Appendix: The Red and the Black: The Labor Committee and the Black Panthers in Philadelphia and Baltimore
Pdf file downloadable here
In this appendix, I examine the history of two early Black Panthers, Philadelphia's Louis "Kentu" Kearny and Baltimore's Elijah "Zeke" Boyd, both of whom worked closely with the Labor Committee in this period.
In a 2009 pamphlet entitled Brief History of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Black Panther Party, a former Philadelphia Black Panther named Clarence "Stretch" Peterson recalled that
in the late summer of 1968, I found myself running around the city searching for members of the Black Panther Party. I had heard that there was a chapter of the Party somewhere in the city. Earlier that summer, I had been a part of the Black Coalition, a parent organization consisting of many groups of black youth. I had just turned 20 years old and [was] working as a sheet metal worker. I had a meeting at the end of that summer with Terry McHarris and Reggie Schell in South Philly. McHarris described himself as a captain of the Black Panther Party. . . .
Early fall we heard of some young guys in North Philly calling themselves Panthers, so McHarris sent me and Reggie to investigate and meet with these Panthers. At this meeting, we met with about 12-15 young boys from Ben Franklin High School. Their leader was Louis "Kentu" Kearney and a deep-voiced young man named Wes Cook. They had been selling Panther papers obtained from Robbins [Robin's] Book Store, located in center city. We decided to join forces and it was suggested that we contact National Headquarters to have the Panther papers sent directly to us. Now Kentu's group consisted of teenagers between the ages of 14-16 and in our little group I was 20, Reggie was 25, and Terry McHarris was between 25 and 27 years old. Kentu's group felt threatened by us somehow.
While Reggie and I were trying to find a store front from which to open an office somewhere in the city . . . Kentu sent one of his guys, Bill Crawford, to Oakland, Ca., Black Panther Party Central Headquarters. Reggie and I were shocked because we weren't consulted about the move. A couple of days after Crawford was there, Reggie got a call from Central Headquarters demanding to know if we were crazy in Philly sending this crazy young boy out there. Cursing over the phone and telling us they would send some Panthers out here and shut us down, that we weren't authorized to open a chapter in Philly.
Reggie and I were embarrassed and bewildered, we tried to contact Kentu but he wasn't responding to our calls, so we put together some money to send Reggie out to the coast. By the end of the year we were visited by Donald Cox, Field Marshal of the Party, along with Sharon and Mitch from the New York Chapter sent to investigate and determine whether to establish a chapter office in Philly. We received our instructions on how to operate a chapter and what was expected of us as members of the Black Panther Party . . . .1
At the time of the February 1969 Penn strike, the Panthers had just been officially established in Philadelphia with Terry McHarris as the group's leader by the Panther leadership in Oakland. The choice did not go down well. As historian Omari Dyson reports, "Despite McHarris's strengths as a spokesperson, his laid-back approach and his bout with alcohol and drugs resulted in him being stripped of his leadership position and ultimately jeopardized his membership in the Party."2
Stretch Peterson remarks that of all "of the young guys who were with Kentu's Panthers," only one remained with the Oakland-reconstituted organization for any length of time. He was a lieutenant of Kentu's named Wes [Wesley] Cook; today he is better known as Mumia Abu-Jamal. In the late 1960s Kearny and Cook were students at Benjamin Franklin High School.3 Since Abu-Jamal reports that he only joined the new McHarris-led Panthers in May 1969, this suggests that when Kearny's group intervened with the Labor Committee in the Penn strike, Wes Cook may have participated in the protest as well.4
But who was Terry McHarris? And why did he create his own "Black Panthers" in the first place?
