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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

San Diego Black Panther Chairman Gives Context To Current Protests

Speaker 1: 00:00 The current protest may have been sparked by George Floyd's death at the hands of the Minneapolis police, but the roots go much deeper KPBS arts reporter Beth Amando spoke with Henry Wallace, the fifth chairman of the San Diego black Panther party about how the Panthers laid some of the foundation for today's protests back in the 1960s. Here's that interview. Speaker 2: 00:23 So Henry, what would you like people to know about the black Panthers in San Diego? Speaker 1: 00:26 Well, I, I want people to realize that San Diego itself has never been a utopia that it claimed to be. There have always been racism in this city, the black Panther party, when it came out, came out to fight the injustices of the system itself because the police department was just one part of it. Speaker 2: 00:50 How did you initially get involved in the black Panthers? Speaker 1: 00:54 Oh, that's a long story. You sure you want to hear, Speaker 2: 01:00 How old were you to start with? Speaker 1: 01:01 I was 15, 16 years old, something like that. That's an a, I laugh at some of the critics, uh, when we reactivated Sam where he was only 16 years old. How could you have been a black Panther? Well, all of us was young and then they, then, then I tell them, you need to go and read your history books. Then that way you'll know that it wasn't an old folks dying. It was a young folk because the older people were seasoned to believe that everything was going to get all right through prayer and a little bit of protest and stuff like that. But the younger kids sees the times, or they realized that we were under attack. And when the black Panther party, uh, came out and they went to SAC Sacramento to the state Capitol that brought up a groundswell of young people that wanted to be part of this movement that helped move things ahead because we was tired of getting brutalized and disrespected in our community. My sister went to San Diego state college, which is now San Diego state university. And she was in the black student union. She and her boyfriend, Kenny Denman, uh, was approached by the black Panther party or in 67 to open up a chapter at a black Panther party. And from there, my mother joined, my stepfather joined and then I joined me and my brothers. And, uh, every, since then we've been black Panthers. Speaker 2: 02:34 And what was it about the Panthers that appealed to you that made it something that you wanted to be a part of? Speaker 1: 02:40 It was manual man. All it was, they had muscle. They showed that they weren't scared of the police and they educated us on the second amendment that we had the right to bear arms to protect ourselves. You know, it was, it was just a, a, a, a serious time that a lot of people didn't get it. And then it was a saying that came out, that I'd rather die standing up then on my knees, I'd rather be on standing. I'm not going to be in a prayer position. So you could steal brooder lie. I mean, look at what was going on with Martin Luther King at that time. Speaker 2: 03:14 Talk a little bit about what the black Panthers did in San Diego that might surprise people Speaker 1: 03:17 In San Diego while we were doing, we started the food program here, which was, you know, kind of like the thing to do at that time. Uh, we had a free food giveaway at Christ, the King church on 32nd Imperial. And then shortly after that, we partnered up with, uh, some of the university people or helped get a clinic in the middle of 30th and Imperial. Cause there, if you know, back in the day, if you know your history, uh, Imperial was considered a black wall street. So, uh, we got the students to help put together what was called a crisis center. So the black Panther was instrumental in some of those things, our programs was progress. And, but before you know it, we was under the attack of the government because they didn't want us to help. They really didn't have no programs to help anybody other than welfare. And they used that as a club. Speaker 2: 04:16 Now, as someone who lived through the protests in the sixties and seventies and the sixties, we kind of felt like, Oh yeah, change is gonna happen. Like we, we felt there was this groundswell and then not as much change as needed to happen happened. So how are you feeling about these protests? Do you see something different about them? Uh, are you hopeful? Speaker 1: 04:36 Oh yeah, no doubt about it. What's happening today is the chickens then came home to roofs. The seeds that was planted back in those days are fertilized. Now they're turning into plants, beautiful flowers and stuff, because the stuff that the black Panther party tried to do back in those days was get all the people together and let them know that you're being exploited by the system. Cause we started off working on just for the black people, but as time went along, we understood that there was other people that was suffering. So this protest that's going on now is the results of what's been going on before. And we did have some progress, believe it or not. Cause I could look back over the eons and see where my mother was a maid had my mother been around today as a young woman, she might've got a college degree. Speaker 1: 05:33 She might've been able to be a lawyer or judge all that, even though racism still exists, it's in the fabric of America. But I have seen progress with the police department. It's being brought down to a level where they starting to understand that they are not the ultimate power to people is the, there've been many revolutions, but America forget the, they don't want to teach that to the people. They talk about the American revolution, but they need to talk about what's going on. Now. The same stuff that they doing, the people King George did to the colonists back in the day. And these kids got the state. Of course I am so proud of them. I really am because I see it, but I don't want them to think that they have one, uh, one victory or two victories and let it go. We got to go all the way to the core of the issue and, and, and, and, and get rid of this disease. Like this Corona virus get rid of the racism, disease, and people need to start learning what's going on within our own country. So because of the progress that's been made since the sixties, where now you have black people where political position, you got Hispanics, you got Asian, you got people in a political position. And it's like, people are starting to wake up and understand that this stuff is really happening. Speaker 2: 07:03 Do you think current protesters could learn from what the black Panthers did? Speaker 1: 07:07 All they need to do is read our history. What we try to achieve, what we try to achieve is education. To let people know that we're all the same that we need to work together. I think that they need to understand that they have the right to address. Injustice is just as the black Panther party did. Speaker 2: 07:33 And do you think San Diego tends to turn a blind eye to racism here in San Diego? Cause some people, Speaker 1: 07:40 Yeah, it's real easy. San Diego that they do. We want to keep it where it's all about. The business again is, do not have no disturbances in San Diego because we want to attract business here. You see what happened when they burned down the banks? Oh my God, dude, Oh, we need to do something. Let's help these people. Black lives matter. They wouldn't say in black lives matter until they start burning up their stuff. And, and I'm like, I tell people I'm not down for violence or anything, but sometimes violence be, get some changes. Speaker 2: 08:18 And what is the role of the San Diego black Panthers during this current black lives matter movement? Are you guys actively partaking Speaker 1: 08:28 Port, uh, the movement, uh, if we have to send representatives out there so that the people know that you're doing the right thing, we believe in what you're doing. And we feel like our kids is handling it. They handling it. They, they they're actually out there handling, taking care of business. They don't have no guns. They don't need no guns. None of that stuff. They just out there letting the world know that what's on here in San Diego and around the world and right. And we need to have police reform real police reform. Speaker 3: 09:02 And do you have any last words you'd like to, Speaker 1: 09:06 Yeah. I want you guys to know that the black Panther party stand with those that stand on the side of justice and that we won't just what you want, but you got to understand that everybody need to come to the table. Everybody needs to be part of this situation and you all have the power to make change, but you can't sit up there and say, Oh, those poor black people, all, they just brutalized and get off your ass and do something. You know, you can vote whatever. Don't let our country go down to two because you are sitting there of sympathizing, but you're not getting up to vote. You are sitting there not getting up saying anything. You are sitting there and not going out to enjoy the protest. Because if we work together, we're going to have a better society. Then you won't have to worry about people being killed in the street or people being discriminated against, or you won't have this poor situation. America is Lana, the plenty and the wealth should be share. And I'm talking to you capitalists out there y'all need to be more proactive in returning things back to the community. So we don't have this situation, power to the people. Right? I want to thank you very much. You're welcome. That was Beth Huck. Amando speaking with Henry Wallace, the fifth chairman of the San Diego black Panthers party.

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San Diego Black Panther Party chairman Henry Lee Wallace V looks to the 1960s to provide context for today's protests.
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