A Black Panther speaks of the past and future
Transcribed by Jenny Brown
Former Black Panther Party leader Elaine Brown spoke in Tallahassee on the FSU campus November 13. Brown was a member of the Black Panther Party in California for ten years, culminating in her leadership of the Party from 1974-77. She spoke and answered questions for two hours, addressing a capacity crowd of about 300. What follows are excerpts from her talk:
"I call my speeches, 'Marching from Monticello: Racism in the new age of Clinton.' I had a problem with Clinton the day Clinton was inaugurated the first time, when he said he was going to walk out of the home of his hero, Thomas Jefferson, to his inauguration. Now, a lot of people weren't even offended by that. I was offended because Thomas Jefferson greatest slaveholder of his time. It was hard for me to remember all the other stuff about Thomas Jefferson. You know, it'd be like somebody trying to tell you that Goebbels, yes, he was a propagandist for Hitler, but you know, he was a brilliant man. What kind of insult is that? How horrible. Nobody would say that, but nobody minds anybody saying anything about Thomas Jefferson; he's one of the founding fathers, author of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the greatest slaveholders of his time.
So I haven't been right with Clinton since he walked from Monticello in the footsteps of Jefferson because I notice he's been pretty much following in the footsteps of Jefferson. Here's a man who gave us the three strike program that George Bush could've never gotten over. What's the three strike program? Here in Florida, you just had another brother killed in St. Petersburg, right? But we will get arrested and go to jail. This is for Black people, this is a three strike program for Black people. Like we needed three more strikes. So here we are in 1996, 100 years from Plessy v. Ferguson, and what's the difference? That's the sad part.
So I wrote this book called A Taste of Power. The reason I wrote this book is because I needed to figure out where I needed to go. And I was walking wounded, ashamed of being alive when so many of my comrades, George Jackson, Jonathan Jackson and Fred Hampton and Bunchy Carter and John Huggins and Bobby Hutton and so many of the people that I knew were dead, and so many were still in prison. Who was I to even be walking around, talking about what?
So I felt ashamed, I went through that whole thing. And then I decided I had to do something with the rest of the time I had on this planet or else I would have to kill myself and obviously that would have been a waste of time, I did those ten years in the Black Panther Party not for nothing.
So I wrote this book so I could ... look at myself, figure out what I was supposed to be doing, where I'd come from, what the mistakes were, what the good things were... And at the end of that book I talk about leaving the Black Panther Party, the pain that I felt in leaving the Party, and the pain I feel now in knowing that the Black Panther Party is no longer here. Because quite frankly, in my opinion, since the Black Panther Party there's really been a big gap of nothing on the part of Black people in terms of a big thrust truly to seize our destiny. You know there wouldn't have been no Rodney King incident had there been the Black Panthers.
You know, I was talking to some young brothers in the Crips. There's fifty thousand variations of Crips. But most of those little young brothers are people who are my children's age, so I know a lot of their fathers. I know the original Crips fathers. So I'm in LA talking to them. There's 80,000 armed gang members in LA, known.
And as an aside, don't you find it interesting that a brother at 103rd and Hickory or Wilmington... Now what is some brother doing down in the 'hood with an Uzi? Was he in the Israeli army? And he came home after some battle in the Sinai or something ...? No, I think somebody sold that gun into the 'hood. Couldn't have been the CIA. Because we now know they did not sell drugs. (Laughter.) They did not have anything to do with the drugs in the Black community.
So I'm talking to these brothers. Here you are, you are armed to the teeth, ready for battle, but Rodney King--you know we used to say 'pigs' and so sometimes some of us slide back into that old language, so forgive me--but 27 pigs beat Rodney King half to death. Four pigs get arrested and go to court...and four pigs walk out. And that was it. That was the whole deal with the Rodney King case other than, you know, a little uprising, knock out some windows. That's not to diminish the anger and the justifiable rage but what I'm saying is, four pigs walked into the the Simi Valley courthouse, four pigs walked out the Simi Valley courthouse, and Rodney was beat half to death. And there was no consequence for that. And the only thing that happened was Peter Uberoff made $5 million off of forming the Rebuild LA Committee, and the brothers have to deal with the three strikes program.
