The opening line from Ronald Stone's poem Uncle Sammy Call Me Fulla Lucifer reads, "Uncle Sammy don't shuck and jive me." Back in March 1966, Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale was arrested while reciting this poem near the campus of UC Berkeley. Although charges were dropped for the impromptu performance, Seale marks this as one of many motivating factors that drove him, along with Huey P. Newton, to form the Black Panther Party.
This past Saturday, more than a half-century later, a recently taped audio recording of Seale reciting that same poem played to an audience at the Oakland Museum of California. A video of an original piece by poet and author Chinaka Hodge followed Seale's poem. Then, the duo took to the stage for an event that was slated to be an intergenerational discussion between Seale and Hodge.
The event was less of a dialog, and more of an oral history of Seale's involvement in one of the most significant grassroots political organizations the United States has ever seen.
At 80 years of age, Seale's charisma showed through his vivacious spirit, at times causing his body to reach the edge of his seat. He discussed his interactions with Marlon Brando, highlighted the leadership of women within the Black Panther Party, and told the story of an event that took place at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, right next door to the Oakland Museum, back in 1962. This was where he saw Martin Luther King Jr. speak about boycotting bread companies for their racist hiring practices. "We're going to make Wonder Bread wonder where the money went," Seale quoted King, causing the audience to explode in laughter.
He took events the audience was familiar with and added details they might not have known. He told the story of the Black Panthers marching on Sacramento, noting that there were only about 18 members at the time. He explained that being a Black Panther leader wasn't his full-time job — "I was working for the City of Oakland when I took an armed delegation to march on the Sacramento State Legislature" — and he followed with the punch line, "Of course, they fired me."
After yielding the floor to her elder for the majority of the time, Hodge strategically found a pause in his monologue and managed to slide in a fury of questions, pre-submitted by the audience. Seale didn't answer any directly. Instead, he shared yet another intriguing story, one about interactions with law enforcement, from what seemed to be an endless bag of tales.
But Seale did answer a question about advice for resisting in the Donald Trump-era. He suggested that people get involved in local politics. "We need more progressive grassroots politicians," he said. "The Black Panther Party was a party, a political party, a grassroots political party."
As the event approached its end, there was one last question, or more of a request from Hodge: for Seale to perform "Uncle Sammy Call Me Fulla Lucifer." She left the stage and gave him the room and, in true Seale fashion, he answered with a story, indulging the audience in the tale of the night he was arrested while performing this same poem more than half-a-century years ago. Hodge, realizing that Seale wasn't going to cut to the performance immediately, walked back on stage — almost urging him to perform. Minutes later, he bellowed that opening line: "Uncle Sammy don't shuck and jive me."