Seale, Bobby

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Seale, Bobby

October 22, 1936

Activist Robert George "Bobby" Seale was born to George and Thelma Seale in Dallas, Texas. Before he had reached the age of ten, his family moved to California, where his father continued in his profession as a building carpenter. At the age of eighteen, Bobby Seale was accepted into the U.S. Air Force and sent to Amarillo, Texas, for training as an aircraft sheet-metal mechanic. After training for six months, he graduated as an honor student from the Technical School Class of Air Force Training. He was then sent to Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he served for three and a half years and was discharged as a corporal. He attended Merrit College in Oakland, California, after his discharge.

When he enrolled in college in 1961, Seale intended to study engineering. He joined the Afro-American Association, an organization formed by young militant African Americans in Oakland to explore the various problems confronting the black community. Influenced by the association's regular book discussion sessions, Seale became interested in the works of Mao Zedong and Kwame Nkrumah, and he also began to read W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. His awareness of and involvement in the Afro-American Association were shaped by a fellow student, Huey Newton, whose articulation of the social problems victimizing the black community attracted his interest.

With Newton, Seale formed the Soul Students Advisory Council, which was concerned with ending the drafting of black men into the service to fight in the Vietnam War. Fired by nationalist zeal, especially after he heard Malcolm X speak, Seale invited three friends, Kenny, Isaac, and Ernie, to create the Revolutionary Action Movement to organize African Americans on the West Coast for black liberation. In October 1966, he and Huey Newton formed the Black Panther Party in Oakland. The party's objectives were reflected in its ten-point platform and program, which emphasized freedom, full employment, and equality of opportunity for African Americans. It called for an end to white racism and police brutality against black people. Although the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover's director-ship declared Seale's party to be the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States, the party's programs for the poor won it broad support from the community as well as praise from civic groups. The Black Panthers also recognized the need for political participation by African Americans. To this end, it frequently organized voter registration drives. In 1968 he was one of the Chicago Eight, a group of antiwar activists put on trial for inciting a riot outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He was sentenced to four years in jail, during which time he was indicted and tried for ordering the murder of a suspected Black Panther government informer. The trial ended in a hung jury.

Three years after the formation of the party, Seale shifted his philosophical and ideological stance from race to class struggle, stressing the unity of the people and arguing that the Panthers would not "fight racism with more racism." In 1973 he ran for mayor of Oakland, forcing a runoff with John Reading, the incumbent, who defeated him. In 1974 he resigned as the chairman of the Black Panther Party, perhaps in an effort to work within the mainstream political system. Since the late 1980s, Seale has been involved in an organization called Youth Employment Strategies, which he founded, and in encouraging black youth to enroll in doctoral programs. Based in Philadelphia, he describes himself as "the old cripple-footed revolutionary humanist," sells books and videos from his Web site, and shares barbecue recipes from his book, Barbeque'n with Bobby Seale.

See also Black Panther Party for Self-Defense; Newton, Huey P.


Foner, Philip, ed. The Black Panthers Speak. New York: Lippincott, 1976. Reprint. New York: Da Capo, 1995.

Pinckney, Alphonso. Red, Black, and Green: Black Nationalism in the United States. New York, 1976.

Seale, Bobby. Seize the Time. New York: Random House, 1970.

Seale, Bobby. A Lonely Rage: The Autobiography of Bobby Seale.New York: Times Books, 1978.

levi a. nwachuku (1996)