Anybody heard about that brother that went to jail on the third strike for stealing a piece of pizza? Now...is this for real? This is what we've come to. So I think there's a need for something like the Black Panther Party and I'm proud that I was in the Black Panther Party... But the end of my book I talk about how I left for a variety of reasons, but the thing that I tried to say was that the one thing I was holding on to was my daughter, and trying to create a world for her. And most of you are about the age of my daughter... And I thought that I was going to make another place for you. And I look out, especially at these young Black women, because you're like my daughter, and I thought that there was going to be a better place for you. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry that there isn't. I'm sorry that there was a girl in the housing projects in Atlanta in May of this year, 19 years old, whose 8 month old baby died choking on a roach.
I'm sorry that this has happened. That Proposition 209 gets passed and a Negro headed the charge. What is worse than him? Well, a lot worse than him. That's the worst part, I don't know what has happened to Black folks. We have really been backsliding. Don't have any kind of relationship to anything. Don't even understand. You know Vernon Jordan--he used to be a civil rights activist. But then he got shot, coming out the motel. And if you don't remember, somebody'll just have to tell you about that later, because we in mixed company here. All of a sudden he's Clinton's new Negro. You can't ask Vernon Jordan to do anything. How do I know that? Because a friend of mine wants to build a monument to the Middle Passage, where some 12 million Black Africans died on the crossing. And Vernon says, "Well, the president doesn't need this issue right now." Not to count eager beaver issues like reparations. But we've forgotten.
So what I said at the end of my book is what I'm now back to trying to do. To try and go back over the territory and start all over again. What was the significance and the legacy of that experience in the Black Panther Party? ...And I think that the thing I want to talk about most now is the legacy of the Black Panther Party and how we can--how I can use that and maybe inspire other people to do that. There was a sister in LA, where I was in the Party ... I quote her in my book because she was so fabulous, her name was Bebe. Everybody got Bebe in their neighborhood. You know her. She's the one taking care of everybody's children. Will cut you, will jump on you, get in somebody's face, and it's just a bad sister, that's all. ...Raising everybody's children, and knows everything in the neighborhood. And she said, "I don't know why they messing with the Panthers because when I've been hungry, I called the Panthers and they came to see about me."
And I met some sisters the other day in something called the Hollywood Court housing project. Don't you love those names? They're courting us off into a ghetto within a ghetto and they give it a name like "Hollywood Court." She's telling me about all these traumas that are going on in the Hollywood Court. ... She was telling me that she used to live in the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago. And if you haven't heard of the Cabrini Green housing project it's infamous. It's like a death trap. It's 19 stories of public housing where you take your life in your hands just getting on the elevator. That is, if the elevator's working... It's just horrible. Horrible. But she told me that when she was living in Cabrini Green and her kids were growing up they ate at the Panther breakfast program. And that made me feel wonderful, because it meant that somebody really did get a direct benefit from the things we did.
What we did, and the difference between the Black Panther Party and what is not happening now, is that there was not a lot of rhetoric. We had our rhetoric, because we did believe in revolution. But it wasn't just about our little guns. Because we had guns, we had some serious guns, but they were nothing compared to the guns of this country. Nothing! It's like these armed brothers out here, these 80,000 armed brothers in LA, what do they have that George Bush didn't have, that Clinton doesn't have? Nothing. Ask Saddam Hussein what they have in this country. They could wipe out everybody in this building, suck the life out of us and leave the building with a light stain. That's the kind of bombs they had in the Gulf War. Am I right or wrong? Horrible stuff. Just killing ... mass, mass murderers. So what can we do? Well the Black Panther Party says there are people who are hungry, we're going to feed them... How did we get the money? We didn't write any proposals. We certainly didn't get any government funding. You know what we did? We just went to every single immediate store owner and said we would like one dozen eggs, a day. Or bacon, yes, we would eat bacon in those days. Or potatoes, whatever we asked for. We need plates, we need napkins, whatever. And if they didn't give them to us we just said, we're going to boycott your store. You will do no business in this community again in this life. That's it.
