Reliving the Seattle Black Panther Party’s 50th Anniversary Celebration

by Susan Fried

The Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a three-day conference April 26-28 and an Art and Fashion Exhibition on the 29th. The conference featured talks and presentations by former Black Panthers from around the country including Ericka Huggins, Emory Douglas, and Elaine Brown. Special guests also included members from the “rainbow coalition” of other activists groups inspired by the Panthers, like the American Indian Movement, the Young Patriot Party, and the Young Lords.

The conference opened with a Native American Blessing Ceremony, followed by opening speaker Danny Glover, who spoke about becoming aware of the Panthers as a young man and the inspiration he took from their fight for justice for the people. The theme of the event was Power to the People…Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.

Several of the speakers and panels spoke about the legacy the Panthers were passing down to a new generation of activists. There were discussions about the School to Prison Pipeline, and the effects of incarceration on the people involved in the Black Liberation movement. A panel consisting of the two remaining members of the Angola 3,former Panthers who all served over 25 years in solitary confinement in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison and local Panther Mark Cook who started a branch of the Black Panthers while he was incarcerated in Walla Walla State Penitentiary  talked about the barbarism of prison and the need to free all political prisoners.

Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian addressed how the education system continues to be racist and unsupportive of students of color. A panel on Hip Hop activism addressed the ways Hip Hop is used in the continued struggle for justice. 

The Seattle Black Panther’s vision for the event was “to cement the legacy, history, and accomplishments of the Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther party in the hearts and minds of the people of Seattle as an example of effective struggle for future revolutionaries.” What the three-day conference revealed to those attending it, is that “Power to the People” is not just a catchphrase but a call to action.  Seattle Chapter co-founders Aaron and Elmer Dixon said, by the end of the conference, not only was there a reminder that the people are the source of all power, but that when we function as a collective our power is strengthened. This anniversary reminded us all of our connections, our legacy and our continuing need to be involved if the people are to truly have power.”

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