Jun 28, 2019

March 5, 1971: Oakland Auditorium Arena, Oakland, CA


(Most of this article is about the split within the Black Panthers: 
"The Black Panther Party is having an internal fight. Two main factions have appeared so far. They seem to divide rather neatly into what Eldridge [Cleaver] calls a right and a left wing. Each wing has its own leading personalities, its own center of operations, its own style, and its own view of tactics. 
The right wing appears to be led by Huey Newton and David Hilliard. Their headquarters are the national offices of the BPP in Oakland. Huey says we should exhaust all available means of struggle. That means: Don't go underground yet, our main task at this time is to educate the people. 
The national office wing has expelled the New York 21 for criticizing the Panthers and praising the Weathermen in an open letter. They have also expelled the entire Intercommunal Branch in Algiers, and they are waging a campaign of character assassination against Eldridge Cleaver. 
The left wing centers in the Intercommunal Branch headquarters in Algiers. They appear to be led by Eldridge... Their line tends more toward calling for armed struggle now and for going underground... They are calling for 'a purge from the bottom up.' ... 
[More details on the various accusations, excommunications, and arguments between the party leaders follow.]
There's all that stupid hassle about who is the real and only vanguard and whose trial is the important one. Childish games that waste energy and confuse people. One thing that makes this all very strange to us is that the Panthers don't communicate much to the white alternative culture... We haven't been able to communicate freely with them since Bobby [Seale] went to jail... 
We don't really know [why the dispute is going on], and we're left on the sidelines speculating. And yet, these people are supposed to be our revolutionary brothers and sisters." 
An accompanying article concludes, "We should express revolutionary solidarity with the Panthers... Don't choose sides.")

[ . . . ]
The only concrete event we have experienced directly in this whole thing so far was the Intercommunal Solidarity Day Party at the Oakland Auditorium last Friday night. Music by the Vanguards, the Lumpen (backed by the Freedom Messengers), and the Grateful Dead. Speech by Huey Newton. Kathleen Cleaver was scheduled to speak, but she stayed in Algeria.
[ . . . ]
Back to the party in Oakland. When we arrived at the auditorium, a huge crowd of mostly white people were out front trying to get in. Word was that the Panthers were searching everybody. Women on the right entrance, men through the left. Only a few Panthers were doing the searches so it was taking a long time. I left my wife in the middle of the crowd, pushed through to the ticket window, got tickets, pushed back to where she was, gave her one, then we separated for our separate entrances and met inside. It took us 45 minutes to get in.
As it turned out, the Panthers never asked anybody for tickets.
There were no cops in sight anywhere inside or outside the hall all evening.
The crowd was 20% black, 80% white. This is in Oakland where the Panthers started and where they now have their national headquarters. 
After the Vanguards and the Lumpen played, the little children were trotted out. They had uniforms on, like Catholic school kids, and black berets. They are students at the Huey P. Newton Intercommunal Youth Institute. They brought big bunches of red roses for Huey as a post-birthday gift. They sang a song about his glorious sayings, off-key. It was like Art Linkletter and like all that dull bullshit that communist establishments push: Chairman Mao visits the smiling tractor workers. Somebody (white) shouted, "Where's Mom, and Apple Pie?"
Then Huey came on. A standing ovation. This was a crucial time. The party is involved in a major split, they've accused Eldridge of murdering a fellow Panther and holding Kathleen captive, various major questions about decision making have been raised, plus this was a gala party which really focused on the speech by Huey. The event called for a major statement. 
Various Panthers came on stage before Huey and with him, but they came on like bodyguards, not like brothers. A friend pointed out that Big Man and Emory Douglas were not close to Huey on stage. Apparently we've arrived at the Kremlinology game. We know so little about where the Panthers are at that we have to try to deduce their policy and power structure from who stands near who on the platform.
Huey spoke hurriedly, in a fever, for about five minutes. He began by saying he and the Party were there because of the people, not because of themselves. Applause. The Panthers are against all forms of fascism, including sexual fascism. Big applause.
He said that the straight media was trying to make their disagreements seem like a split, but actually it was a time for Unity. He said the Panthers are a people's party and therefore they can't move ahead of the people, and go blow things up at this point. He said that he himself wasn't a good speaker. I'm a man of action, he said. Actions speak louder than words. He said, we can't talk in public about everything we're doing. His implication was that they were still for armed struggle, but they couldn't talk it up in public or they'd get busted or killed.
When he finished, the applause was good but not loud. It was not a major statement. Many blacks didn't applaud. The black man next to me didn't, and I asked him what Huey would have to say to move him. He didn't answer, so I tried again:
"It all seems so sad," I said.
"You quit listening halfway through," the man said. "It doesn't matter what he says. Like he says, actions speak louder than words."
Then the Grateful Dead played. The sound system made all the music sound like it was coming at you through a swimming pool full of water. When they began, a lot of whites jumped up and started dancing. Natural rhythm, oh yeah. Black people looked on rather amazed for a few minutes and then began to leave in droves.
[ . . . ]

