Bobby Seale, also known as, Robert Seale, was born

Bobby Seale, also known as, Robert Seale, was born on October 22, 1936, in Dallas,
Texas (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2000). Bobby initially grew up in Texas, and then his
family later moved to California. He went to high school in the Oakland, California area.
During high school, Bobby became interested in politics. After high school, he enlisted in the
United States Air Force, but he was dishonorably discharged because of an altercation with a
superior officer. After being discharged from the military he enrolled in college. He heard a
speech by Malcolm X, which made him became more radical in his political and social ideas.

Bobby Seale is best known for his association with the Black Panther Party, which
was a revolutionary black nationalist and socialist organization. Seale, through the Panthers,
tried to shape political and social values. In the 1960’s there was a clash between the
generations; the young against the old; the students against the teachers; the children against
their parents. Also, in the 1960’s the rights of minorities, particularly black Americans, were
at issue. As a college student, Bobby Seale joined forces with Huey Newton.

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Bobby and Huey started a group originally known as the Black Panthers, but it later
became known as the Black Panther Party. The group was conceived as a fight against the
capitalist system and white oppression. They started the group in 1966. Newton and Seale
were activists with deep roots in the Oakland, California area. Both had been politically
active and involved in movements promoting civil rights for some time. Their political
affiliation was more aligned with Malcolm X because of his violent ways as compared to the
more docile Martin Luther King (Bloom and Martin, 2016). Their ideologies supported the
use of physical violence in order to get true freedom in America. They seemed to justify
violence by pointing to the extreme violence directed toward blacks and other minorities
throughout American history. The two of them outlined their ideologies in a ten point
platform and program. To them, it was necessary for members of the black community to

BOBBY SEALE 3

find the courage to defend themselves against the various social injustices; especially
brutality and harassment from white police officers.

Chapters of the Black Panther Party initially started just for the local community area
in northern California, but soon chapters of the party spread, and more were opened
nationwide to stand up against the political undermining and colonialism as well as, most
importantly, racial segregation that had existed for far too long. Also, the Black Panther Party
provided the African American youth with a sense of purpose and belonging during the harsh
times.

It has been commented that if anyone needed to join the group, then the opportunity
was open to help in the fight against the injustices perpetrated by the police and the
government. The Black Panther Party had a specific dress code that involved wearing black
leather jackets, natural afro hair and black berets. While the Panthers gained attention for
their armed neighborhood patrols, one of their most important contributions was the
development of a free breakfast program to feed poor inner-city children, which was
implemented before any similar governmental programs that are now prevalent (Seale, 1991).
Unfortunately, the breakfast program run by the Panthers was later closed down by the white
administration. Also, with Bobby Seale’s leadership together with Huey Newton’s, the
Panthers developed low costs health clinics as well as testing for sickle cell anemia, which is
a hereditary disease that mainly affects people of color.

In the year of 1967, Newton was put behind bars for supposedly killing a white
policeman. Although he was jailed as a result of that criminal charge, he was acquitted of the
crime. The following year, 1968, Seale was also arrested and jailed in Chicago, Illinois. In
published news stories, the first director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, who established that
law enforcement agency, publicly referred to the Black Panther Party, and its members, as
one of the greatest threats to the country’s security. Mr. Hoover, and the FBI, under his

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direction, closely monitored the actions of Bobby Seale as well as the conduct of all the
members of the Black Panther Party. In the same year Seale was arrested, another recruit of
the Panthers was shot down in a gunfight with Oakland police officers. In a late night raid,
another high-ranking deputy chairperson of the Party in Illinois was cold-bloodedly murdered
by the police while in his apartment. In the subsequent times, the Party became filled with
informants, and it was regularly harassed by the FBI Director and the new president of the
country, Richard Nixon. Eventually, the BPP became overwhelmed by pressure and strife
(Seale, 1991).

Similar to the freedom fighters who had come before and had been assassinated while
fighting against the American capitalist system, Bobby Seale’s Black Panther Party did not
survive. By the year 1980, only about 27 members had remained in the Party.

The influence of Bobby Seale and the Black Panther Party has been underestimated in
films considering the fact that the Panthers were a very complex group, and his idea of
feeding the poor and providing low-cost medical care was considered radical at the time, but
now are considered the norm. Nevertheless, memorable scenes still exist. For example, a
French filmmaker, Valda Agnes, was residing in California the first time that Huey Newton
was arrested and jailed. The court trial for the activist was proceeding forward when she
decided to make two documentary films depicting the demonstrations that were going on in
support of Newton, who had reached an atmosphere of celebrity and militancy, as people
shouted for his freedom. In the meantime, the Black Panthers, who were infiltrated by police
informants, were carrying on with their investigations of the Party’s dynamics in the city of
Oakland (Haskins, 1997).

In 1969, during a cultural festival of Pan Africa in Algiers, a renowned artist, William
Klein, made a record entitled “Black Panther” for the Minister of Information of a political
party who had already been exiled from that country. Another documentary was made by a

BOBBY SEALE 5

Chicago filmmaker, Howard Alk, which known as “American Revolution 2” concerning the
1968 Democratic National Convention and possible alliances of the Black Panther Party with
Young Patriots Organization. Alk’s documentary also dealt with the murder of Fred
Hampton. The film follows the young man’s life until the time of his death in the hands of the
police. What follows is the uncovering of corruption in the police department. In 2011, a
Black power mixtape was released by Hugo Olson. The release offered footage obtained from
the Swedish archives and showed modern-day activists such as Bobby Seale.

