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Seattle Black Panther Party History and Memory Project

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 Seattle Black 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 20 video oral histories, a short introductory film, 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.