By JR Valrey, the Minister of Information
The 55th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party, co-founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, will be celebrated this year in Oakland California. Panthers from all over the U.S. and world are coming to celebrate the legacy of the most revolutionary group to be organized in the United States, as made obvious by former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, when he declared the Panthers the biggest threat to the internal security of the United States, during the life of the organization.
The 55th anniversary being held in the birthplace of the Black Panther Party is significant, because the organization had over 48 chapters all over the US and the world including international chapters in Algeria and Tanzania, and a chapter in Angola Prison. But it all started in Oakland, with campaigns like patrolling the police, the free breakfast program, and the Free Huey Campaign.
Bill Jennings has been one of the primary historians preserving the legacy of the Black Panther Party, for over the last 25 years, constantly organizing events and art exhibits so the public can know the true history of an organization whose purpose and goals are often intentionally distorted, by the mainstream media.
Just ahead of Black Panther History month in October, I wanted to give the public a head’s up on the historic occasion of the 55th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party, by talking with Bill “BJ” Jennings about events in-person and online that people can be a part of. Tap in.
JR Valrey: How did you become the historian for the Black Panther Party? When did you start Its About Time? What was the purpose?
Bill “BJ” Jennings: It’s About Time was started in 1995, when we were planning the 30th year reunion, celebration of the Black Panther Party. Through planning this event, a small group of Panther alumni decided that it was important to preserve and promote our legacy. As a result, I started a newsletter and began collecting archival material. This became my full-time occupation. With the creation of our website, I was able to compile more information and reach out to more people. Other BPP alumni started donating materials and photos and a large network of Panthers developed.
JR Valrey: What was your role in the Black Panther Party?
Bill “BJ” Jennings: I joined the Party as a Panther in training in 1968 in East Oakland. Like all Panthers, I sold the newspaper, organized at Laney College where I was a student, and eventually became in charge of the East Oakland office under Robert Bay. We instituted 3 Free Breakfast Programs in East Oakland, and established a Liberation School. Later, I worked at Central Headquarters as an aid to the central committee. I also became an aid to David Hilliard, Huey Newton and the Newton family. I went to court with David and Huey daily during their respective trials. In 1972 I was drafted into Bobby Seale’s mayoral campaign. I ran the main campaign office at 53rd and E. 14th. I also worked at the Oakland Community School. I left the Party in 1974.
JR Valrey: How does it feel celebrating the 55th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party, having been a member?
Bill “BJ” Jennings: It is amazing to be celebrating the 55th anniversary of the Black Panther Party. Many of us didn’t expect to survive the struggle and be able to continue our legacy. As we get older, we are losing a lot of comrades, but we still must hold high the banner of freedom and liberation. Those of us still able to participate are committed and thankful.
JR Valrey: What kinds of things are scheduled for the 55th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party which will be celebrated during Black Panther History Month aka October?
Bill “BJ” Jennings: The 55th year celebration will include an art exhibition at the Joyce Gordon Gallery by Panther alumni artists throughout the month of October.
On Saturday, October 23rd, from 11am to 4pm, we celebrate at Lil’ Bobby Hutton Park (DeFremery Park) in West Oakland. There will be speakers, entertainment and a special tribute to fallen comrades. Charlotte O’Neal will lead a healing circle to begin the day.
There will also be an exhibit at the West Oakland Library across the street from 11am to 4pm. There will be BPP alumni present to answer questions.
On Sunday, October 24th, from 11am to 3pm we will participate in the unveiling of the bust of Huey P. Newton at 9th and Mandela in West Oakland.
There will also be BPP historical tours throughout the month.
Check the website for further updates: www.bpp55thyearcelebration.com
We will also publish a special newspaper which will be available online.
JR Valrey: Who are some of the Panther dignitaries that will be participating in some of these events?
Bill “BJ” Jennings: Participants will include Panthers from other chapters including, Houston, Seattle, New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Portland. Charlotte O’Neal will be coming from Tanzania. Emory Douglas, Ericka Huggins, Aaron Dixon and Dr. Tolbert Small will also participate.
JR Valrey: What role will people who were born after the birth of the Black Panther Party play in this 55th anniversary event?
Bill “BJ” Jennings: The celebration is open to the public. Many young artists who have done murals relating to the Black Panther Party are participating. They will organize a mural tour and information will be on the website. We encourage young people to attend the discussions and exhibits and to enrich their knowledge of this important Oakland history and stimulate participation in their communities.
On Thursday evening at 7:30pm, there will be a special showing of some Panther films at the new Parkway Theater. Check the website for details.
JR Valrey: Why does It’s About Time do so many commemoration events?Why is it important to remember the extensive history of the Black Panther Party?
Bill “BJ” Jennings: It’s About Time was founded with the goal of preserving and promoting the history of the Black Panther Party. We must tell our own story and counteract the misrepresentations in the mainstream media. The Black Panther Party had a major influence on Oakland history and politics. We do our events to stay visible and share our history.
JR Valrey: What does It’s About Time think about the many Black Panther political prisoners that are still languishing in concentration camps across the US, because of their political work?
Bill “BJ” Jennings: It’s About Time has always supported our political prisoners and is very concerned with the unjust prolonged incarceration of our comrades. We had a long-standing program of sending books to prisoners, communicating with and visiting them and have actively participated in several defense committees. We were founding members of the Committee to Free the Angola 3. We also worked closely with Kiilu Nyasha in supporting political prisoners.
JR Valrey: How do people get more info if they want to attend, volunteer, or donate to the 55th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party?
Bill “BJ” Jennings: Visit the website for more information or to sign up to volunteer: www.bpp55thyearcelebration.com
There is a link to our GoFundMe account on the website for donations.
We appreciate everyone’s support and hope to see you all on Oct. 22-24th.