Black Panther Tours

Black Panthers hope to turn
'60s violence into historic legacy

OAKLAND, California, Jan 14 (AFP) - When the Black Panther movement emerged more than 30 years ago, it called on black Americans to use weapons, not words in a battle for equal rights. Today, a former member is trying to soften the Black Panther's fiery legacy by establishing a tour to recount the movement's history in this gritty industrial city that witnessed its birth. The tour's object is not only to honor the legacy of the Black Panther movement, but also to "continue the education of young people -- and hopefully stimulate some interest in creating new movements," explained David Hilliard, a former Black Panther leader and the tour's founder. "Our legacy is truly to remind peole that most of the ideals that we fought for are still an unfinished agenda," Hilliard, 55, added.

Formed in 1966 in the northern Californian city of Oakland, the Black Panther movement embraced violence and revolution as the only means to achieve black liberation in the United States. Under the leadership of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, black Americans took to the streets in the late 1960s, clashing violently with police. The movement eventually died out, fractured by internal divisions. Touring the homes and streets where Black Panther members plotted, demonstrated and died was an idea of Newton's widow Frederika, and the foundation she and Hilliard jointly founded in 1993. The three-hour tour -- from the house sheltering the movement's founding statement, to the court where Newton was tried for killing a policeman in 1967, and through the streets where militants lost their lives -- takes tourists back in time to an era when race fractured US society.

Hilliard breaths life to these physical landmarks with a detailed and sometimes tragic recounting of the events that took place. The tour will remind Americans, he said, "that America does not work for most of these people." When the tour van driven by Hilliard's son stops in front of 1218 28th Street, Hilliard recalls the April 1968 shootout against Oakland city police that left his friend Bobby Hutton dead. When he finally emerged from hiding in a neighboring house, "I saw the fire engines here washing up the blood," Hilliard said. At a stop sign, a motorist hails the veteran panther and begins talking to Hilliard and his son. "I knew this man, but I just found out that he was the father of the young drug dealer who killed Huey Newton in 1989," Hilliard said later, still registering amazement. Newton, a friend of Hilliard's since childhood, was a drug addict during the latter stage of his life. But Hilliard, dressed in Newton's trademark black shirt, still speaks of the fallen leader with admiration.

Nonetheless, Hilliard is trying to put a gentler spin on his party's legacy. "We were an organization with a political agenda, focusing on delivering services to the people, from decent housing to education," he said. "The guns were always overemphasized," Hilliard added. "The guns were strictly for self defense."

Cesar A. Cruz
To Comfort the Disturbed, and To Disturb the Comfortable

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