess with that I just sort of became a member of the Black Panther Party.
Mr. ROMINES. Basically as a result of your conversations with Huey; is that right?
Mr. JONES. Right.
Mr. ROMINES. Could you give us some idea of the general conversations, what you talked about?
Mr. JONES. We talked about the problems we both felt existed in the United States, the problem basically of racism and the fact that black people were disadvantaged and in many cases could not get full protection under the law or have full equality under the law or under the application of the law. . . .
Mr. JONES. Yes. Generally the emphasis was placed on explaining why serving the people is more important than serving oneself and trying to get a person to be politically oriented from an unselfish point of view rather than from the point of view of personal gain.
Mr. ROMINES. How were the QUOTATIONS FROM CHAIRMAN MAO TSE-TUNG related to the Black Panther Party activities?
Mr. JONES. In essence I guess the fact that Chairman Mao Tse-tung asked the Chinese people to serve other Chinese people, and we were asking black people to be willing to serve other black people.
Mr. ROMINES. Was there any discussion in the classes of the term “revolution”?
Mr. JONES. Yes.
Mr. ROMINES. What was the discussion in terms of revolution?
Mr. JONES. In terms of revolution, that there needed to be some changes made, as I said, in the law and in the application of the law in the United States.
Mr. ROMINES. Were there any discussions of how that revolution was to be effectuated?
Mr. JONES. No.
Mr. ROMINES. Just that we need a revolution, period?
Mr. JONES. Not a revolution, there needs to be some revolutionary movement made and some change. When you say a revolution, I think immediately that you are saying that there needs to be some physical or violent confrontation. That is not what the political education classes were for. . . .
Mr. ROMINES. Does the Black Panther Party encourage members of the black community to possess weapons?
Mr. JONES. Yes.
Mr. ROMINES. Why?
Mr. JONES. For self-defense. The Black Panther Party, when I joined, was entitled the “Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.” That title was chosen because of the activities of police officers in the city of Oakland, primarily. They often showed disrespect for the homes and persons of people in the black community. The Black Panther Party was instituted with the intention of instilling in the black people in that area their right to defend their homes and the necessity of doing so.
Mr. ROMINES. Is the Black Panther Party still known as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense?
Mr. JONES. No, it isn’t.
Mr. ROMINES. The term “for Self-Defense” has been dropped; is that correct?
Mr. JONES. Yes, it has.
Mr. ROMINES. Do you know why the term has been dropped?
Mr. JONES. I was told the reason it was dropped was to cancel out this impression that many people have of the party that it was a paramilitary organization, and they wanted to adopt the posture of being more political than military. Self-defense implies a military type action. . . .
Mr. ROMINES. Are you aware, Mr. Jones, of any attempts on the part of the Communist Party, U.S.A., to influence the Black Panther Party?
Mr. JONES. No, I am not.
Mr. ROMINES. Are you aware of any attempts on the part of the Socialist Workers Party to influence the Panthers?
Mr. JONES. I heard during 1968 the Socialist Workers Party wanted to run members of the Black Panther Party on the Socialist Workers Party ticket. What came of that I don’t know, except that instead of running on the Socialist Workers Party ticket the Black Panther Party members ran on the Peace and Freedom ticket.
Mr. ROMINES. Are you aware of any Black Panther Party members who are members of the Communist Party?
Mr. JONES. No, I am not.
Mr. ROMINES. Are you aware of any Black Panther Party members who are members of the Socialist Workers Party?
Mr. JONES. No, I am not.
Mr. ROMINES. Are you familiar with the Black Panther Party breakfast program?
Mr. JONES. Yes.
Mr. ROMINES. What is the purpose of the Black Panther Party breakfast program?
Mr. JONES. To provide breakfasts for children who are unable to get breakfast from any other source before going to school.
Mr. ROMINES. Mr. Jones, this committee has received certain testimony in prior hearings to the effect that the breakfast program is at least indirectly and maybe directly concerned not so much with feeding children as it is with the intent to indoctrinate or educate the children in the Panther philosophy. Would you agree or disagree with that statement?