THE WEIRD ROOTS OF THE PHILLY PANTHERS
Omari Dyson reports that after McHarris created his own Black Panther Party, he used it as more than merely a platform for de rigueur rants against racist honkies. McHarris went out of his way to "single out conservative blacks, saying 'Negroes' in the Black community will be confronted and 'eliminated' if they do not change their ways." Dyson notes that:
McHarris's energies focused on Stanley Branche and Jeremiah X. Branche was a street activist who worked with Jews to strengthen the Black-Jewish alliance and worked with whites to form the Black Coalition in 1968. His efforts helped to raise $1 million from white businesses and industrial leaders. Jeremiah X, a Black Muslim, met covertly with upper-class suburban Jewish leaders, Center City Jewish leaders, and former RAM [Revolutionary Action Movement] leader Jimmy Lester.5
As for the Black Coalition, it lasted from 1968 to 1969, when it collapsed due to financial in-fighting and sloppy book-keeping. From Sean Patrick Griffin's book Black Brothers, Inc.:
Concern in Philadelphia about the bleak outlook for the African-American community and the related crime epidemic was so great that a novel organization called the Black Coalition was founded in the spring of 1968. . . . Its executive director was Stanley Branche, another fiery, outspoken civil rights activist who had headed an NAACP branch before being forced out for allegedly mishandling funds. He served on President Kennedy's Task Force on Poverty and continued working with President Johnson's anti-poverty team. . . . Those in the underworld and the nightlife scene knew the Branche who wore stylish clothes and who drove in comfortable rides. This Branche declared that "in the ghetto, to survive, we all have to be damn good hustlers," and was a very close friend of a flamboyant con artist called Major Coxson, a leading figure in underworld circles. . . . Though the official records suggest otherwise, con artist and drug financier Major Coxson told anyone who would listen that he was also one of the founders of the Black Coalition, and at least one media account reported that Coxson helped found the Coalition "and then was ostracized from it by the power grabbers."6
Griffin further reports that:
In September 1968, the Coalition held a fundraising drive ostensibly for youth education, and staged a motorcade fronted by the hustler Major Coxson. . . . As a sign of the complex times, Coxson went out of his way to thank Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo for assisting in the motorcade. . . . In African-American neighborhoods, many took notice of the Black Coalition players who had "made it." Stanley Branche, Gus Lacy [a nightclub owner – HH] and Jeremiah Shabazz were now on the fringes of – if not part of – the establishment, and other significant ties were growing. Branche and Lacy had both developed relationships with Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo. Branche's older brother Gilbert had worked his way up the ranks in the Philadelphia Police Department under Rizzo before leaving and becoming chief of county detectives within Arlen Specter's District Attorney's Office. . . . Among other mutual endeavors, Branche and Lacy started the Advance Security Agency, Inc. in 1972. Advance Security garnered no-bid contracts from Philadelphia's Redevelopment Authority in 1974 because it was supposedly the only security agency available to provide the required service. This was immediately disputed by competitors . . . .7
Yet the most important Black Coalition power broker may have been the head of Philadelphia's Nation of Islam (NOI) Temple 12, Minister Jeremiah Shabazz, also known as Jeremiah X. Born Jeremiah Pugh and a former member of the NOI's local Fruit of Islam, Shabazz had been one of Malcolm X's closest friends. When Malcolm X worked for the NOI in Philadelphia in 1954, the two men roomed together. In 1958 the NOI reassigned Shabazz to Atlanta to head a new NOI Temple there. While there, he helped develop NOI connections to the KKK. Even more important, he recruited Cassius Clay into the NOI. As Muhammad Ali, the famed boxer attended Black Coalition events in Philadelphia based on his ties to Shabazz.
Given the amount of obvious street muscle the leaders of the Black Coalition wielded, what exactly was self-proclaimed Panther leader Terry McHarris thinking when he threatened Stanley Branche and Jeremiah X with "elimination"?
Unless McHarris was an unusually starry-eyed and naive idealist; it seems that there are only a few possibilities that might help explain his strange behavior. Assuming he was not insane, could it have been that McHarris's "Panthers" were part of some larger group out to influence the Black Coalition? Was he backed by Major Coxson or someone else who wanted a mouthpiece to threaten the leadership of the Black Coalition? This might better explain why McHarris felt free to make his threats in a leading black paper, the Philadelphia Tribune.8
However, there is another even more startling possibility and that is that McHarris's public attack was itself a fraud and he knew perfectly well that he would suffer no direct retaliation. Griffin remarks that "Regardless of whether Coxson was formally part of the endeavor, the nature of the players involved meant that Philadelphia's CD Squad and the FBI kept a close watch on Black Coalition activities."9
Had Lieutenant George Fencl's CD intelligence unit come across McHarris as well?
I think it is not impossible that the CD-FBI may have encouraged McHarris to invent his own Black Panther Party. The police obviously were aware of Kearney and his followers. The government further knew the advantage of setting up what would essentially be a "false flag" operation run by an informant. In short, it is just possible that the founder of the group that emerged to challenge Kearney have been himself encouraged by police intelligence working in cooperation with the FBI. In New York, for example, Panther 21 lawyer Gerry Lefcourt discovered that at least five of the "founding members" of the local BPP chapter there were working for the police.
Yet in the "wheels within wheels" world of the late 1960s, an even more remarkable possibility is that the Black Coalition was itself a counterinsurgency-style "front." In We Will Return in the Whirlwind, Muhamad Ahmad (the former Maxwell Stanford, Jr.) discusses the Black Coalition. Ahmad at the time lived in Philadelphia and, as a leading member of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), he knew the political scene there very well. In his book, Ahmad notes:
In Philadelphia, the RAM and the Black Guard leadership split over the partitioning of two million dollars offered by the Black Coalition established secretly through agreement between Frank Rizzo and Jeremiah Shabazz of the Nation of Islam; and financed by Philadelphia banks. Internal shoot-outs occurred and adventurous confrontation led to the dissolution of the Philadelphia RAM organization.10
Did McHarris have any ties to RAM? Again, it's almost impossible to know.
10 NOVEMBER 1967
Whatever is the ultimate explanation of McHarris's murky role in the creation of the BPP, Kearney's radicalization did not come out of the blue. By 1967 Philadelphia's black high schools had turned highly political. As a high-school militant, Louis Kearney was present at a key demonstration outside Philadelphia's Board of Education where he was badly beaten by the cops. The incident began after black students started protesting the almost total absence of African-American history in their schools.
