Bobby Seale: The Panthers’ Founder Who Couldn't Be Silenced

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Bobby Seale

source: the University of Michigan via Wikimedia Commons

Who is Bobby Seale? 

Bobby Seale (1936-present) is an African-American civil rights activist who famously co-founded the Black Panther Party. He challenged the many injustices against Black Americans, including police brutality and economic inequality. 

We at the Zero Theft Movement are striving to eliminate the rigged parts of the U.S. economy so that all Americans can thrive. The racial pay gap is arguably one example where corporations have taken advantage of citizens to boost profits. That leaves many hardworking individuals without enough money to have basic human comforts. In this article, we will take a look at Bobby Seale’s life and his work with the Panthers.

Seale’s Early Life

The son of carpenter George Seale and homemaker Thelma Traylor, Bobby Seale was born in Liberty, Texas in 1936. The family moved around different parts of the state scrounging a living. In search of better prospects in 1944, the Seales traveled West to Oakland, California during the Great Migration.

A major turning point came during his high school years, when Seale failed to earn spots on the varsity basketball and football teams. He believed he’d been snubbed due to his race. Indignant, Seale dropped out of school and joined the U.S. Air Force in 1955. But his short three-year stint in the service ended poorly, and he left the Air Force.

Sketch of Bobby Seale (1971)

source: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University

Seale took up work as a sheet-metal mechanic in a number of aerospace plants while studying at night to earn his high school diploma. He states, in his 1970 book Seize the Time, “I worked in every major aircraft plant and aircraft corporation…I was a top-flight sheet-metal mechanic.” His father had clearly taught him a thing or two. He eventually got his high school diploma and started attending Merritt Community College, where he would help form the Black Panther Party.

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Huey Newton and Bobby Seale Unite

While he initially intended to study engineering, Bobby Seale found himself drawn to political science and civil rights activism. He soon joined the Afro-American Association, a radical organization dedicated to achieving black separatism

Through his work with the group, he met a kindred spirit in Huey P. Newton. They often discussed how African Americans could combat racial prejudice and oppression. Together they branched off to found the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966, along with the help of Richard Aoki. They disagreed with the nonmilitant approach of the mainstream civil rights movement and felt that radical measures needed to be taken in order to effect change. 

Seale collaborated with Newton to create the Black Panther 10 Point program, a manifesto that outlined, in simple language, the beliefs of the organization and its basic guidelines for all members to follow. It details the Panthers’ political, social, and economic demands that would allow African Americans to thrive in the U.S.

The Panthers’ 10 Point Program

source: Smithsonian Magazine

Explaining the rationale behind the program’s simplicity, Seale said the following in his 1968 ‘Free Huey speech: “We don’t want to go real elaborate with all these essays, and dissertations, and all this stuff, because a brother gonna look at that and he gonna say, ‘Man, I ain’t got time for that. I got to go see what I can do for myself.’ Just a basic platform that the mothers, who struggle hard to raise us, that the fathers, who worked hard, that the young brothers in school, who come out of school semi-illiterate, saying…reading broken words. We just want a basic platform to outline black people’s basic political desires and needs, first.”

The Black Panther Party’s Arsenal of Programs

Bobby Seale’s experiences working in the summer youth program at the North Oakland Neighborhood Anti-Poverty Center informed much of the 10 Point program. He educated kids about Black American History and their responsibility to give back to their communities. Ironically, it wasn’t the guns that made then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover dub the Panthers “the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States.” Rather, it was their focus on youth education and community responsibility that made the group powerful. 

The Free Children Breakfast Program, in particular, showcased Newton and Seale’s shrewd leadership. At once, they could satisfy a critical need in impoverished communities and soften their gun-toting, camo-clad image plastered in newspapers. A Vox article reports that the organization fed around 50,000 children through the program, as well as provided clothing, medical care, and legal aid to impoverished citizens.

Roger Guenveur Smith, director of the documentary film A Huey P. Newton Story, stated: “…the Free Children’s Breakfast Program engendered a certain following on the Black community’s part, a certain respect on the Black community’s part. I mean, nobody can argue with free grits.”

The organization’s programs, above all else, might have been their most ‘dangerous’ weapons. They worked to combat the economic exploitation of Black communities by providing free health care and advocating for better housing, job opportunities, and education. The redlining that came with the National Housing Act of 1934, for example, just goes to show how the system has held back African Americans.

