Running with the Panther
Revolution was not beautiful, Ericka said. It was guns and bloodshed. It
meant sacrificing everything, for, as the Russian revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin
had written, 'The revolutionist is a doomed man.'
During the ensuing weeks, I watched the ranks swell. The party was popular, especially among gang members and young girls who lived on the streets. It was admirable and 'tough,' they felt, to be a Panther. There was the uniform: black leather jackets and berets. There were guns. There was the manhood and the respect to be claimed. There was the heroic image of the leadership. ...
Most of those who came were men. Many did not return. They were driven away
by the discipline and the reading. There were, however, those like me who signed
on for the duration.
And there was a lot of reading, and a lot of discipline. Elaine joins the BPP and is told to read collections of influential thinkers such as Marx, and Mao Zedong, and to attend Panther political education classes. New members were not only to learn from these authors, but were expected to distribute this knowledge to the masses, sell Black Panther newspapers everyday, and be ready for any new assignment. The Panthers were a full-time commitment.
An early assignment given to Elaine was to register as a student with UCLA's
High Potential Program. Bunchy Carter, officer John Huggins, and bodyguard Elmer
Pratt also enrolled, allowing Bunchy to satisfy parole conditions and John to
mobilize the student community. Among other things, they were able to obtain
the university's leftover mess-hall food and extra canned goods for a future
"Maulana means great teacher
I am the teacher, you are the students."
"Therefore, Brothers and Sisters, you cannot advise me of what you want, I advise you of what you need!"
"A la la! A la la!"
"US has taken the lead because you have shown yourselves to weak!"
The efforts of the foursome at the UCLA to mobilize the student body on campus had proceeded slowly. Campus life was for many of the students a safe-haven, a break from the ghetto life they may previously have led. Karenga realized this and established himself as head of a proposed Black Studies Program during the winter break - without consulting the Black Student Union in charge.
The previously deadbeat BSU were outraged and pushed into action. They demanded an explanation from Karenga and for the school to remove Karenga as leader of the program. The BPP promised to support any decision the BSU made.
The room froze. No one spoke
Finally, a freshman Brother, sitting
in the back of the room
"Brother Karenga," [a freshman] said. "We are the students here, and we alone will determine our destinies." His words had been lifted directly from our [BPP] rhetoric, reflecting the main point of the party's platform and program.
Karenga came to UCLA to give his explanation on January 15, but was quickly
thrown out by the incensed students. The BSU elected a small committee on the
spot to inform the school board that the BSU was not to be usurped. Elaine,
John Huggins, and a third BPP sympathizer were included in the committee, and
a follow-up meeting was arranged two days later. It is at this meeting that
John Huggins and Bunchy Carter are assassinated by a US member. The very same
day FBI forces arrested Elaine Brown and almost a hundred other panthers at
various facilities in L.A. in order to prevent a "violent retaliation."
Later it is known that the two parties had cooperated together in syncronizing
their attacks to the Black Panther Party. The charges on Elaine and the other
panthers are dropped soon after they are imprisoned.