The Black Students Association began organizing in many of Philadelphia's public high schools. On Friday, November 10, 1967, between twelve and sixteen students held an all-day demonstration in the music room of Bok Technical High School to express their support for demands that the school offer a course in African American history. School administrators threatened the students with expulsion.
On Thursday morning, November 16, African American community leaders stood outside of Philadelphia's primarily black high schools and encouraged students to attend the "Black student rally" at the Board of Education building the next day. The picketed high schools were South Philadelphia, William Penn, Gratz, Bartram, Bok, West Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin, and Edison. The adult community leaders handed out leaflets and encouraged the students to boycott their schools until their demands were met. The adults also told the students that the rally was in response to the suspension of the Bok Technical High School students for holding the demonstration the week before. (It is unclear whether these students were actually suspended.)
. . . Students from high schools across the city took public transportation or walked to the site of the rally. A march down Broad Street attracted the support of some younger students, who left school to join in. Students shouted "Black Power!" and "Black Studies!" as they marched towards the Board of Education Building at 21 St. and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Some teachers joined as well.11
Expecting a large but peaceful demonstration, the Board of Education had asked the Philadelphia Police Department to refrain from sending uniformed officers to the scene. The two parties (the School District and the Police Department) had agreed that only the plain clothes Civil Disobedience Squad led by Lt. George Fencl would be present. The police department kept this promise only until noon, when Fencl reportedly radioed for assistance. Shortly thereafter, around noontime, Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo arrived at the scene at noon with busloads of between 300 and 400 uniformed officers.
As the mass of protesters marched from the rear of the Board of Education building to the front, they encountered the newly arrived uniformed police officers, who were dressed in riot gear and assembled in riot formation. "They were standing like uniformed soldiers with helmets and sticks in their hands," recalled Deborah W. Sawyer, who was a seventeen-year-old junior at William Penn High School.
There are conflicting reports of what happened next. Local and national media outlets as well as the Philadelphia Police Department claimed that the demonstrators incited to riot. There is ample evidence, however, that suggests that the leaders of the demonstration endorsed nonviolence and called on all demonstrators to remain peaceful. Police reports indicate that the police attempted to arrest two demonstrators who had reportedly jumped atop a patrol car. Following this, police reports indicate that the protesters made threatening gestures toward the mass of officers. Both of these accounts have been questioned.
Commissioner Rizzo then ordered the uniformed officers to "get their black asses," words that would sink deeply into the history of Philadelphia. The ensuing actions, again, were reported differently by different sources. The police and media claimed that the protesters were violent. The African American community and the Board of Education claimed that the police brutally attacked the peaceful demonstrators.
One of the students who briefly marched in the demonstration but missed the police attack was the 13-year-old Wes Cook, the future Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal's biographer Terry Bisson describes the police actions that followed: "Immediately an army of cops charged into the crowd, nightsticks swinging. Soon the streets were echoing with the nightmarish thwack of oak clubs on young skulls, and the gutters were spattered with blood. Girl? Boy? It didn't matter to the men in blue. They were just kids, true. But they were black and they were outta line."12
The police beating of demonstrators caused an outcry. It also left a literal impression on Kearney; he was beaten so badly that he was left with a permanent scar on his head. In the wake of the attacks:
That Wednesday evening, November 22, over one thousand primarily white students, parents, and teachers held a three-hour rally outside of the Police Administration Building in downtown Philadelphia. The protest was in response to the police violence that had occurred the previous Friday. Protesters represented many Philadelphia public schools as well as five political action organizations, including Philadelphia Area Teachers for Peace, the Philadelphia Chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, Youth against War and Fascism, and the South Philadelphia branch of the Consumers Education and Protection Association [CEPA]. Approximately six protesters addressed the crowd and all called for Commissioner Rizzo to be fired. They also called for better schools for African Americans. The Philadelphia branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also called for Rizzo to resign.13
What is interesting here is that two of the groups involved in the protest were Students for a Democratic Society and the South Philadelphia branch of the Consumers Education and Protection Society (CEPA). Steve Fraser – who came to Philadelphia in the summer of 1967 – was a notable member of both groups. It is just possible, then, that Fraser first encountered Kearney as far back as late November 1967. However they met, Kentu's Panthers and the Philadelphia SDS Labor Committee began collaborating by September 1968, according to a report in New Solidarity.
As for Kearney, he later changed his name to Omjasisa Kentu. He founded numerous community activist groups and remained politically involved up until his death from a stroke at age 50 in 2004.14 As for the former Wesley Cook, Mumia Abu-Jamal remains in prison serving a life sentence following his conviction for the 9 December 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
In the summer of 1970, Labor Committee member Zeke Boyd wrote a long, angry missive to the Black Panther Party's Oakland headquarters complaining that the Baltimore BPP had lied about his past. The major lie was that he had been "expelled" from the Panthers. In reality, Boyd wrote: "I QUIT THE PARTY."15
OUT OF THE ARMY AND INTO THE WAR
On 7 December 1967, Elijah "Zeke" Boyd was officially discharged from the Army with the rank of staff sergeant. He had joined the Army around 1961; his last assignment was Vietnam, where he served in Company B of the 41st Signal Battalion (C.A.). Returning to the Baltimore area, he found a job as a data clerk in a bank. At the time he said he was completely apolitical.
