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Vanetta Molson-Turner

Black Panther Party - Seattle

Vaneta Moulson Turner has been a registered nurse for more than three decades. She turned to nursing after years of service to the Black Panther Party. She describes her life in this compelling biographical statement:

I was born in Buffalo, NY, and before I was three, we moved to Seattle. I was raised by a single mom with the help of my great uncle. My mom married when I was six and then my siblings came. One brother and two sisters. Then our parents divorced. We lived in the Central District and off and on in the Holly Park Housing Project in south Seattle. I loved being in Holly Park. There were big fields of cut grass, the biggest play fields we’d ever seen. We’d run up and roll down the hills laughing all the way.

My first-grade teacher told her class that most people in America were middle-class. I stood by my desk, nodding my head yes so all could see and agree that we were all middle class. I had an inkling that she meant we weren’t the poor people. Mom always shared when a neighbor was in need. She was great at stretching a dish but there were also times we strictly could not have seconds and there wouldn’t be any dessert.

In college I learned some of the Black history that wasn’t ever taught in grammar school. I did learn from the Civil Rights Movement off the television that poverty, discrimination, brutality and distain for people of color were all over the country. Oppression was destroying our lives and our futures, especially the lives of my family, neighbors and friends. I also learned there was a resistance growing in the country. Protesters were brutalized. Demonstrators were being shot, our leaders were being killed, our cities were burning. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense rose up to change the world. These men and women told me there can be change. It’s called people power. That’s why we said, “All Power to the People.” We can protect, feed, clothe, teach, heal and more with our power. When we unite and become as One, we’ll have the power.

I started working in the Panther’s Free Breakfast Program. I left college to become a member, where I learned to care for guns, learned about other struggles around the world and learned that men and women, in relationships or not, could live and work together respectfully in nongendered roles. In the beginning of putting together our first free clinic, here in Seattle, I helped procure the needed tools, instruments and furniture. Within the next 2 years I moved to Oakland, CA, with over half of our Seattle cadre for Chairman Bobby Seale’s run for Mayor and Elaine Brown’s run for City Council.

I left Oakland, burned out, in the mid-seventies, and began a career in Nursing. I graduated in 1980 from Seattle Community College as a Registered Nurse and enjoyed a 35-year career. I’m certain that I chose health care because I was not done serving the people. It was truly amazing that I came home and saw that Carolyn Downs Medical Clinic, a Black Panther Party creation, had morphed into one clinic in a consortium of other clinics, where people around the city could receive respectful and easy access to free medical care. And this legacy lives on.  

This interview is part of Keepers of the Dream: Seattle Women Black Panthers, a film by Patricia Boiko and Tajuan LaBee available at on this interview was made possible by a grant from 4Culture/King County Lodging Tax. Work on this interview was made possible by a grant from 4Culture/King County Lodging Tax.