The Chicago 8 Becomes the Chicago 7

After the riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Bobby Seale was charged with conspiracy in the famous trial of the ‘Chicago 8’.

Little evidence against Seale was found. He did not participate in the planning for the riot as he’d stepped in only as a last-minute substitute for activist Eldridge Cleaver. Moreover, Seale had been in the city for only two days of the DNC.

During the 1969 trial, Seale attempted to defend himself without a lawyer. His legal counsel was hospitalized at this inopportune time. The Panthers’ leader repeatedly stood up in court and shouted “I Object” whenever they mentioned his name. He claimed he was not given his constitutional right to properly defend himself. After one outlash too many, Judge Hoffman ordered Seale to be handcuffed and gagged in order to stop his verbal outlashes. 

Bobby Seale, bound and gagged, in court

source: Library of Congress

he Judge did not convict him for the riot. Hence, the change from the Chicago 8 to the Chicago 7. Yet Seale was sentenced to four years in prison for 16 counts of contempt—three months for each outburst he’d had during the proceedings.  

New Haven Black Panther Trials

Still imprisoned, Bobby Seale found himself a defendant once more in the New Haven Black Panther Trials in 1970. He and George W. Sams Jr. were tried for the murder of Alex Rackley, a Panther who had been exposed as a police informant. According to the New York Times, Sams Jr. testified that “Mr. Seale, the party’s national chairman, gave the order that Rackley be killed.”

Poster in support of Bobby Seale and Ericka Higgins (a Panther)


The trials sparked a big demonstration in New Haven, Connecticut on May Day. This protest served as a flashpoint for the American college student strike of 1970. The jury failed to reach a verdict in Seale’s trial, and the court dropped the charges. Bobby Seale, with two years left on his prison sentence, had to wait until 1972 to finally be released.

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Bobby of the Black Panthers

One of the masterminds behind the Panthers, Bobby Seale helped form the foundations that made the party strong. Hoover, using William O’Neal and other informants, targeted the Black Panther Party because of its power to win over the public. In part due to the arms and military garb, but much more so due to its smart programs designed to help communities in need. 

The Panthers recognized that socioeconomic inequities in the form of redlining and wage inequality would keep holding back African Americans. Opening up proper economic opportunities for all Americans remains a key issue that troubles the country today. Bobby Seale and the Panthers show the Zero Theft Movement how powerful the right programs, the right efforts to fight back against an oppressive system, can be in mobilizing the public. 

The system was and still is rigged against Black people, but a bigger economic problem potentially exists. 

Fight the Rigged Economy with the Zero Theft Movement

The corrupt among the corporations, the super-rich, and government officials could be rigging various parts of the economy in order for them to unethically maximize their profits. Consider how stock buybacks divert funds from employees and innovation to corporate executives. Or think about how traders allegedly manipulated a global benchmark interest rate in the LIBOR Scandal. Or how U.S. drug prices are reportedly 256% higher than prices for the same drugs in other developed countries. 

We have created an independent voting platform where you and your fellow citizens work together to calculate the most accurate estimate for the monetary costs of corruption in the United States. 

The public investigates potential problem areas, and everyone votes on whether (1) theft is or isn’t occurring in a specific area of the economy, and (2) how much is being stolen or possibly saved. Through direct democracy, we can collectively decide where the problem areas exist and start working on addressing them systematically. 

Only through hard evidence can we prove where the rigged parts of the economy exist and force Congress to hold all the bad actors accountable.

Standard Disclaimer

The Zero Theft Movement does not have any interest in partisan politics/competition or attacking/defending one side. We seek to eradicate theft from the U.S economy. In other words, how the wealthy and powerful rig the system to steal money from us, the everyday citizen. We need to collectively fight against crony capitalism in order for us to all profit from an ethical economy.   

Terms like ‘steal,’ ‘theft,’ and ‘crime’ will frequently appear throughout the article. Zero Theft will NOT adhere strictly to the legal definitions of these terms (since congress sells out). We have broadly and openly defined terms like ‘steal’ and ‘theft’ to refer to the rigged economy and other debated unethical acts that can cause citizens to lose out on money they deserve to keep.  

The public has spoken! See how much the rigged economy is ripping off from you…

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Beyond Bobby Seale…

An educated public is an empowered public. 

We regularly publish educational articles on, just like this one on Bobby Seale. They teach you all about the rigged layer of the economy in short, digestible pieces.