Following Martin Luther King's assassination, a huge riot broke out in Baltimore. In response, the liberal city fathers created "One City Indivisible" and it was then, Boyd later reported, that he attended his first political meeting. He subsequently got a job as a youth organizer with the Community Action Agency in Turner Station, Maryland. While there, Boyd decided to bring some BPP members to meet the kids. He chose a group he thought were the Panthers. They turned out, however, to be from an organization of black cultural nationalists known as the Society of Unified Liberation (SOUL) led by Xugunna Lumumba. SOUL would later bitterly clash with the Baltimore Panthers and Boyd personally.16
After Boyd left Turner Station and moved back to Baltimore, he said he joined forces with the Anti-Imperialist Movement (AIM), a Maoist-oriented group founded by Mike McCain, a white Marine Vietnam vet who later became very active in Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Boyd next went to Montreal to take part in the Hemispheric Conference to End the War in Vietnam, held from 28 November to 1 December 1968. Speakers from the National Liberation Front (NLF) attended the conference, which was sponsored by the Canadian Communist Party. Bobby Seale also addressed the gathering. At the conference, Zeke identified himself with the BPP. He later recalled that the NLF delegates gave the male Panthers rings made from shot-down US planes while the women received jewelry made from the same material. According to Black Against Empire, a history of the Black Panther Party, at one point "Brother Zeke, a Black Panther from the Baltimore chapter, was elected chairman of the conference."17 During the Montreal gathering, Boyd asked Seale where he could find the real Baltimore BPP. Seale told him to track down Warren Hart. Once back in Baltimore, Zeke met "Smitty," a BPP captain who said that he, too, had never heard of Hart. After a couple of weeks of looking, the two men finally connected; Hart told Boyd that he had been visiting Oakland for the past few weeks.
At one local Panther meeting, the chapter held a vote for leadership. Boyd reports that he came in first, Hart second, and Charles Smith (presumably "Smitty") was chosen third. Although Boyd doesn't mention it in his letter, the vote challenged Oakland's right to dictate who would control an individual party local. It also seems likely that Hart made a long-distance phone call protesting his removal. Boyd then recalls that his local group received a visit from heavyweight members of the New York BPP branch led by Col. Joudan Ford, Ahmed Cetewayo (Michael "Cetewayo" Tabor) and Dharuba (Richard "Dharuba" Moore). Ford informed the group that the BPP didn't vote for leaders. Ford then declared that the new BPP leader should be decided "by flipping a coin." Warren Hart "won" the coin toss and was again reappointed "Defense Captain."
On Christmas Eve 1968, Boyd was arrested in a BPP-related incident in the local bus terminal.18 Around this same time, BPP supporters gave the group $1,500 to open a branch in Annapolis. Boyd said that Hart simply took the money and did nothing. Boyd's next encounter with the police came on 2 February 1969. A 27 November 1970 New Solidarity article states that Boyd, Gregory Ivan Fergus, Robert Ford, Charles Butler, Charles Williams, Jr., and Alan Salisbury "were accused of obstructing the arrest of a seventh 'Panther,' Jimmy Foxworth, near a Baltimore school yard." The paper then reported that when the case went to trial the charges were dropped "after it was established that the police department, using an undercover agent, had framed the defendants."19
MEETING THE NCLC
On 9 April 1969, Steve Fraser and Richard Borghmann were arrested on the fake "bomb plot" charge in Philadelphia. Fraser then embarked on a tour to raise awareness of the case. It included a stop in Baltimore, where Boyd says he heard a local radio interview with members of the Philadelphia Labor Committee. They talked about the bomb plot and how local black cultural nationalists had help ruin the strike at Penn. They then discussed how they had worked with the Philadelphia Panthers against the nationalists.
Boyd was so impressed by what he heard that he organized a meeting for the SDS Labor Committee to speak at the Baltimore BPP HQ. About 60 people showed up. But while Zeke was in a car picking up people for the talk, a "racist" BPP member (who was later expelled) freaked out at all the white people present and shut down the gathering. It also seems clear that Boyd was attracted to the Labor Committee's analysis of the "reactionary role" the black nationalists had played at Penn since his Panthers had clashed with Lumumba's SOUL organization. However after Hart saw how interested Zeke had become in the Labor Committee, he became angry and said he wanted Boyd out of the Panthers.