And you would be surprised at how easy it is to do this. The same way we would get buildings. We would just go in and say, oh, look, nobody's here. It's vacant. So we'll just put a clinic up here. Oh, the landlord is now going to come down and we say what? You want us to pay rent? No, we're not paying rent. We just occupied. We just did this, and we did it all over the country. We did it in Dallas and we did it in Chicago and in Philadelphia and in Boston and in Oakland and in LA, and all over the country where we had Black Panther Party chapters. Detroit. And even Milwaukee. I didn't know Black people lived in some of these places. Like I learned that Black people lived in like, Iowa. We had a Des Moines, Iowa chapter... [and a chapter in] Lincoln, Nebraska.
We said, our people can't get healthcare, so we opened clinics for them. And we went to doctors, and we said, 'Can you give us an hour a week?' And we got enough doctors to fill out the clinic. And people said we don't have any shoes. And in Chicago we had a shoe program but in Oakland we had a shoe factory. And we made shoes, because it's not complicated to make shoes. A Black man invented this shoe latching machine... People talked about it being overrun with roaches in the Southern California area, we had a pest control program, a preventive medicine program, a nutrition program. We did pap smears out of a mobile medical unit, can you believe that, in the community? We had an ambulance service. We had a school. So all of that was because we believed that Black people were not in a position to fight and to change and to transform this country because we were dying of the most basic things, as we're dying today. So we created these programs, we called them "Survival pending revolution."
The other thing that we did is we learned that we are really a small percentage of this country, Black people. So we talked about operating on your own interest. If you wanted to be what Huey [Newton] called as subjective as possible in your own interests you had to be as objective as possible. In other words, if you want to do a thing, then you have to know how to do it or else you might make a mistake. If you want to drive a car, you have to know how. Like my daughter took my car when she was 14 years old and there was just a little detail, she didn't know how to drive. And she had a terrible accident. So the deal is, if you want to drive, you have to know how to drive. If you want to be free, you have to know how to be--all the objective things to be--free. It's not good enough to go around murdermouthing, talking crap, talking about you don't like whitey and all that, because white happens to be the dominant group here. And all the [talk] in the world is not going to change that. So we made coalitions. Not only because it was practical but because it was moral and ethical and because it was right. So we recognized that poor white people were in the same condition-- economically--as we were. And we created coalitions with Latinos, so that you had, for example, in Southern California, the Brown Berets, in San Francisco you had the Red Guard, an Asian organization, in Chicago you had the White Patriot Party, white people, in New York you had the Young Lords, Puerto Ricans. Because we knew that if we got all these groups together, that we would be eventually one very powerful group that could transform--because we aren't allowed to say 'overthrow the government' anymore--transform this situation in the interests of the people, and that would include Black people. And so that's how we moved forward.
Now what do I see doing now? Right now it's very difficult because you have a situation where Black people in particular, we are dying, we have an infant mortality rate twice that of white babies. Our women are dying of breast cancer and uterine cancer at double the rate of white women. Our men are dying of prostate cancer at double the rate of white men. We have the greatest percentage in prisons in this country. We are the poorest people in this country economically. We have the lowest jobs, we have the lowest education denominator. Now this is a fact. A lot of Black people get upset because you know we still have a slave mentality, we don't want white people to know that things happen in our community. So we say things like "Well Anita Hill didn't have to say that, because she should have kept it in the family." And the question was, whose family was Clarence Thomas in? That was the first question. Like you could put kinte cloth on Clarence Thomas and turn him into a Black man. No. He wasn't going to be a Black man. So it wasn't even a question there for anybody to worry about.
But we get worried about white gonna know we do this stuff. White people are in control of this. This is massa's plantation. We're still on the plantation. We want better slave shacks. We be talking about "I want a new slave shack." And if I don't get it ... I want two chickens at Christmas. I'm glad Clinton passed the welfare bill. I'm pissed off with him, don't get me wrong, but I'm glad he passed it because now we know, ain't nobody coming to help us. Now we stop begging and whining and crying and maybe straighten up our backs and decide to seize our own destiny. I'm glad 209 passed cause now Negroes know, they don't like you. But they have never liked us! You see, we have a unique position in this country, Black people. Because even though there's another group that's been far more oppressed than we, the native peoples. (Here [at FSU] I understand you have this Osceola figure--we need to go out and slay that. (Applause.) Osceola is a hero. We didn't have no friends in this country. We were slaves. Osceola was taking in runaway slaves. Osceola fought and told the slave chasers, you can't come down here and mess with me, unless you want to find yourself in those swamps. Osceola never signed no treaty. A characterization of this hero? How dare we.)
