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History Pub talk: “The Greatest Threat: The Black Panther Party and Revolution in America.”

Dr. Curtis Austin,
Associate Professor, UO Department of History.
Tuesday, February 27.
Doors at 6:00 pm, talk at 7:00 pm.
Sprout Regional Food Hub,
418 A Street, Springfield, Oregon 97477.

Because the Black Panthers served as a hub of theoretical and practical ideas for advancing the freedom struggle and creating lasting change in American society, the FBI came to view them as the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States. To address this threat, the FBI, with the full cooperation of the news media, criminalized the group and subsequently made it the target of one of the most vicious domestic anti-terrorist operations in American history. The federal government’s goal was to neutralize and destroy the Black Panther Party. While its tactics varied from city to city and from one period of the organization’s history to another, they were all designed to discredit the organization and render it ineffective. When fear tactics and intimidation failed to convince the Panthers to abandon their activism, the FBI simply took off the gloves and began assassinating and imprisoning key leaders, believing in the dictum that if you destroy the head, the body will die. The Bureau’s target selection proved impeccable, because the people who died in this nationwide massacre were the keys to the organization’s growth, development and stability

In 1967, Harold Taylor became one of the first Black teenagers in Los Angeles to join the Southern California Chapter of the Black Panther Party. Growing up poor in segregated Los Angeles, Taylor became increasingly frustrated with the dilapidated housing, inferior schools, lack of jobs, and routine disrespect accorded Black people. Taylor grew especially leery of established authority due to the numerous unprovoked beatings he received from officers of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Having lived through the 1965 Watts rebellion, an uprising in which police and military officials gunned down his friends and neighbors, he vowed to join the Black struggle for freedom. In May 1967, Taylor watched television in awe as armed members of the Oakland-based Black Panther Party marched into the California state capitol in Sacramento declaring their right to bear arms and explaining their duty to defend Blacks from police brutality and murder. A few months later, after an encounter with Los Angeles Panther leader Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter, Taylor joined the Black Panther Party, serving the community with Free Breakfast Programs and teaching political education classes. He left the Party in 1971 but continued to serve the movement as a soldier of the underground, where he liberated funds to help sustain the freedom movement. Taylor was captured in New Orleans in 1973. There he was tortured and coerced to make a false confession of homicide in the death of a police officer. The coerced confession was thrown out of court by a California judge and Taylor went free in 1973. Taylor was arrested again in 2007 on the same homicide charge and in 2011 the courts again dismissed the charge, claiming the state had no evidence that he had participated in the crime. Though Taylor is now retired, he continues to serve his community by speaking to young people about the history of the Black freedom struggle and his experiences in the Black Panther Party.