Media, Revolution, and the Legacy of the Black Panther Party
--An interview with Kiilu Nyasha
By Hans Bennett
Kiilu Nyasha is a San Francisco-based journalist and former member of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Kiilu hosts a weekly TV program, "Freedom Is A Constant Struggle," on SF Live (Comcast 76 and AT&T 99), which can be viewed live at www.accessf.org every Friday at 7:30 pm (PST), and rebroadcast Saturdays at 3:30 p.m., and Mondays, 6:30 p.m.. She writes for several publications, including the SF Bay View Newspaper and BlackCommentator.com. Also an accomplished radio programmer, she has worked for KPFA (Berkeley), SF Liberation Radio, Free Radio Berkeley, and KPOO in SF. Some of her work is archived at www.kpfa.org. and www.myspace.com/official_kiilu
This is an edited interview, featuring excerpts from Nyasha’s article: “Ruchell Cinque Magee and the August 7th Courthouse Slave Rebellion.”
Hans Bennett: How did you join the BPP?
Kiilu Nyasha: I started running into Panthers when I worked for President Johnson's so-called “War on Poverty,” at The Community Action Institute (CAI) in New Haven, CT. We were supposed to organize the community, and of course they didn't really mean it; but I was politically naive. So I took them literally at their word and plunged into organizing, going to various community meetings.
A young Panther named Belva, just a teenager and known as "sisterlove," was sent to New Haven from Oakland to organize a free breakfast program. A town hall meeting was organized to decide whether or not they could institute the breakfast program. I was employed at the teen center where they wanted to house the breakfast program. I wound up being the Breakfast Program Coordinator after being eliminated by CPI when they closed the auxiliary Community Action Institute, absorbing those they wanted to stay into the main body, CPI. Later on, I was recruited from the Chapter to work as office manager and secretary to the attorneys for Lonnie McLucas, Ericka Huggins and Bobby Seale, including the late Charles Garry, Esq.
When I found myself jobless, I applied for welfare because having worked for Yale and the government, I didn't qualify for unemployment insurance. I had a 9 year-old son and rent for my apartment was $80/month, but they would only give me $25 a week. What was I supposed to do with that? So I joined the second chapter of the BPP in late 1969, created after the first chapter got locked up for murder charges, along with the Chairman, Bobby Seale -- basically recruited to organize around the Panther trials by Robert Webb [martyred] and Doug Miranda. At this time, I was still “Pat Gallyot”, because I changed my name later in the 1970’s.
HB: Tell us about the BPP.
KN: The BPP was initiated by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, who were students at Merritt College in Oakland. They saw the needs of their community and began to address them with the Ten-Point Platform and community programs. They confronted police brutality by following the police around with law books and guns, because at the time, it was legal to carry arms openly. They witnessed arrests to make sure the police didn't go into their brutality mode. Eventually, there was a shoot-out between the police and the BPP when Huey's car was stopped, and an officer was shot and killed in self-defense. Huey himself was shot in the abdomen and the picture of him handcuffed in the hospital went around the world.
An incredible movement swept this country like wild-fire, because police abuses were a national epidemic. The BPP developed a 10-point platform demanding self-determination for our Black community, including land, bread, housing, clothing, education, justice and peace. We started free medical clinics, and in New Haven, the clinic was staffed by doctors and nurses from Yale. In Oakland, Dr. Tolbert Small initiated the sickle cell anemia awakening with education and free tests.
We propagated revolution and formed the original “rainbow coalition.” We worked with many groups, including the Young Lords, the Young Patriot Party from Appalachia, the Peace and Freedom Party, SDS, the Red Guard, the Brown Berets, I Wor Kuen, and the American Indian Movement. History books have omitted the fact that Blacks were leading the revolutionary movement in this country. Other communities adapted our programs for themselves. We organized within our own separate communities, but we all came to the same rallies. So then you'd have this huge multicultural rally led by the BPP. It was also intergenerational. I was practically an elder at 30 because most Panthers were teenagers.
HB: What is the BPP’s legacy?
KN: Once instituted, our free breakfast program was in high demand because kids were hungry. Subsequently, a free school lunch program was started in New Haven, and similar free food programs were instituted across the country.