It's like Colin Powell wanted to build a statue to the Buffalo Soldier. I'm ashamed of the Buffalo Soldier. I think the Buffalo Soldier should be ashamed. You fought the native people, the only people that gave us housing when we were on the run. Treated us the way Jesus said we should have been treated. 'When I was hungry you fed me ...' The Native Americans are the only people that gave us anything. And we would build a statue to some Negroes that fought those people. You know, we've been in every war in this country, and still not free. We've fought every single war for them. Now we'll fight just one more war... And in Vietnam, went over there and killed some Vietnamese people. My daughter went to Spelman College, and I was down there during the Gulf War... just before the war, didn't I see some big old buffed up brothers with a shirt on says "Saddam Hussein is my enemy." ...What is wrong with us? We fought every single war for them.
So back to the Native American people. Nobody could have lost more than they have, except the difference is--and I want to go over this history because white people need to know this, Latinos need to know this, Puerto Ricans and everybody else needs to know this--because we did not get here kissing the rock. We were not only stripped--and people say "Oh, I'm so tired of hearing about slavery." Hey, I'm tired, too. I'm tired of being a slave...
You know you had to be bad to get off the boat. Now does anybody understand what I mean? You know what it's like to be on a boat ride. You know what it's like when you get a few waves, get a little seasick. Can you imagine being taken out of your home, your mom and dad--cause remember, these people were young--they didn't want no old people like me for a slave. I can't have no children, I don't have no strong back. I am worthless. You want young bucks and young sisters. These are young people missing their mom and their dad--they might have been twelve, thirteen, we don't really think about that, do we? Taken away ... don't speak the same language, put you in a holding cell for how many months. Get on a ship.
I saw this in France, because in this country we don't talk about this kind of thing. I saw this hold where they have what they call "tight packing" so they can get more slaves on the ship. And the men would have to lie flat, in layers like this. This is for one month. And people would be dying next to you, or defecating on each other. Why didn't we go crazy? I don't know. The women were all cordoned off into another little area, standing up the whole trip. Outside. Then they wash us down about the day before you arrive in port. Those that weren't dead, those whose teeth wasn't broken cause they wouldn't eat so they had to break their teeth, those that hadn't thrown themselves overboard, those who weren't crazy already, those who had not suffered and died just in the crossing. Who are our ancestors. You know we some bad somebodies. I don't even know how you got off the boat. Because we had to be bad. ... Then you survived the slave trade. What happened to your God? Gone. What happened to your song? Gone. Your flag? Gone. Your land? Gone. Your family? Your family name. Your name. Gone. What is left of you as a human being? Nothing. And still, as Maya Angelou says, still we rise.
And they talk about "Oh, there's a breakdown in the Black family." Excuse me? Seems like there was a big breakdown here for about 200 years. Our people were told "you better not get married." Marry? Didn't I just tell you, Susie, to go sleep with buck over here so I could make two more babies, and then buck you go over to the other farm cause I can sell you. And then you check your babies because ... and so on. And that wasn't one generation, that wasn't two generations, it was centuries and centuries of our people being treated like dogs, worse than any slave and what does Thomas Jefferson, William Jefferson Clinton's hero say as justification for that when you say 'all men are created equal?' "The African is not a man, the African is a beast, fit for nothing but slavery." Says it in Notes from Virginia.... have you ever heard of it? Read it...