Hart then left for Oakland. When he returned, he announced that anyone involved with the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) was a racist. Although Boyd doesn't mention it, Hart's visit to Oakland most likely took place not long after Steve Fraser met with Bobby Seale and David Hilliard on 24-25 April 1969. Hart was most likely told by the Panther leadership in Oakland that the Labor Committee was either linked to PLP or some spin-off from PLP. Reinforced by Oakland's hostility to the Labor Committee, Hart told his rival to either stop going to Labor Committee gatherings or quit the BPP. Boyd made his decision: "I quit the BPP." In his letter to Oakland, Boyd says it is a lie to say he was expelled and that the new Baltimore Panther leader John Clark should stop lying about what really happened.20 Three weeks later, Boyd went on trial for the bus terminal incident; no one from the BPP showed up to support him. One month later, Boyd learned that Hart had been removed from power.
Boyd's remarks are important because it means that he quit the BPP sometime in May or June 1969. On 4 July 1969 a new delegation of BPP members led by Donald Cox ("Field Marshal for the Black Panther Party Central Committee") and a New York Panther named Henry Mitchell visited the Baltimore office along with a white lawyer named Arthur Turco, who was representing the Panther 21.21 During their visit, Hart was removed from his leadership position and replaced by John Clark.22
Now a supporter of the Baltimore Labor Committee, in October 1969 Boyd brought A. Robert Kaufman, a long-time Baltimore socialist gadfly and former Spartacist League activist now turned Labor Committee member, to talk politics with Clark. Kaufman proposed some kind of united front with the Panthers, a proposal Clark rejected. At the time the BPP worked with the largely white "Mother Jones Collective." A Mary Mattsen from the National Committee to Combat Fascism said she wanted Boyd excluded from any coalition work after she had been given the word from Clark. Boyd was even prevented from co-writing a leaflet, although his participation had been agreed to beforehand. It is around this same time that Clark began claiming that Boyd had been expelled from the Panthers for refusing to follow the group's chain of command.
THE MYSTERY OF THE BALTIMORE BLACK PANTHERS
As it turned out, Boyd's decision to quit the Baltimore Panthers may have been one of the best things that ever happened to him.
To better understand the Baltimore Panthers, it is worth examining Judson L. Jeffries' article "Black Radicalism and Political Repression in Baltimore: the Case of the Black Panther Party" published in the January 2002 issue of Ethnic and Racial Studies. Jeffries reports that after Doctor King's assassination, Baltimore experienced an incredible riot. Six people were killed, more than 700 hundred were injured, and over 1,000 businesses were destroyed during six days of disorder. Then-Governor Spiro Agnew declared martial law and sent in 5,500 National Guardsmen to aid the 1,200 police. Nearly 6,000 people were arrested.
In the wake of the riots, Warren Hart founded the Baltimore chapter of the BPP in 1968. Less than a year later, Hart was accused of operating the Baltimore branch as a social club and was demoted from captain to a rank and file member. Shortly thereafter, he was expelled by the national office for "irregularities." As a result, John Clark, who had been active in the organization in Los Angeles, was sent to Baltimore to head the local branch.23
On 30 April 1970, 150 Baltimore police staged a series of raids on known Panther hangouts. Four Panthers were picked up on weapons charges; six were arrested for the murder of Panther Eugene Lee Anderson, who was believed to have been a suspected government informant. Anderson died on 12 July 1969, one week after Hart's removal from power. From a February 2006 Baltimore City Paper article on the Baltimore BPP:
ON OCT. 27, 1969, just three months after the national Black Panther Party cleaned house locally, police found a body in West Baltimore's Leakin Park. The flesh had decayed away, leaving behind the clothes and skeleton of a man identified as 20-year-old Eugene Leroy Anderson. That July, when Cox and Mitchell came to Baltimore to whip the local branch into shape, according to news accounts, it wasn't the only whipping going on. The so-called "bag of bones" case generated a variety of newspaper accounts, and The Sun, the News-American, the Afro-American, and other papers would report the details of testimony that came out in court during the trial of suspect Charles Wyche in April 1971, re-creating the events that allegedly led to Anderson's death on a hot night in July 1969.
Anderson, who lived in the 1500 block of North Bond Street, was a Panther sympathizer who handed out party literature in the community and throughout the city and even helped paint the outside of Panther headquarters, per Cox and Mitchell's instructions. But according to a 1971 Sun article, prosecutors alleged that the Panthers had found out that Anderson was a police informer. So on July 11, 1969, he was kidnapped and taken to a third-floor bedroom in the Panther house on Eden Street, where he was beaten and tortured for two days before meeting his untimely death.
According to news accounts, witnesses alleged that 11 Panthers and one lawyer for the Panthers were in that room the night of July 11. One of those present ordered the death of Anderson because he told the police about his "Panther brothers." Another hit Anderson in the head with the butt of a pistol. A female member took her burning cigarette and extinguished it against Anderson's forehead, as did two other Panther women.
After that, Anderson was punched and beaten with bed slats, alcohol was rubbed on his bloody wounds, and one of the torturers used a term that was often aimed at police officers: "All pigs to the slaughterhouse – today's pig is tomorrow's barbecue." Then, the state's case maintained, Anderson was "allowed" to read Quotations by Chairman Mao Tse Tung while writhing in pain.
