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How the Black Panther Party Was Organized
Speech by John Hulet
(Chairman, Lowndes County Freedom Organization)
May, 1966

[Note that the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) in Alabama — which was also known and referred to as the "Black Panther Party" — was separate and distinct from the Black Panther Party for Self Defense which was initially organized in Oakland California. With the permission of the LCFO, the California organization adopted the Black Panther Party name and symbol.]

I'm happy to have the opportunity to come and share this evening with you. I'd like to give you a general idea of what's happening in the state of Alabama and in Lowndes County. This county, as far as I'm concerned, is one of the worst counties in the state of Alabama, and not only that, it is one of the poorest counties in the nation.

Lowndes County consists of a population of about 15,000 people. Out of these 15,000 people, 80 percent are Negroes, 20 percent white. The entire county is controlled entirely by whites. It has always been this way.

Last year in March [1965], some 30 people assembled at the courthouse in Hayneville to make an attempt to get registered. They were talked about and many people were sitting by their radios that day and their televisions, waiting to see what would happen in Lowndes County. We made the attempt and two weeks later, two people became registered voters. Today we have at least 2,500 registered Negro voters.

According to the 1960 statistics, there are only 1,900 possible white registered voters in the county. Today, all of these people are registered. Two years ago, 118% of these white people voted. In the general elections this year for governor, I learned that there will be even more white people voting.

Last year, we started a group in Lowndes County known as the Lowndes County Christian Movement for Human Rights. This was a civil rights group. We fought for integration in this county. We fought that Negroes might have a right to get registered to vote. We protested at the school so that all the people could have education — and for this we got nothing.

We sat down together and discussed our problems. We thought about what we were going to do with these 2,500 registered voters in the county, whether or not we were going to join Lyndon Baines Johnson's party. Then we thought about the other people in the state of Alabama who were working in this party. We thought of the city commissioner of Birmingham, Eugene Bull Conner; George Wallace who is now the governor of the state of Alabama; Al Lingo, who gave orders to those who beat the people when they got ready to make the march from Selma to Montgomery; the sheriff of Dallas County, known as Jim Clark — these people control the Democratic Party in the state of Alabama.

So the Negroes in Lowndes County decided that it's useless to stay in the Democratic Party or the Republican Party in the state of Alabama. Through the years, these are the people who kept Negroes from voting in the South and in the state of Alabama. Why join the Democratic Party?

A Political Group of Our Own

Some time ago, we organized a political group of our own known as the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, whose emblem is the Black Panther.

We were criticized, we were called communists, we were called everything else, black nationalists and what not, because we did this. Any group which starts at a time like this to speak out for what is right — they are going to be ridiculed. The people of Lowndes County realized this. Today we are moving further.

Too long Negroes have been begging, especially in the South, for things they should be working for. So the people in Lowndes County decided to organize themselves — to go out and work for the things we wanted in life — not only for the people in Lowndes County, but for every county in the state of Alabama, in the Southern states, and even in California.

You cannot become free in California while there are slaves in Lowndes County. And no person can be free while other people are still slaves — nobody.

In Lowndes County, there is a committee in the Democratic Party. This committee not only controls the courthouse, it controls the entire county. When they found out that the Negroes were going to run candidates in the primary of the Democratic Party on May 3 [1966], they assembled themselves together and began to talk about what they were going to do. Knowing this is one of the poorest counties in the nation, what they decided to do was change the registration fees in the county.

Two years ago, if a person wanted to run for sheriff, tax collector or tax assessor, all he had to do was pay $50 and then they qualified to be the candidate. This year, the entrance fee is about $900 [equal to $6,000 in 2010]. If a person wants to run, he has to pay $500 to run for office. In the primary, when they get through cheating and stealing, then the candidate is eliminated. So we decided that we wouldn't get into such a primary because we were tired of being tricked by the southern whites. After forming our own political group today, we feel real strong. We feel that we are doing the right thing in Lowndes County.

We have listened to everybody who wanted to talk, we listened to them speak, but one thing we had to learn for ourselves. As a group of people, we must think for ourselves and act on our own accord. And this we have done.

Through the years, Negroes in the South have been going for the bones, while whites have been going for the meat. The Negroes of Lowndes County today are tired of the bones — we are going to have some of the meat too.