And here we are in 1996, poorer than ever--as a people, I mean--all that we have done, and there's not even a stone that says "Sorry" about the holocaustal crime of slavery. There's not even a little piece of paper in Washington, DC. Is a whole wall to the Vietnam vets, who went and killed some Vietnamese people. Got the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Memorial, the Jefferson memorial, the Holocaust museum. Not even a piece of paper saying "Sorry, Negroes, about that little 400 years." Now, when you understand that, then you understand the rage that Black people feel in a constant way every single day, and you understand why our people must find a way to be free. And why it's important that whites, Latinos, Asians and so forth understand that we will have to be in the vanguard of that movement, because we really have suffered the greatest loss. We did not come here on an immigrant boat. We did not come here sliding under the border. We came here, not by choice but by force and don't have nowhere to go back to, by the way...
So here we are, stuck in this country, 'Stranger in a strange land, how can I sing King Alfred's song.' Here we are. So the issue becomes now, what do we do from here. I propose one issue. I can't talk about a massive movement of protest because I'm not in a protest mode anymore. There's nothing to protest about, this shit is so obvious. The only thing we can do is take this country apart, bit by bit. Someone says to me, "How can we come up?" You can't. You can't reform this mess. You're not going to fix up the CIA, you can't fix up the gender gaps, you can't reform racism.
...What's really important is what's happening to our people as a group, and that's what we have lost touch with, we Black people. And white people, and other poor people have forgotten. I talked to a white woman who works in Appalachia... She was telling me about these kids in Appalachia in the mountains who are poor, who are white, who are hungry, who don't have running water, who don't have shoes in the wintertime when it gets cold, and it snows up there. And it's like 40 or 50,000 people ...Nobody talks about these people. Nobody talks about the fact that, as I said, 22% of children 18 years and under are living in poverty. That's almost 1/4 of the children in this country, it's incredible. And they're not all Black. So we have unifying factors and there a point that we have to find in common, and the reason that we do is we Black people are a very small percentage of this country. You see, to be called a minority is a literal number. We are what, 10-11% of the country. We don't know the statistics. The census is never taken right. We lie, they lie, so we don't actually know. But we figure we around 40 million, right? We are the largest "minority". But we don't think of ourselves as "we." Why isn't Oprah Winfrey every day pounding the airwaves with our plight? Why is Michael Jordan doing a movie with a goddamned cartoon character? I'm embarrassed by that. I know a lot of you people love the Bulls...but brothers have been playing basketball for a long time. You see people older than me can remember a time when Black people wasn't even on the basketball team. I know it's hard to believe, but it's the truth. You think these brothers would say, you know what? We doing all the alley-oop and massa's taking away all the money. Now why don't we get a team? But they don't want to get a team. You know what they tell you? Because it's hard to get a franchise. Now can you imagine if Shaquille O'Neill, Dennis Rodman, and whoever else said tomorrow we not going to play basketball. Where does basketball go? It doesn't exist. What do you mean you have to ask them for a franchise? What are you asking them for?
We don't even have a hotel. We don't have a hospital. Can you imagine? So you know we have to regroup here. Because the only way we're going to get respect is when we decide to take charge of our destinies.
I'm trying to build a school it Atlanta as a model. I'm starting over again, 53 years old, I'm only one person, but I got one idea and I've got some very good young brothers and sisters working with me in this new nonprofit corporation that we formed... And we're going to try to clear this land--I'm going to try to steal it from the housing authority--I'm about ready to slap this one Negress around ... she's making $130,000 as head of the housing authority. And what did she say about Shauntello Young's baby, the one that died choking on a roach? She said "Her house had to be dirty," she sent out legions to start inspecting all the houses in all the housing projects in the area and peeking in doors like the SS, inspecting houses and saying, 'These people are dirty, that's why they've got roaches in their houses.' This is a Black woman.
I'm one person. I don't think we need leaders, but we need a plan and an agenda and I don't think we have one. I don't think we need to have this person or that person. But if somebody comes along, that's good too. But we need an agenda. And my agenda is I'm going to start again at rock bottom with our children. Create that place where they can be nurtured, eat three meals a day, where somebody's going to comb their hair and hug them and educate them and give them real information that they need, not only to know but to survive, not only to survive but to thrive. And to live into the next millennium, so we will not be destroyed, now that we've been dismissed as slaves, now that we're no longer 'useful' in the society. And that we've hung on nevertheless.