Mr. JONES. I will make this statement. I believe I covered for the newspaper the first breakfast for children to be held in Oakland and I saw no attempt to indoctrinate. The children were fed and allowed to continue to school. In Richmond I also helped prepare the breakfasts for children, and there was no attempt to indoctrinate at that time. The children were merely fed and allowed to continue to school. . . .
Mr. ROMINES. Does the Black Panther Party differentiate at all between black and white policemen?
Mr. JONES. Not on that basis, no. I think they differentiate between good and bad policemen.
Mr. ROMINES. The vast majority of the cartoons that I have seen depict white policemen.
Mr. JONES. I don’t think so; I think the vast majority would depict a pig dressed in a policeman’s uniform.
Mr. ROMINES. And no intent on the part of the Panther Party to say this is a white policeman?
Mr. JONES. No.
Mr. ROMINES. What, Mr. Jones, in your opinion, is the purpose of the cartoons?
Mr. JONES. I consider them sort of political satire. How often I have had to explain this before and I often use the analogy of, say, a political cartoon stating, “Stamp out litter bugs.” You might see a giant shoe about to smash a bug, but that in no sense means that you are to kill the next guy you see throw paper on the streets, you know. This is the way the cartoons in the Black Panther paper are used. There has been some discussion about how this affects people, and I often say the way the cartoon effects a person is dependent upon their psychological bent.
Mr. ROMINES. Let’s back up and go at it first of all from the way they are intended. You say as a political satire?
Mr. JONES. Yes.
Mr., Romines. You use your analogy, but tell me exactly what you think they are trying to satirize.
Mr. JONES. I think they are saying that policemen who don’t conduct themselves as police officers and who engage in criminal activity in the black community could be removed from the black community.
Mr. ASHBROOK. Is that really the case? I have in front of me a cartoon which shows, as you pointed out, a police officer depicted as a pig, and I suppose what they refer to as one of the brothers stabbing him in the back with all kinds of blood oozing out. And it says underneath it, “The only good pig, is a dead pig.” There isn’t any real way you could construe that into being a satire or being a commentary. That is about as definite as one could be. “The only good pig, is a dead pig,” and here it is in the so-called Black Panther Coloring Book. How could that be construed to be satire in the context of what you have just said, that it is all in the mind of a person? What possible connotation could there be in the mind of a beholder that would not be violence prone, murder prone or in a sense opening up a dialogue. That is what I gather from your statement, but it is not borne out by some phenomena.
Mr. JONES. Is that from the Black Panther paper?
Mr. ASHBROOK. It is from the Black Panther Coloring Book.
Mr. JONES. Some of those cartoons may have been used in the paper. But to answer your question, you said that the caption states that the only good pig is a dead pig. Then you have to decline what is meant by “pig.” If pig is intended to be or if you believe that a pig is a policeman who conducts himself improperly and in a criminal manner in a black community or in any community, then I would like for you to tell me how you could ever call this person, if he is alive, indeed a good policeman, you see.
Mr. ASHBROOK. That is not what it says. It says the only good pig is a dead pig.
Mr. JONES. That is right, because a pig would be the pig who was most criminal, you see what I mean? Either the pig who is going to come in and brutalize people—
Mr. ASHBROOK. Up is down, fair is foul, in is out.
Mr. JONES. You might say the only good polio germ is the dead polio germ.
Mr. ASHBROOK. That is the point you are starting out with the connotation that he has to be bad.
Mr. JONES. They don’t say the only good policeman is a dead policeman; it says the only good pig is a dead pig. In other words you are using the phrase, the only good bad policeman is a dead bad policeman.
Mr. ASHBROOK. In your Black Panther newspaper have you ever referred to a policeman as a policeman or to a good policeman? Isn’t there almost an incessant use of the word “pig”? I read it fairly closely and I don’t ever recall seeing the word policeman.
Mr. JONES. I believe the word policeman has been used in the paper and I believe it was used while I was editor. But the majority of the time they will use the term “pig,” yes.
Mr. ASHBROOK. I found it particularly interesting because of your response, which I think is a reasonable response, that is all in the mind of a person, it is what a person thinks, but I just don’t see any connotation, to be quite honest with you, that would be read into this, particularly somebody stabbing the knife in the back and saying, “The only good pig is a dead pig.” Maybe the average person goes through a semantical exercise that you are suggesting, but I just really don’t see it, to be quite honest with you. I would have to respectfully disagree with that connotation.
