Seattle Black Panther Party reunion

By Jesse Hagopian and Sam Bernstein

SEATTLE--During the revolutionary year of 1968, in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination, Aaron Dixon co-founded the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP). To commemorate the 40th anniversary of its founding, Dixon and his Panther comrades organized three inspiring days of celebration and storytelling last month.

The Seattle BPP reunion was attended by some of the leading members of the BPP nationally, including former Chairman Bobby Seale, Minister of Culture Emory Douglas, Panther historian Billy Jennings and Elbert "Big Man" Howard.

On April 24, the University of Washington hosted a panel discussion on the legacy of the Black Student Union (BSU) and BPP. Before the formation of the BSU and the BPP, panelists recalled, there was not a single book written by or about a person of color that was used in any course at the University.

The following day, Seale spoke to an overflow audience of several hundred students at Seattle Central Community College. When asked what students could do today to rebuild struggle, he declared that everyone should walk out against the war and for immigrant rights on May Day and get organized.

Later that evening, Douglas held an art show of work from his prolific career as the BPP's artist. His bold ink drawings and collages appeared on the back cover of most issues of the party's newspaper.

On April 26, hundreds gathered at the Yesler Community Center, blocks from the former Seattle BPP headquarters, to meet and talk with former Panthers.

"We had no idea what was to come when we started building the Panthers," Howard said in an interview. "All we knew was that everyone we talked to was angry about the state of affairs, and that we needed to do something about it. The key to the Panthers was that we gave people in the ghetto the space to take their destinies into their own hands."