And we will set the example, because poor whites in Appalachia I guarantee will follow, and Latinos in Southern California who every last thing has been taken away from them... and then the Native Peoples, and we will give hope to the people in this country. And that is our charge as Black people. And it's your duty and other people's duty as white and non Black people to begin to recognize it and for us to begin to build that agenda.
My agenda is to develop this school. In that school we'll also have housing and in that housing we'll also have what I call cooperative enterprises. I always tell [young people], why are you killing each other over Nikes when you can make Nikes--and I don't mean Nike cause you know Nike got to go. Have you seen the boy that's the head of Nike? Phil Knight. He's exploiting people in Taiwan and Haiti making Nikes so brothers in LA can kill each other to get some shoes that Michael Jordan sold on MTV. I mean think about it. I say the answer is, goodbye Nike, let's make some Nikes. We can do this. People say "What are we going to do?" "How are we going to get the money?" I don't know. But I know this, I know that if we don't, there won't be anything else to talk about. Yes there will be a few of us who will be smart enough to survive. But [not] the majority of our people, Black people and other people of color in this country--90% of the people in this country earning under 65,000 a year 1% of the people in this country owning 80% of the wealth. We all working on Maggie's farm.
[Questioner asks why limit selves to minority in this country, and not count the rest of the African diaspora.]
In this country we represent a numerical minority, so that's a fact. We are a majority but where is our connection to our other people--Africa, Caribbean and so forth... But it's not important that we're the majority, what's important is are we powerful? And what interests are we serving? ... [In the Gulf War] 60% of on the ground troops were Black. When we talk about minorities and organizing, I say we have to deal with that. We have to start where we are. And why do I think it's important about Black people in this country? Cause we in the power center, or as we used to say, back in the day, 'In the belly of the beast.' This is the belly of the beast. We in this country, we Black people in the US, have a tremendous ability to be in the vanguard of our people around the world because even the crumbs here are bigger. The crumbs off massa's table that drop cause we all working on massa's farm. ...I think we have a special duty to our people around the world... When you have a guy like Colin Powell who tells us that Raoul Cedras in Haiti--who tried to bring back the Tonton Macoutes, which was virtually created by the CIA anyway, and FRAPH--"Raoul Cedras is an honorable man." That's what Colin Powell said. We have to be correcting of that. Because we're the only ones who understand how dangerous that was. Because Colin Powell, remember, led the charge against the Iraqi people, people of color who've never done anything to us. And nobody knows--does anybody realize how many people died in that war?! 400,000 people according to the statistics of Ramsey Clark. So we have to be corrective of that...
[A questioner asks if racism is a byproduct of a market society, in which there is a competition for resources, and if the issue isn't class instead of race.]
Well there's both [class and racism] in a market economy, but I think the more accurate term for this society would be a capitalist society. And there's a big difference, because market economy is kind of a euphemism for the brutality that goes with the word capitalism. This is why I say race plays a part. This country was not the big cheese until 1945. ... How did this country get to be the number one greatest power in the world? We know that the African slave was the basis for the building of the economy of this country. Our backs did that. This is the 100th anniversary of Plessy v. Ferguson, and you are probably the only Black person in the school of economics. I have a friend named Julienne Malvaux. Julienne Malvaux is probably one of the only Black women in America with a Ph.D. in economics. What does that tell you? Every Black woman is too stupid to get a Ph.D. in economics? Or perhaps there's something wrong here.
So I have this to say about capitalism. I went to a sister that I know that works for a big foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation. I said look here, I'm looking for a little bit of money to buy this property. Help me out. And you know she said to me, "We don't give education money here at the Rockefeller Foundation." I said, let me explain something to you, Rockefeller was a murderer and a robber, and that's one of the reasons I'm in the position that I'm in to have to ask you about money. You have a lot of nerve telling me about what we don't do at the Rockefeller Foundation. He didn't get that money because of the market economy. It's like the Kennedys. These was some rum runners and gun runners and mafiosi. These people were robbers and murderers. [The film] "Set it Off", that little bank robbery--oh yes, we so upset about the bank robbery. The bankers are the robbers, see what I'm saying? The race issue plays a part in the economic question because without this 400 years, let me explain something to you. These [European] people couldn't grow corn until the native people said "Look." This was an ignorant group of people that arrived here. ...This economy came up because of us.