Mr. JONES. It really depends on your starting point. If you start with the assumption that the Black Panthers advocate killing policemen, then you would probably draw from that cartoon, you would think the cartoon implies the Black Panthers are advocating the killing of policemen.
Mr. ASHBROOK. Usually if you have a knife in somebody’s back, normally the average person would be advocating killing somebody.
Mr. JONES. If you start with the assumption or the belief that the Black Panther Party is in favor of removing policemen from the community who do not conduct themselves properly, then you might see this is a cartoon depicting the removal of a policeman who does not conduct himself in a proper manner. . . .
Mr. JONES. I can give you another example, possibly, of how cartoons have been used to depict this. During World War II it was not unusual to see a cartoon in the GI Joe comic books of GI Joe killing a Japanese soldier who might have been drawn to some outrageous proportions or have outrageously ethnic physical characteristics, and this was accepted because at the time the Japanese were considered to be enemies of the United States. So now if you think of this, if you saw that same cartoon now while there is peace existing among the Japanese people and the American people, you would not be influenced by this particular cartoonist’s depiction.
Now if you start with the assumption that there must be something wrong to make people visualize the police this way, as an enemy, then you see what actually motivates a person to draw that type of picture and why it would be accepted by anyone. It would only be accepted by a person who believes that the police is indeed his enemy. You don’t advocate killing the policeman, and I don’t. . . .
Mr. JONES. Popular usage has actually altered the use of the term “pig.” So when you see the cartoon there and you see a pig in a policeman’s uniform, this does not necessarily connote to you a policeman who conducts himself improperly, it merely carries the connotation or indicates the inference of that being any policeman.
Mr. ASHBROOK. That is correct, I would buy that.
Mr. JONES. What are you doing in essence is applying a kind of ex post facto logic.
Mr. ASHBROOK. Murdering somebody whether he is good or bad is not ex post facto.
Mr. JONES. It depends on the status of the murder. For instance it is happening in Vietnam.
Mr. ASHBROOK. Here is a man stabbing him in the back; there is no way you can make that something you are striking a blow for.
Mr. JONES. If a Vietcong would turn and run, you would shoot him in the back.
Mr. ASHBROOK. You will admit that Black Panthers virtually rule out the possibility that a policeman can be a good guy?
Mr. JONES. No, I don’t, because the Black Panther Party has circulated a petition in Oakland asking for community control of the police. They are merely saying the police must be responsive to the community they are serving. When they are not responsive and live outside that community and have an opportunity to conduct themselves in a violent manner, then we are saying that they must change this situation.
Mr. ASHBROOK. As a longtime reader of the Black Panther, I don’t think the columns bring that message out.
If that in truth is a credo or thesis of belief of the Black Panthers, it is not reflected very well in their columns. I would say quite the opposite; the columns are inflammatory, indicate very little hope of redemption of the policeman, and on the most part hold them up as pigs who should be exterminated.
Mr. JONES. I think that bears some explanation, too. You have to remember the articles that appear in the Black Panther paper are articles that are submitted by people in the community. These articles are going to reflect the feelings of the people who write the articles. In the black community I have seen and experienced a great deal of frustration in my association with the police. This frustration is brought about by the fact that many black people feel they have no place to take their grievances expect to the Black Panther paper. When a man is frustrated and feels he is not going to receive proper consideration in the normal course of legal proceedings, he will find other ways to rectify his situation.
You might look at the Black Panther paper as this: It might serve as a steam whistle on a kettle that is boiling, you see, and as long as there is an outlet for that type frustration, and the paper serves as an outlet for people to vent their frustrations, the kettle won’t explode. You silence that steam whistle and the kettle will explode.
Mr. ASHBROOK. I don’t think it is a question of silencing it. In my office, for example, there are a lot of newspapers, I get one from somebody in Virginia called Statecraft that is rabidly anti-Semitic and anti-Negro. I get a white citizens' paper out of Augusta, Georgia. The point that comes across to me all the time, so many of my fellow white Americans look upon the White Citizens Council’s Statecraft, and publications of that type, as just being a little more than nut publications, but there is a tendency of so many people in the black community to look upon The Black Panther not in that context, but as something you say is what people think in the community. Do you openly knock it; do you think it is wrong to do this?