The torture went on, according to court testimony: Anderson's eyes were gouged, he was scratched, he was beaten some more, and someone heated a knife in sugar water and used it to flay parts of his body before he was taken to Leakin Park and killed with one shotgun blast on July 12. Three months later, police found his remains, described in the media as "a bag of bones," because his body had disintegrated so quickly.
The murder took place just a few months after Boyd left the Panthers.24
BALTIMORE AND COINTELPRO?
The historian Frank Donner reports that no police department placed such a heavy emphasis on informers "as a way of neutralizing dissident groups as did Baltimore's Inspectional Services Division." Baltimore had at least four Panther informants. As Donner notes, "The job of one Baltimore informant was to disrupt what was already a tenuous alliance between the Panthers and the Students for a Democratic Society [SDS]. This informant was instructed to portray SDS as an "elite corps of chauvinistic whites who wanted to exploit the BPP." The effort succeeded. An FBI memo dated 26 August 1969 reported: "BPP members have been instructed not to associate with SDS members or attend any SDS affairs." Another memo stated that "an officer of the Baltimore chapter [name deleted] was expelled from the chapter for his association with an SDS member.'"25
Of course "name deleted" had a name. Was it Elijah "Zeke" Boyd? Again, it is hard to know for sure because there were other white SDS members with ties to the Baltimore Panthers. When Boyd quit the Panthers after his confrontation with Hart, it also seems clear that Hart had acted on instructions from Oakland and not from some local Baltimore informant.
But who was Warren Hart?
In the Baltimore City Paper examination of the Baltimore BPP, one of the party's lawyers from that time named Larry Gibson was interviewed about his experiences defending the group. Gibson now teaches at the University of Maryland's School of Law in Baltimore; he is also an attorney at a major Baltimore law firm. During the Carter Administration, Gibson served as an Associate Deputy Attorney General and acted as vice-chairman of the National Security Council Working Group on Terrorism. In April 1971 Gibson, a recent graduate of Columbia Law School, represented Panther Charles Wyche in his trial for the 1969 torture-murder of Eugene Leroy Anderson. Gibson told the Baltimore City Paper that although he didn't call Warren Hart to the stand
he does remember another interesting fact about the former Panther. Gibson doesn't remember all the details – he thinks that Hart and some members of the [Xugunna Lumumba] Soul School, a Black Nationalist group that Gibson had represented, had been arrested at a demonstration. But he says he clearly remembers going to the Western District police station to represent some clients upon their release and wound up holding a bag with Hart's personal effects. "And in it was a National Security Agency employee card [of some kind]," Gibson says. "It was about the size of a driver's license. I think it even had an NSA seal of some sort.
"This one I saw with my own eyes."
And so the mystery of the Baltimore branch of the Black Panther Party continues.
1 Available at http://freedomarchives.org/Documents/Finder/DOC513_scans/BPP_Local_Chapters/513.BPP.local.chapters.brief.history.phildelphia.bpp.2009.pdf. This pamphlet has a picture of Kearny on page 16.
2 Omari Dyson, The Life and Work of the Philadelphia Black Panthers, a 2008 PhD thesis from Purdue University and available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/66431591/The-Life-and-Work-of-the-Philadelphia-Black-Panthers, 81.
3 Ibid, 78.
4 Mumia Abu-Jamal lists his membership in the BPP as beginning in May 1969. He clearly means the Oakland-sanctioned branch of the party because he had been active with Kearney's Panthers. Mumia writes of this time:
It's difficult to pinpoint the exact moment the Black Panther Party was formed in Philadelphia. That's because, in fact, there were several such formations: one in South Philadelphia, one in Germantown, and one in North Philadelphia. The North and South Philadelphia formations would merge, and the Germantown group, a mysterious gathering that apparently only sold papers, would wither.
As in any such political organization, there was intense jockeying for power, divided between younger and older and between north and south sections of the city. They met each other, quietly, in a Center City bookstore [Robin's Books – HH], where The Black Panther and various books were sold. Some days later they met in a tiny ghetto apartment in South Philly, at 14th and Kater Streets, right over a bar. The men were to argue and debate who would lead and who would follow. An aggressive, tall, fast-talking young man named Bill Crawford seemed to have the edge, with his fiery tongue and dark shades covering his strange, amber-colored eyes. His only real adversary was an older, slow-talking, darker-hued man, Terry McCarter [sic], whose clever, Southern-cadenced manner had appeal.
It was decided that a phone call would be made to Black Panther National Headquarters to solve the dispute, but the answer related to us was that Oakland would choose no one. According to one caller, either [BPP national leaders] David or June Hilliard, the BPP Chief of Staff or his assistant, respectively, when asked about formally recognizing the Philadelphia branch, reportedly replied: "You don't hafta be a Black Panther to make revolution."
Clarence "Stretch" Peterson confirms the story of Crawford's trip to Oakland but he writes: "Kentu sent one of his guys, Bill Crawford, to Oakland . . ." Although Mumia writes about "Terry McCarter," his actual name was Terry McHarris.