The Civil War was over the issue of slavery, but why? Because the nation was becoming industrialized. England had already moved there. ... This agrarian slave base has got to go. We have to move all the white people into these corners so we can have an industrial labor base, right? What are we going to do with these people be farming peanuts and stuff like this? Now there's all these Black people. Uh! Now what to do? These people are a big drag.
The racism that comes in is of course tied into the class question. It is a class question. That's why I talk about poor whites ...Latinos...other people of color. It is a class question, but in that class question--I know plenty of Puerto Ricans who won't speak English because somebody might think that they are Black. Toni Morrison says America would have been Balkanized but for us. You know, white people'd be saying things like, I'm a German American, I'm a French American, I'm a Dutch American. But Asians be saying "other" and Cubans be saying they're "Spanish". Don't nobody want to be too close. Black people don't even want to be Black. Africans from Africa will speak with accents and say, by the way, I know I look Black, but I'm not a Black person from America, I'm from Ghana. Even they don't want to be us. Racism is, as Derek Bell says, permanent in America. Permanent. You have to calculate that. There's not going to be any, "I'm going to make mine, this is all going to work out." Trust me. Because the examples of the entertainers, the basketball players, the Oprah Winfreys, singers. That's all we do here, that's the only people that make any money here is entertainers. Isn't that sad? Dancing and singing in the slave quarters.
[Question about reparations]
Reparations I'm very strong for. I'm trying to work on reparations. I've got a friend who did all the calculations and figured out that every family should have about $5 million, right. You'd see some Black people coming out of the closet then....
The Germans have paid reparations to the Jews. This country paid the Japanese for the internment camps. We said in 1983 we were sorry to the Hawaiians... The Japanese apologized to the Koreans. Has anybody had the courtesy so say "Sorry, Negroes, about this holocaustal crime that was committed against you, and that we owe you a little bit of something here. Not because you built this country, that goes without saying. But because a crime was committed against you. And you should be inheriting a payment for the crime." The laws of any country will tell you, where harm is done, you can't undo the harm, you pay money. You can't get one Negro Congressman--except for Conyers--to even agree to that.
I'm telling you cause I've begged these people. I've said, get us a declaration from Clinton. Here's an action right here. This is what I would like to do--we go to Bill, we say, here is a proclamation. All you have to do is say, on behalf of the US government, I as President of the United States simply say that I apologize to the descendents of African slaves in this country for this holocaustal crime of slavery. I would like to put up a monument, maybe a little museum or something like that. Because once you apologize, you acknowledge the crime. Then we go oh, okay, now let's go get the money.
[Question about political prisoners, for example Mumia Abu-Jamal and Geronimo Pratt]
I'm one of the people that knows Geronimo and obviously the man should be out of prison. But I also remind you that George Jackson did eleven years on a $70 robbery and gave his life, and George was my friend, too. But of course Mumia should be out of prison. And Fred Hampton, Jr. should not even be in prison. Oh please, I cry when I think about Fred... I knew the father, and I knew the mother when Fred was in her womb, in November of 1969. ... When Deborah was carrying that baby and the police came in, set up by a Negro... Fred Hampton took 42 bullets in his body, led by a Negro...and he was 21 years old. Geronimo Pratt has been in prison for 25 years ... Mumia for 15 ...
But the other part of it is how many other Black men, in particular, are truly political prisoners also. Not in the sense that they are necessarily conscious of it, but the pizza guy--here's a guy going to prison for pizza. For life. And you've got Pelican Bay in California filled with nothing but guys that are--it's just a quick way off the street... We, the Black Panther Party, always said that all prisons and jails should be emptied out and start all over again. And that would be the position I would take today.
Of course I want to see Geronimo out of prison. It's a shame. It's a police set up I mean it's so obvious and yet we can't do anything about it. Of course the alternative is, you know, you could get him out. But you might kill him in the process.