The movie “Panther” is the only fiction film that attempts to address the real issues
that Bobby Seale was fighting for with the founding of the Black Panther Party. While the
film was created to entertain, it has been very much underrated. The film was produced and
directed by Mario Van Peebles from the screenplay that was written by his father, Melvin
Van Peebles, which was adapted from the novel he wrote, that bears the same name. Melvin
Van Peebles is also a filmmaker and is considered a pioneer in the film genre known as
Blaxploitation. He is most famous for creating and starring in the movie “Sweet Sweetback’s
Baadasssss Song,” which was highly supported by the co-founder of the Black Panther Party,
Huey Newton, who even commented that it was the only true revolutionary film that has ever
been made for black people because the movie evokes the various aspects of black self-
reliance.

Regardless of the influence of Bobby Seale and the Black Panther Party, their
appearance in terms of dress code and controversies, they are often used as a punctuation
mark in the black civil rights movement as portrayed in most historical documentary films.
For example, the film by Lee Daniels was known as the “Butler.” The character of the
panther does not seem to have any violent tendencies, which would have been expected
because of the group’s proclivities to use violence as a means to an end.

BOBBY SEALE 6

The movie “Black Panther: Vanguard of the Revolution” is a film that mainly strives
to give the viewers a better account of how the Party actually rose to prominence and how it
eventually came to its downfall. That film was directed by the celebrated director and
filmmaker, Stanley Nelson, and was shot over a period of almost seven years. Nelson was
only 15 years old when the Panther group was formed. He goes on to remember how Huey
Newton told him about how the group was discussing matters that personally concerned him;
although they also donned a different look compared to what had been seen before. To
Nelson, it was a good story of a youthful revolution from a film maker’s perspective. The
members of the Party were very young such that the average age of the group was somewhere
around twenty years old. The director of the movie uses a very conventional way to bring out
the story using a well-ordered narrative based on good research obtained from various
archives and even face-to-face interviews. The film takes a pro Black Panther point of view
as the director involves former white police officers, journalists of the time and even
historians to provide the viewer with rich content with a clear objective of why Bobby Seale
founded the Black Panther Party.

However, it is noteworthy that Bobby Seale was not involved in the movie even
though he is still a political activist despite his advanced age. The other major figure not
featured in the documentary is Angela Davis who maintained a close relationship with the
Panthers in spite of her not being an actual member. The movie tries to downplay some of the
Black Panthers most notorious aspects; including the torture and murder in 1969 of suspected
police informant known as Alex Rackley by some of the members of the group. One of the
organizers of the Party, Kathleen Cleaver, avoids talking about the group’s way of recruiting
and the lack of any measure of control (Murch, 2010). Cleaver, in a dismissive fashion, states
that they did not even know who some of the group members were. Another former member
of the Blank Panthers, Ronald Freeman, passionately talks about the celebrity status that the

BOBBY SEALE 7

Party had attained. And the chauvinistic nature of the Party is also well illustrated in the
movie even though most of the rank and followers were women. A former leader of the
group, Elaine Brown, sarcastically suggests that they did not get the men from a
revolutionary paradise. Since then, Brown has come to criticize the movie.

Such highly controversial matters always result in heated debates. However, one thing
that most people seem to be able to come to an agreement on, is that the movie is well
produced. The director understands the various recent events witnessed in both Baltimore and
Fergusson and highlights the still ongoing cases involving police brutality and the African
American community. These current events have resulted in a big shift of perspectives
regarding the movie. Just a few years back, critics would have been able to argue that the
Black Panthers were just a group of violent people and dismiss the seriousness of the issues
they stood for (Newton et al, 2006). Now people are able to better understand that the issue of
police brutality against the black community has been going on for a very, very long time.

Nelson’s film has a strong theme of what is going on today in our society in
connection with racist white police against African Americans. The director actually
acknowledged how he was surprised by the timing of the movie release just as the album
“Black Messiah” was being released by D’Angelo and the Vanguard. The people interviewed
in the documentary continued to insist that the FBI had been trying to prevent the rise of
power and influence within the black community. This was the main cause of death of the
young Black Panther leader, Fred Hampton.

Nelson’s movie also shows a close relationship to the album “Straight Outta
Compton” by NWA despite the fact that it does not adequately defend itself. It shows the real
racism that has manifested itself in various police departments against African American
communities. The lyrics of the songs on NWA’s album “Straight Outta Compton” seem to be
more vocal than Nelson’s film. The black civil rights movement groups of today depend

BOBBY SEALE 8

much on the legacy left behind by Bobby Seale and the Black Panther Party. However, the
slogan has changed to a more sensible Black Lives Matter. These groups are all formed on
the basis of social injustice and lack of economic equity in society. In some sense, the
Panthers may have been dealing with a lot more dominating systems of patriarchy and even
violence, which most of the groups of today seem to try to resist. But sometimes even when
demonstrations start as peaceful, they can turn violent, and people can still end up getting
hurt or killed by the police. It is important to note that the Panthers operated in a very
different and more controlled environment. The Panthers represented an oppressed
community that comprised differing ideologies, which they were trying to unite. What was
started by the Panthers is now increasingly being currently witnessed on campuses across the
world as today’s students demand social and economic justice.

Nelson’s film is able to succeed in being both informative to the audience while
maintaining the entertainment atmosphere. Some may choose to argue that the Panthers
somehow provided a way for other younger activists in the contemporary world. Nelson
points out that activists who are continuing to promote the civil rights movement require
some form of organizational culture in order to be effective in the process of negotiating for
significant reforms. The same trends that were witnessed during reigning days of Bobby
Seale and the Black Panther Party are being witnessed in today’s social and political
movements. Similarly, they are using free programs to attract people into the groups. As a
filmmaker, Nelson knew that his movie was going to have a positive impact because he
brings out the various ways of ensuring a movement survives and does not die out like the
Black Panther Party. 

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