I happen to think Statecraft is about the nuttiest thing put together.
Mr. JONES. I try to say this, sir; I attribute to the black community the same amount of intelligence that you attribute to your white friends: that any man can interpret for himself.
Mr. ASHBROOK. You won’t knock the Black Panther publication?
Mr. JONES. I always make an attempt to do neither, but to understand.
Mr. ASHBROOK. The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who, in time of moral crisis, maintain a neutrality. I think you have to be one way or the other.
Mr. JONES. That is only going to be a problem if you go to hell. If you go to heaven you don’t sweat that. . . .
Mr. PREYER. The only point I want to take time to try to get clear is, you left the party, you say, because emphasis changed from racism to opposing capitalism. To try to get a little more practical meaning on that, let me ask you if this would be an example of that. Yesterday we had testimony that when the Panthers were first set up one of the things they did was to form pig patrols whose job was to deter police from brutalizing black people. They would take tape recorders when the black man was arrested by a policeman; they would have a tape recorder on the scene; they would advise a black man of his rights; they would follow him to jail in a car to make sure he wasn’t mistreated on the way to jail. Certainly this is an example of self-help in the community that no one would quarrel with. I guess this would be an example, too, of combating racism, as you say.
Mr. JONES. Yes. . . .
Mr. PREYER. Yesterday, [Eldridge] Cleaver’s comments, his interviews in Algiers, were put in the record, in which he is making very hard comments. This is what you mean by moving toward opposing capitalism? Are they moving away from service activity in the community into revolutionary rhetoric and theory?
Mr. JONES. To start with, the service that the Black Panthers offers the community initially, that of patrolling the police in Oakland, that particular activity was not discontinued because the Panthers felt it was necessary. It was discontinued because laws were instituted that made that type of treatment or that type of activity basically illegal because the Mumford gun law was instituted in the State of California, many people believe, specifically to counter the Panthers and to prevent the Panthers from seeing that black people were not brutalized. Now the switch that caused me to leave the party was not that I [sic] went from a service to the community to that of revolution; it was strictly what I said, from combating the problem of racism, which I feel is a primary problem for blacks, and placing emphasis on capitalism, which they feel is the overall problem that causes racism.
If you can use an analogy that Eldridge has used on occasion—I think I read in one of the books from overseas—Eldridge said you might look at the problem that blacks have as that being of wearing an anklet attached to a ball by a chain. He says we must remove the ball. The ball, he says, is capitalism and the anklet is, in fact, racism. He says we must remove that ball to give a man freedom for motion.
I choose to attack the anklet, saying once you have the anklet removed you don’t care how heavy the ball is. Once you are free of capitalism you are still going to be marked by the anklet, which is racism. I say lets; remove the anklet and you will be free of racism, also. That was my cause for resignation. . . .
At the time I was a member of the party, as I said, the emphasis was on capitalism; we must remove the economic exploitation, which I agree should be done. But I don’t agree that it should be done at the expense of removing institutionalized or even individual racism where it affects the entire community. . . .
Mr. PREYER. Let me ask you one final question. We have been trying to determine whether the Panthers are a revolutionary group or whether they are really reformists. Yesterday the testimony we had came down strong on the side that they were really a revolutionary group. I would gather that you would agree with this statement. This is from an article in The Washington Post by Bernard D. Nossiter. He has been talking about the Black Panther Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia recently. He says—
the Panthers are reformers, not radicals. For all their talk, and sporadic use of guns, for all the repetition of “proletariat” and “oppression,” their vision is not—or at least not yet—one in which an underclass forcibly seizes power from a ruling class. Rather, they seek a society more congruent with the vision they heard in grade school, one that offers to blacks “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I take it you would agree with this?
Mr. JONES. In a sense I do. I would again like to deal with the words “reform” and “revolution.” The only difference I see in the two is the time span involved. Reform, of course, might take place over a long period of time and revolution implies an immediate change. The past history of the Panthers has indicated that they are, in fact, reformist because there has been no real confrontation on a class basis or a race basis. So I would agree they are reformers, yes.
Source: Congress, House, Committee on Internal Security, Black Panther Party, Part 4, 91st Congress, 1970 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1971).
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