Power to those brothers. We need to be continuing the struggle to get these brothers out of prison... But the main reason I talk about them being political prisoners is because they're all poor people, Black and white and Latino. The few little rich guys that go to prison go to the little golf camps, stay in 2 to 10 minutes and so forth. You don't see no rich rapists in prison. You ever notice? Even the brutal stuff you don't see them going to prison. Doesn't that tell us something, that there is a political character to all the people in prison? And that is certainly a program. We must free all the political prisoners, those that are in for their consciousness, for their commitment, and those who are just victims of political oppression.
[Question about Black women's issues being put on the back burner because of the establishment's attacks on Black men.]
[In my book] I talk about the sexism that I encountered in the Black Panther Party. People say, 'Oh, you shouldn't have said nothing about that.' But people who hadn't even been in the Party said that to me, OK. So a sister came up to me and said, "You know, when I read your book, I was thinking about kicking your ass because you talked about those brothers so bad." Which I didn't do, actually. I did not do that. Because there were heroes. The heroes in my book they forgot. They forgot about George Jackson and Fred Hampton. They forgot that I elevated these men that nobody had been talking about in any piece of literature, John Huggins and Bunchy Carter. Of course I had to dog Karenga. People got upset about that. But I did talk about that because we do have to resolve these issues. And Black men don't need to be so fragile and think that everything a Black woman is saying has something to do with dogging them. We do need to come together to raise the children. It is not my role to have babies and you walk off. That is not my role in life. You do have something to atone for, you do have someplace to come back home to. But the difference I think between us and a lot of other groups of people is that we are so willing--Black women, I'm talking about--to embrace...We have been the most forgiving group of women I have ever seen in my life. Truly, and I hope Black men will realize that. We don't cross over like a lot of people do. We hold the home fire, we raise the brothers up. We are some good people, really. And this is not to be self-promoting, but Black women love Black men and Black men don't all the time see that. We always save the best, and then a little bit of criticism, "Oh, you're dogging the brothers." No. Don't go there with us. But we do have to get together. How to do that, I don't know...
In the Black Panther Party ...we found that when we had to work together, comrades was more important than our role. And I have seen brothers, like little Bobby Hutton--who was a finger-popping little gang-banger before he was murdered in his 17th year--serve breakfast to Black children. You'd never think you'd see those brothers serving breakfast to little kids, but I've seen that. But it was through action.
Huey Newton ordered, among other things that we had to read in the Black Panther Party--we had to read Mao, Franz Fanon--we read, I swear to you, the Hite Report as required reading. And the brothers were very upset about the Hite Report. If you haven't read it, go get it, Shere Hite. It's all about women and their sexuality and how we lie and fake orgasm and all that stuff...
I tell you one other thing that I have found. Unlike Jesse Jackson, I don't feel afraid when I see a young Black man behind me. I have a lot of young brothers...that work with me in Atlanta. More young brothers than sisters in some cases. And I've found that nobody talks to a lot of these young brothers. I've found ... it's amazing the kind of communication that I at least have found when I talk to these young brothers and ask them what they think.
[Question about what some of the Black Panther Party veterans are doing now]
I'm working with David Hilliard and Frederica Newton, Huey Newton's widow, on something called the Huey P. Newton Foundation... Some people would like to write Huey Newton out of the scenario. A lot of people are embarrassed by Huey because Huey died in a drug deal... But Huey was a genius, the founder and the guiding force, really, of the Black Panther Party and people like to write Huey out because Huey was a little bit tougher than the rest. Huey Newton is truly a hero in my book, I'm sorry that he died the way he did but I know that Huey died in the way that he wanted to, "on the streets of Babylon" as he would have said.
Yeah, he died in a drug deal. Nothing to get excited about, $60 worth of cocaine. He was a drug addict, he shouldn't have been, he was crazy, but he was a genius, and he was the same genius who got out on the streets and was standing there by himself with a shotgun saying I will no longer let our people be oppressed. So we can't forget that about him. I hope these people won't keep trying to write Huey out of history but a lot of them do, now that he's dead, because they wouldn't have said that if he were alive.
Elaine Brown's school project can be reached at: Fields of Flowers, 4060 Peachtree Road, Suite D324, Atlanta, GA 30319.