Mumia writes about "Terry":
Meanwhile, because of his low-key, laid back approach, Terry was incurring more criticism than acceptance in his role of captain. It did not help matters that he seemed more drunk than sober these days. Inevitably, another power struggle developed, and Captain Terry was quietly retired in favor of a younger, more aggressive (and sober!) North Philadelphian – Reggie Schell.
Incredibly, yet another member of the later Labor Committee's long list of lunatic allies makes an appearance in Mumia Abu-Jamal's memoirs, KKK leader Roy Frankhouser. (See Smiling Man from a Dead Planet for more on Frankhouser.)
How does one provide contact data on a leaflet in the absence of an office? Not to worry. I simply attached the number of my home to the bottom of the leaflet, which would not have been remarkable were it not for the fact that "home" was where I lived with my mother. This led to some interesting, if somewhat passionate, exchanges between us. It also led to some equally remarkable telephone traffic to the city's first official listing for the emergent Black Panther Party:
CALLER: Yello – is zis uh, Moo-my-uh, of the Black Gorilla Party?
ANSWERER: This is Mumia of the Black Panther Party – who the hell is this?
CALLER: Yeah – This is Roy Frankhouser of the United Klan of America, headquartered up 'ere in Reading, P-A. We're havin' a burn-a-nigger festival this weekend, and we wanna invite cha to come. You interested?
ANSWERER: I doubt I'll be able to make it, but you can bring yho ass down to Philly – we got somethin' real nice for ya.
CALLER: Well, uh – can I ask ya a question there, Moomyah?
ANSWERER: What's that?
CALLER: Do niggers eat s**t?
ANSWERER: Do you?
CALLER: Nah, uh – really! I'm curious! Isn't that where your brown color comes from?
ANSWERER: I can't believe you that silly, man. Ain't you got nothin' better to do?
CALLER: Well, we got the kill-a-nigger festival I told ja about . . . .
ANSWERER: Man, I can't believe a grown man your age ain't got nothin' betta to do than play ona damn phone! Are you retarded, man?
CALLER: Naw, I'm curious.
[The phone is hung up.]
The call probably wasn't formally reported to my captain although I'm fairly certain that we discussed it, more like – "Man, you ain't gonna believe the nutty ***t that I'm getting on my phone. . . ." What is memorable, however, is the distinct accent of the caller. His high-in-the-throat, almost nasal pronunciation sounded more at home in the ethnic enclaves of South or Northeast Philadelphia (pronounced "Fluffia" by them) than distant, rural Reading.
Was it really the Klan, and, if so, were they really so stupid, so childish, that a teenager could so quickly dismiss them as juvenile?
It may have been, but to the youth on the receiving end of the call, he sounded like a typical Philadelphia cop.
5 Dyson, 105.
6 Sean Patrick Griffin, Black Brothers Inc. The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia's Black Mafia (Wrea Green, England: Milo Books Ltd, 2005), 17-19.
7 Ibid., 31-33.
8 An article in the Philadelphia Tribune declared that the McHarris-led Panthers had come to town. This report established in many people's minds that the McHarris clique really was the true Black Panther Party at a time when Kearny's group was laying claim to being the real Panthers, even as Oakland remained clueless as to what was happening in Philadelphia. Dyson blames the "loose journalistic practices" of the Tribune that he believes led it to uncritically accept McHarris's claim. Dyson, 81.
9 Griffin, 19.
10 Muhammad Ahmad (Maxwell Stanford, Jr.), We Will Return in the Whirlwind, Black Radical Organizations 1960-1975 (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 2007), 159. On the role of establishment-type financiers aiding black nationalist/black capitalist style groups, see the appendix "SDS: Three Puzzles" on Ralph Hoagland at http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.HIABChapter3Appendix2SDS3Puzzles.
13 From http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/philadelphian-african-american-students-campaign-greater-rights-1967. For a discussion of the police attack, see http://www.scribd.com/doc/66431591/The-Life-and-Work-of-the-Philadelphia-Black-Panthers, 98-101.
14 For his obituary, see http://articles.philly.com/2004-05-20/news/25382955_1_organizer-empowerment-omjasisa-kentu.
15 I found Boyd's letter in an archive of Communist Party documents. For a BPP memoir mentioning Zeke Boyd, see http://www.itsabouttimebpp.com/Chapt...hapter_BPP.pdf.
16 Gregory Kane, a former member of Lumumba's group, later recalled a run-in with "Zeke Boyd who then commanded the Panthers in Baltimore":
Oddly enough, some of the criticism of Mr. Van Peebles' film comes from former Black Panthers. They should be the last to complain. "Panther" actually makes them look better than the dogmatic, arrogant advocates of armed Marxist revolution who I recall strutting the streets of Baltimore. My dealings with the group were strictly of an adversarial nature. In the 1960s, I belonged to a black nationalist group called the Soul School, which was based in West Baltimore. A Soul School member, Xugunna Lumumba, is generally credited with bringing the Panthers to Baltimore. He eventually left the group because of an ideological rift: The Panthers, as Marxists, advocated alliances with white radicals. The black nationalist Soul School felt history proved such coalitions invariably ended with blacks being double-crossed. Therein lay the basis for future tensions between the two groups, especially after the Panthers – without any nudging from the FBI, I might add – declared war on black nationalists. They contemptuously referred to us as "cultural nationalists" and "pork chop nationalists" – Implying that we were not to be taken seriously.
