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Suddenly the room fell silent. The crackling undercurrent that for weeks had made it impossible to get one’s point across when one had the floor was gone; there was only the sound of the lock clicking as the front door opened, and then the soft shuffle of feet moving quietly toward the circle.

Shadows danced on the walls. From the tension showing on the faces of the people before me, I thought the cops were invading the meeting, but there was a deep female gleam leaping out of one of the women’s eyes that no cop who ever lived could elicit. I recognized that gleam out of the recesses of my soul, even though I had never seen it before in my life: the total admiration of a black woman for a black man. I spun around in my seat and saw the most beautiful sight I had ever seen: four black men wearing black berets, powder-blue shirts, black leather jackets, black trousers, shiny black shoes – and each with a gun! In front was Huey P. Newton with a riot pump shotgun in his right hand, barrel pointed down to the floor. Beside him was Bobby Seale, the handle of a .45-caliber automatic showing from its holster on his right hip, just below the hem of his jacket. A few steps behind Seale was Bobby Hutton, the barrel of his shotgun at his feet. Next to him was Sherwin Forte, a M1 carbine with a banana clip cradled in his arms.

Huey P. Newton was standing at the window, shotgun in hand, looking down into the upturned faces of a horde of police. I left the room to get Sister Betty a glass of water, squeezing past Bobby Seale and what seemed like a battalion of Panthers in the hall guarding the door. Seale’s face was a chiseled mask of determination.

A few yards down the hall, Warren Hinckle III, editor of Ramparts, was talking to a police lieutenant.

“What’s the trouble?” the lieutenant asked, pointing at the Black Panthers with their guns.

“No trouble,” Hinckle said. “Everything is under control.”

The policeman seemed infuriated by this answer. He stared at Bobby Seale for a moment and then stalked outside. While I was in the lobby a TV cameraman, camera on his shoulder, forced his way through the front door and started taking pictures. Two white boys who worked at Ramparts stopped the TV man and informed him he was trespassing on private property. When he refused to leave, they picked him up and threw him out the door, camera and all.

When it was agreed that it was time to leave, Huey Newton took control. Mincing no words, he sent five of his men out first to clear a path through the throng of spectators clustered outside the door, most of whom were cops. He dispatched a phalanx of the Panthers fast on their heels, with Hakim Jamal and Sister Betty concealed in their midst. Newton himself, along with Bobby Seale and three other Panthers, brought up the rear.

I went outside and stood on the steps of Ramparts to observe the departure. When Huey left the building, the TV cameraman who had gotten tossed out was grinding away with his camera. Huey took an envelope from his pocket and held it up in front of the camera, blocking the lens.

“Get out of the way!” the TV man shouted. When Huey continued to hold the envelope in front of the lens, the TV man started cursing, and reached out and knocked Huey’s hand away with his fist. Huey coolly turned to one of the score of cops watching and said, “Officer, I want you to arrest this man for assault.”

An incredulous look came into the cop’s face, then he blurted out, “If I arrest anybody, it’ll be you!”

Huey turned on the cameraman, again placing the envelope in front of the lens. Again the cameraman reached out and knocked Huey’s hand away. Huey reached out, snatched the cameraman by the collar and slammed him up against the wall, sending him spinning and staggering down the sidewalk, trying to catch his breath and balance the camera on his shoulder at the same time.

Bobby Seale tugged at Huey’s shirt-sleeve. “C’mon, Huey, let’s get out of here.”

Huey and Bobby started up the sidewalk toward their car. The cops stood there on the point, poised as though ready to start shooting at a given signal.

Don’t turn your back on these back-shooting dogs!” Huey called out to Bobby and the other three Panthers. By this time the other Panthers, Sister Betty and Jamal had gotten into cars and melted into the traffic jam. Only these five were still at the scene.

At that moment a big beefy cop stepped forward. He undid the little strap holding his pistol in his holster and started shouting at Huey, “Don’t point that gun at me! Stop pointing that gun at me!” He kept making gestures as though he was going for his gun.

This was the most tense of moments. Huey stopped in his tracks and stared at the cop.

“Let’s split, Huey! Let’s split!” Bobby Seale was saying.

Ignoring him, Huey walked to within a few feet of the cop and said, “What’s the matter, you got an itchy finger?”

The cop made no reply.

“You want to draw your gun?” Huey asked him.

The other cops were calling out for this cop to cool it, to take it easy, but he didn’t seem able to hear them. He was staring into Huey’s eyes, measuring him.

“OK,” Huey said. “You big fat racist pig, draw your gun!”

The cop made no move.

“Draw it, you cowardly dog!” Huey pumped a round into the chamber of the shotgun. “I’m waiting,” he said, and stood there waiting for the cop to draw.

All the other cops moved back out of the line of fire. I moved back, too, onto the top step of Ramparts. I was thinking, staring at Huey surrounded by all those cops and daring one of them to draw: Goddam, that nigger is c-r-a-z-y!

Then the cop facing Huey gave up. He heaved a heavy sigh and lowered his head. Huey literally laughed in his face and then went off up the street at a jaunty pace, disappearing in a blaze of dazzling sunlight.

Eldridge Cleaver


Huey P. Newton was murdered in 1989 by a drug dealer in the same Oakland, California, neighborhood where the Black Panthers once organized social welfare programs. Newton’s last words were “you can kill my body, but you can’t kill my soul. My soul will live forever!”

Bobby Seale ran for Mayor of Oakland in 1973 and came in second place. Tiring of politics, he left the Black Panthers in 1974.

Bobby Hutton joined the Black Panthers when he was 16. Two years later, on April 6, 1968, he was murdered by Oakland police officers.

Sister Betty was the widow of Malcolm X. Her daughter was arrested in 1995 for allegedly planning to kill Louis Farrakhan, who she believed murdered her father.

Eldridge Cleaver became a conservative Republican in the 1980s. He died of natural causes in 1998.

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