Robert George Seale a.k.a. Bobby Seale
October 22, 1936 –
Robert George Seale was born in Dallas, Texas the first of George and Thelma Seale’s three children. During his youth, the Seale family was poor and moved around to various cities in Texas before relocating to Oakland, California in the 1940s.
George was an abusive father and had an unstable relationship with Thelma which led to the couple repeatedly breaking up and getting back together. While California did not have official Jim Crow laws, Black people still faced discrimination and career limitations in the state. George was a skilled carpenter but experienced difficulties trying to find a job and join the local union.
In 1955, Seale enlisted in the Air Force but was dishonorably discharged three years later after a disagreement with a commanding supervisor. He went on to earn his high school diploma and worked as a mechanic in the aerospace industry before enrolling at Merritt College. Seale entered college with plans to study engineering but became increasingly politically active after joining a Black student group.
While attending Merritt, Seale met Huey P. Newton at a rally against the Cuban blockade that had been implemented by the Kennedy Administration. The two became friends and Seale was deeply inspired by a Malcolm X speech he attended. But the devastation of the assassination of Malcolm X pushed Seale away from the traditional Civil Rights Movement and more towards what would become the Black Power Movement.
When Seale and Newton outlined their ten-point program they adopted the black panther logo that was being used by the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). Their newly formed organization came to be known as the Black Panthers. The Black Panthers were initially formed as a community organization concerned with protecting Oakland’s Black community from police brutality as well as ensuring its self-determination.
The public was uncomfortable with the Panthers, predominantly consisting of Black people, openly carrying firearms and advocating for Black people to practice self-defense. This resulted in the organization being incorrectly referred to as a violent Black militant group. The media and general public largely ignored that the Panthers did not advocate for violence but rather self-defense as well as their operation of a free breakfast program, health clinics, and other independent community initiatives.
Bobby Seale and seven other protesters were arrested and charged with attempting to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The group would come to be known as the “Chicago 8” and later the “Chicago 7”. When the case made it to court, Seale’s attorney was recovering from surgery so he requested a delay to allow his lawyer to recuperate. The judge, Julius Hoffman refused this request as well as Seale’s request to represent himself. Hoffman had Seale gagged when he attempted to advocate for his right to counsel. He then held Seale in contempt of court and sentenced him to four years in prison.
In 1970, Seale published “Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton” which provided a history of the development of the Black Panthers. During this period, Seale and a co-defendant were also put on trial for the murder of a Panther who was believed to be a police informant. That trial ended with a hung jury and the contempt charges were dropped.
Following his release, Seale resumed control of the Black Panthers but found the group in disarray brought about by arrests, murders, and infiltration by the FBI. He shifted the organization’s focus and ideology to working within the political power structure rather than as external agitators. To achieve this goal, Seale ran for the office of mayor of Oakland in 1973, finishing second in the race following a run-off.
Seale resigned from the Black Panther Party in 1974 after becoming exhausted from the stress of almost a decade of being socially and politically active. He did not fully retire from activism but instead adopted a more low key role giving talks about his life and the Black Panther Party as well as working with young activists and organizations on social justice and education initiatives. He went on to release his autobiography “A Lonely Rage” in 1978, a cookbook “Barbeque’n with Bobby” in 1988, and “Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers” in 2016.
- “Bobby Seale.” 2019. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. October 18, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Bobby-Seale.
- “Bobby Seale.” 2019. Biography.com. A&E Networks Television. July 1, 2019. https://www.biography.com/activist/bobby-seale.
- Collisson, Craig. 2019. “Bobby Seale (1936–).” BlackPast.org. October 28, 2019. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/seale-bobby-1936/.
- Nittle, Nadra Kareem. 2019. “The Story of Bobby Seale, Co-Founder of the Black Panther Party.” ThoughtCo. ThoughtCo. February 5, 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/bobby-seale-biography-4586366.
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