Fighting the Tricks of the Racists

At the present time, we have our own candidates which have been nominated by the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. And we fear that this might not be enough to avoid the tricks that are going to be used in Lowndes County against us.

In Lowndes County, the sheriff is the custodian of the courthouse. This is a liberal sheriff, too, who is "integrated," who walks around and pats you on the shoulder, who does not carry a gun. But at the same time, in the county where there are only 800 white men, there are 550 of them who walk around with a gun on them. They are deputies. This is true; it might sound like a fairy tale to most people, but this is true.

[Under Alabama law, unpaid members of the sheriff's posse are issued badges and accorded some law-enforcement powers.]

After talking to the sheriff about having the use of the courthouse lawn for our mass nominating meeting — not the courthouse but just the lawn — he refused to give the Negroes permission. We reminded him that last year in August, that one of the biggest Klan rallies that has ever been held in the state of Alabama was held on this lawn of this courthouse. And he gave them permission. A few weeks ago an individual who was campaigning for governor — he got permission to use it. He used all types of loud speakers and anything that he wanted.

But he would not permit Negroes to have the use of the courthouse. For one thing he realized that we would build a party — and if he could keep us from forming our own political group then we would always stand at the feet of the southern whites and of the Democratic Party. So we told him that we were going to have this meeting, we were going to have it here, on the courthouse lawn. And we wouldn't let anybody scare us off. We told him, we won't expect you to protect us, and if you don't, Negroes will protect themselves.

Then we asked him a second time to be sure he understood what we were saying. We repeated it to him the second time. And then we said to him, sheriff, if you come out against the people, then we are going to arrest you.

And he said, I will not give you permission to have this meeting here. I can't protect you from the community.

Then we reminded him that according to the law of the state of Alabama, that this mass meeting which was set up to nominate our candidates must be held in or around a voters' polling place. And if we decide to hold it a half a mile away from the courthouse, some individual would come up and protest our mass meeting. And our election would be thrown out.

So we wrote the Justice Department and told them what was going to happen in Lowndes County.

All of a sudden the Justice Department started coming in fast into the county. They said to me, "John, what is going to happen next Tuesday at the courthouse?"

I said, "We are going to have our mass meeting." And he wanted to know where. And I said on the lawn of the courthouse. He said, "I thought the sheriff had told you you couldn't come there." And I said, "Yes, but we are going to be there." Then he wanted to know, if shooting takes place, what are we going to do. And I said, "That we are going to stay out here and everybody die together."

And then he began to get worried, and I said, "Don't worry. You're going to have to be here to see it out and there's no place to hide, so whatever happens, you can be a part of it." And then he began to really panic. And he said, "There's nothing I can do."

And I said, "I'm not asking you to do anything. All I want you to know is we are going to have a mass meeting. If the sheriff cannot protect us, then we are going to protect ourselves." And I said to him, "Through the years in the South, Negroes have never had any protection, and today we aren't looking to anybody to protect us. We are going to protect ourselves."

That was on Saturday. On Sunday, at about 2 o'clock, we were having a meeting, and we decided among ourselves that we were going to start collecting petitions for our candidates to be sure that they got on the ballot. The state laws require at least 25 signatures of qualified electors and so we decided to get at least 100 for fear somebody might come up and find fault. And we decided to still have our mass meeting and nominate our candidates. About 2:30, here comes the Justice Department again, and he was really worried. And he said he wasn't satisfied. He said to me, "John, I've done all I can do, and I don't know what else I can do, and now it looks like you'll have to call this meeting off at the courthouse."

And I said, "We're going to have it."

He stayed around for awhile and then got in his car and drove off, saying, "I'll see you tomorrow, maybe." And we stayed at this meeting from 2:30 until about 11:30 that night. About 11: 15, the Justice Department came walking up the aisle of the church and said to me, "Listen. I've talked to the Attorney General of the state of Alabama, and he said that you can go ahead and have a mass meeting at the church and it will be legal."

Then we asked him, "Do you have any papers that say that's true, that are signed by the Governor or the Attorney General?" And he said no. And we said to him, "Go back and get it legalized, and bring it back here to us and we will accept it."

And sure enough, on Monday at 3 o'clock, I went to the courthouse and there in the sheriff's office were the papers all legalized and fixed up, saying that we could go to the church to have our mass meeting.

