The Black Panther Party for Self Defense established its Seattle chapter in the spring of 1968. It was one of the first authorized chapters outside
of California. The Seattle chapter also lasted longer than most, surviving until 1978.
Although the membership was never large, the organization made a major
impact on the region. With their black berets and
leather jackets and their commitment to armed self defense, the Panthers
became role models to some while scaring others. Either way,
the organization showed Seattle that its struggles for racial justice had moved
beyond persuasion and nonviolent protest.
This page introduces the
Panther Party -- History and Memory Project. The unit comprises the most extensive online collection of
materials for any chapter of the Black Panther Party, including the Oakland
chapter. The links above and below lead to more than a dozen
scores of photographs,
BPP Bulletins, more than 100 newspaper articles, and
the complete transcript and exhibits from the 1970 Congressional Hearings
into the activities of the chapter. A slide show and a three-part essay tell the story of the BPP Seattle chapter.
* * *
Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, in late 1966.
The rest of the world learned about the organization the following year,
after a contingent of heavily armed Panthers marched onto the floor of the
California legislature protesting a bill to ban firearms in public places.
Weapons and armed self defense were key elements in the Panther
program, one part of which focused on protecting black communities from
brutal policing practices. Calling police officers "pigs," and following
them as they patrolled black neighborhoods, the Panthers were soon involved
in deadly gun battles with police in Oakland and later in other
cities. The uninformed thought of the Panthers as Black Nationalists, but
the Party was actually committed to revolutionary internationalism, taking
some of its program from the "Little Red Book" (Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse Tung) and identifying with third-world revolutionary movements.
The Washington state
chapter of the BPP was established in April, 1968 after Aaron Dixon, Elmer
Dixon, Anthony Ware, Gary Owens and several other future Panthers
attended a memorial service in San Francisco for 17 year-old Bobby Hutton.
Hutton had been killed by Oakland police in a shootout in which Party leader Eldridge
Cleaver was also wounded. While in Oakland, the Seattle youth met BPP Chairman Bobby Seale, whose subsequent visit to Seattle marked
the beginning of the Washington State chapter. The history of the
Washington State chapter can be followed in the accompanying pages.
Janet Jones is the
coordinator of this special section and conducted all of the interviews.
Alexander Morrow and Nathan Roberts served as Associate Editors. We
wish to thank members of the BPP Legacy Committee for sharing stories,
photographs, and documents. Thanks also to the Seattle Times,
Seattle Post Intelligencer, Seattle Medium, University of
Washington Daily, and Afro American Journal, and Seattle
Magazine for the articles and photographs that appear on the
News Coverage page.
Slide show: Black Panthers Tell Their Stories
- Video Oral Histories: Short biographies
and streaming video excerpts of interviews with BPP veterans Aaron Dixon, Elmer
Dixon, Michael Dixon, Mark Cook, Jake Fiddler, Leon Hobbs, Ron Johnson,
Michael Murray, Garry Owens, Mike Tagawa, Bobby White, Shamseddin
Williams, Kenyatto Amen-Allah. Plus related interviews with Larry
Gossett and Wes Uhlman.
Photographs: From the Washington State
Archives; Eugene Tagawa collection; Aaron Dixon collection; Fred Lonidier collection, and the Musuem of History and Industry.
News Coverage: We have digitized more than 100
newspaper articles that appeared between 1968 and 1979, making it
possible to follow the news coverage that surrounded the BPP.
Congressional Hearings: In 1970, Congress
launched a full-scale investigation of the Black Panther Party. One set
of hearings focused on the Seattle chapter. Here you can read the
testimony and view the exhibits collected by Congressional
investigators. Included are photographs of members and buildings
that served as Party offices or breakfast program centers, and testimony from police officers and a secret undercover witness.
This three part essay
by Kurt Schaefer explores the first three years of the Seattle chapter of the Black
Panther Party from its founding by Black Student Union members in 1968
through the 1970 crisis negotiated by Mayor Wes Uhlman.
Map: Locations of offices, breakfast programs, and key events, with google street views of the sites today.
Offices: 1970 photos of offices, breakfast program locations.
Mugshots: Police booking photographs of suspected Panthers.
Documents: The five issues of the
Seattle Party Bulletin.
Links: Online links to information about the
Seattle chapter, other chapters, and the Black Panther Party
For Teachers: a lesson
plan and materials suitable for high school classes.
Mirroring the incident in Sacramento that had brought so much attention in
1967, on February 28, 1969, a group of Seattle Panthers led by Lt. Elmer
Dixon gathered on the steps of the Capitol in Olympia to protest a bill that
would make it a crime
to exhibit firearms "in a manner manifesting an intent to intimidate
others.” In contrast to the
California demonstration, they did not enter the building and they were not
(Photo: Washington State Archives)
From the moment the Seattle chapter was formed,
it was a magnet for media attention. Click the cover to read Seattle Magazine's
October, 1968 article about Aaron Dixon and the Panthers (in pdf format). We also have more than
newspaper articles from the period.
The first BPP office at 1127 34th Ave. Here a are photos of all of the
Party headquarters and Breakfast Program centers.
Video Oral Histories: Short biographies and streaming video excerpts of interviews with BPP veterans.