Some younger Soul School members had formed a Black Student Union (BSU). This did not sit well with the Panthers. On the West Coast the BSU's were virtually Panther youth groups. Baltimore's Panthers erroneously expected the same type of cooperation here. Zeke Boyd – who then commanded the Panthers in Baltimore – and some of his minions came swaggering into our meeting one night and took control until Xugunna Lumumba arrived and returned them to reality. I left the meeting with the feeling that the Panthers did not want to lock horns with Xugunna either ideologically or physically.
Xugunna owned a jewelry and clothing shop in the 2100 block of Edmondson Avenue. The Panthers made the mistake one day of leaving a note on his door that read "This shop exploits black people. It needs to be dealt with." They compounded the error by signing it: "the Black Panther Party." Xugunna ripped the note from the door and walked to the Panther headquarters in the 1200 block of Eden Street in East Baltimore.
"Which one of you [expletives] wrote this?" he demanded. He was answered with stunned and wary silence. He then warned them that in the interests of everyone's mutual health – but mostly theirs – that it would be best if they stayed away from his shop.
When Xugunna went to visit a friend in Los Angeles later on a purely personal matter, the national Panther newspaper ran his photograph as a notorious "pork chop nationalist" who had come to the city to assassinate a party leader. The lie infuriated us, and it was clear that our relations with the Panthers had reached a low point.
Earlier, some BSU members and I had yet another discussion with Panthers at their headquarters over the use of the name BSU. The organization rightfully belonged to the Panthers, they said. Unless they had copyrighted the name we were going to use it, we answered. They implied there would be trouble because of our "counterrevolutionary position." Captain Hart, who had replaced Zeke Boyd as Panther commander, implied not very subtly that we might get shot. Word got out that they were coming to Xugunna's shop for a fist-to-face attitude adjustment session with us. About five of us waited for them, but they never showed, much to my relief. When it comes to fighting, I am what the politically correct might call "pugilistically challenged."
Tensions eased after Paul Coates took command of the local chapter. He was articulate, intelligent, reasonable and able to tolerate opposing points of view. We had a debating session one night that left me wondering how he ever got in the Panther party. But the damage had been done. As onetime Panther Chairman Bobby Seale would later admit, "fools and agents provocateur" had riddled the party, making it ineffective. That and Panther dogmatism – not Mr. Van Peebles' fictional FBI/mob plot to flood black communities with drugs – led to its demise.
For a profile of Boyd and the early Baltimore Panthers, see Adam Kline, "Black Panthers Tell It to AFRO Like It Is," in the 15 February 1969 Baltimore Afro-American and available at https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2211&dat=19690215&id=eBZKAAAAIBAJ&sjid=KCENAAAAIBAJ&pg=792,693903&hl=en. Note that the mysterious Warren Hart ("Panther Chief Maj. Warren Hart") is still the group's leader.
17 Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Black Against Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 310.
18 Boyd said that his arrest was covered in the 17 February 1969 issue of the BPP paper.
19 One of the arrested Panthers, Alan Salisbury, later became an important Labor Committee member. I believe, however, that Salisbury joined the Labor Committee sometime in the early 1970s after he had moved to New York. Whatever the case, it is likely that Boyd helped recruit him into the Labor Committee.
20 The official line was that Boyd was expelled for not following the chain of command which also seems true. See Charles Jones (ed.), The Black Panther Party Reconsidered (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1998), 131.
21 See part one of a two part article on the Baltimore Black Panther Party by Christina Royster-Hemby in the Baltimore City Paper from 1 February 2006 and available at http://www2.citypaper.com/story.asp?id=11419. On Warren Hart's later operations in Canada, see the 13 June 1981 Montreal Gazette Sunday magazine expose, "The Man With the Guns," available at https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1946&dat=19810613&id=U3I0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=zqQFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3998,1652848. It documents Hart's work for the RCMP in black radical circles in Canada the early 1970s.
22 His last name is sometimes spelled "Clarke."
23 In August 1970, Clark was extradited to Los Angeles and charged with possession of a deadly weapon.
24 Were the Panthers guilty? Clearly the Baltimore City Paper thinks so, but the historian Judson Jeffries points out that the man accused of being the murderer was acquitted and the other Panthers, all of whom refused to take pleas, were released after the DA said he lacked enough evidence to convict them. The white lawyer Arthur Turco, – whom the government suspected might have been behind the murder – pleaded guilty to a charge of common assault after he spent 10 months in jail. Of course, it could also be that some of the defendants themselves were police informers and that the government never wanted to convict the entire group if it led to prison time to any of their informers.
25 See James K. Davis, Assault on the Left: The FBI and the Sixties Antiwar Movement (Westport, Conn: Praeger, 1997), 142.