To me, this showed strength. When people are together, they can do a lot of things, but when you are alone you cannot do anything.

There are 600 Negroes in the county who did not trust in themselves and who joined the Democratic Party. We warned the entire state of Alabama that running on the Democratic ticket could not do them any good, because this party is controlled by people like Wallace; and whoever won would have to do what these people said to do.

Now, to me, the Democratic Party primaries and the Democratic Party is something like an integrated gambler who carries a card around in his pocket and every now and then he has to let somebody win to keep the game going. To me, this is what the Democratic Party means to the people in Alabama. It's a gambling game. And somebody's got to win to keep the game going every now and then.

There is another guy who was running on the ticket calling — himself a liberal, the Attorney General of the state of Alabama" Richmond Flowers. Most of you have heard about him. When he started campaigning to the people of Alabama, especially the Negro people, he assembled all their leaders and he made all kinds of promises to them — if you elect me for your governor, I'll do everything in the world for you.

And at the same time, he never made a decent campaign speech to the white people of this state. We kept warning our people in the state of Alabama that this was a trick and many Negroes listened to their so- called leaders, who profess to speak for the state of Alabama, and they got caught in the trap too.

I would like to say here, and this is one thing I am proud of, the people in Lowndes County stood together, and the 600 people who voted in the Democratic primary have realized one thing, that they were tricked by the Democratic Party. And now they too are ready to join us with the Lowndes County Freedom Organization whose emblem is the black panther.

We have seven people who are running for office this year in our county; namely, the coroner, three members of the board of education, and if we win those three, we will control the board of education — tax collector, tax assessor, and the individual who carries a gun at his side, the sheriff.

Let me say this — that a lot of persons tonight asked me, "Do you really think if you win that you will be able to take it all over, and live?"

I say to the people here tonight — yes, we're going to do it. If we have to do like the present sheriff, if we have to deputize every man in Lowndes County 21 and over, to protect people, we're going to do it.

There was something in Alabama a few months ago they called fear. Negroes were afraid to move on their own, they waited until the Man, the people whose place they lived on, told them they could get registered. They told many people, don't you move until I tell you to move and when I give you an order, don't you go down and get registered.

Evictions and Threats

Then all the people were being evicted at the same time and even today in Lowndes County, there are at least 75 families that have been evicted, some now are living in tents while some are living in one-room houses — with 8 or 9 in a family. Others have split their families up and are living together with their relatives or their friends. But they are determined to stay in Lowndes County, until justice rolls down like water.

Evicting the families wasn't all — there were other people who live on their own places who owe large debts, so they decided to foreclose on these debts to run Negroes off the place. People made threats — but we're going to stay there, we aren't going anywhere.

I would like to let the people here tonight know why we chose this black panther as our emblem. Many people have been asking this question for a long time. Our political group is open to whoever wants to come in, who would like to work with us. But we aren't begging anyone to come in. It's open, you come, at your own free will and accord.

But this black panther is a vicious animal as you know. He never bothers anything, but when you start pushing him, he moves backwards, backwards, and backwards into his corner, and then he comes out to destroy everything that's before him.

Negroes in Lowndes County have been pushed back through the years. We have been deprived of our rights to speak, to move, and to do whatever we want to do at all times. And now we are going to start moving. On November 8 of this year, we plan to take over the courthouse in Hayneville. And whatever it takes to do it, we're going to do it.

We've decided to stop begging. We've decided to stop asking for integration. Once we control the courthouse, once we control the board of education, we can build our school system where our boys and girls can get an education in Lowndes County. There are 89 prominent families in this county who own 90 percent of the land. These people will be taxed. And we will collect these taxes. And if they don't pay them, we'll take their property and sell it to whoever wants to buy it. And we know there will be people who will buy land where at the present time they cannot buy it. This is what it's going to take.

We aren't asking any longer for protection — we won't need it — or for anyone to come from the outside to speak for us, because we're going to speak for ourselves now and from now on. And I think not only in Lowndes County, not only in the state of Alabama, not only in the South, but in the North — I hope they too will start thinking for themselves. And that they will move and join us in this fight for freedom.

Thank you and good night.

Copyright © John Hulet, 1966.


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