(by Gisella E., from the San Francisco Good Times, 12 March 1971)

* * *


The Black Panthers' Revolutionary Intercommunal Day of Solidarity and Post-birthday Celebration for Huey P. Newton Friday night just had to be a dynamite downer for just about everyone concerned.
First, for those who came to the Oakland Auditorium Arena to get the word from the Supreme Servant of the People on the, by then, glaringly visible and rapidly widening rift in the Black Panther Party, there was little cause for cheer.
Next, for those aficionados who had come for a fabulous evening of rock by the Lumpen and the Dead, there was hardly more than a brief taste in a sullen bad vibes environment.
And finally, if Huey's Oakland backers had hoped for a massive outpouring of the troops in a show of solidarity with the Black Panther Party Minister of Defense, they just had to be a little down in the mouth.
For the Arena which has an official capacity of 6,500 was hardly more than half full by the time the last person had entered (after Huey had finished talking). There were about 800 blacks in the hall.
Most of the people there must have been waiting for the Word, but a strong percentage were at least equally there to dig the Grateful Dead.
To illustrate the culture point - a BARB staffer who hitched to the auditorium got a lift on Telly in a lifestyle van that took him right to the Auditorium. The driver, a young bearded longhaired freak, said he was going there "to hear the Dead." Asked what he thought about the Panther split, he said he hadn't been aware of it.
Further on he picked up two chicanos who were on their way to the celebration all the way from Sacramento. They were wearing all the right buttons - Los Siete, Free Bobby, Free Angela, and an old Free Huey button.
But they didn't know anything about any "split" either. And they said happy and clear they were on their way "to hear the Dead." The Dead had played in Sac the night before and had announced they would be at Huey's party the next night, so the kids thought they'd dig 'em two nights in a row.
The time was announced for 7 PM, but the doors didn't open till 10 to 8. Meanwhile, the crowd passed the time greeting old friends and toking; and some groups got in a few right on revolutionary cheers and chants.
BARB got to talking to an ex-Scanlan's staffer, and woddya think? He said he was there to dig the Lumpen! To top it all, a sallow white kid who was listening cut in, "Me, I'm here for the Dead." And after a pause, "D'ya think Eldridge'll be here?"
When BARB finally got in after a friendly feline frisking ("That thing between my legs is not a gun."), Vanguard and Freedom were rocking, followed by the Lumpen. Elaine Brown mc'd with no mention or reference of the heavy charges of murder she had laid on Eldridge Cleaver in the Panther Paper out the day before.
In between sets by the Lumpen, Charles Brunson read some revolutionary messages that were rendered unintelligible by the speaker system. A little later, fifteen Panther kids from the Huey P. Newton educational Institute filed out, each bearing a bouquet of blood red roses. The kids ranged in age from about 5 to 15. They were dressed in black pants or skirts, blue chambray shirts, and black berets. They piped out a special birthday song for Huey, and sounded just like any other group of kids with changing voices.
Then Elaine Brown announced Huey's arrival. "The first time he's ever been to his own birthday party," she said, "since the party was founded."
The scene was in sharp contrast to his first birthday party in 1967 after he was jailed in October for offing a pig. Then, it was indeed a show of solidarity, with Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael (soon after ousted) joining forces with the burgeoning Panthers.
And the honkys in the audience were a sprinkling in a sea of blacks. The Arena was full. Black Panthers were resplendent in their black leatherjacket uniforms. Discipline was tight and tough.
Last Friday night, the Panthers could be best described as being in non-uniformed disarray.
After the brief introduction, Huey hurried on from stage right twirling a silver-tipped swagger stick over his head. Six men nested him protectively throughout his brief appearance. One of them was Masai Hewitt. Nobody could affirm whether David Hilliard was anywhere around.
Huey spoke for less than ten minutes during which the Man's technology treacherously thwarted the Power of the People. That fuckin' speaker system made it almost impossible to understand Huey as he raced through his speech.
After he finished and rushed off stage left, underground reporters scurried after one another comparing notes. They could have saved their breath cause it's all in this week's Black Panther paper.
"I'm not here because of the Black Panther Party," Huey led off. "I'm here because of the Power of the People."
"I would like to say tonight," he continued, "that the Black Panther Party stands against all forms of fascism, including sexual fascism. That we are against all kinds of chauvinism, including racial chauvinism; we're against sexual chauvinism, national chauvinism. We're intercommunalists."
"I never made any speeches, you see, because I'm not a very eloquent man," Huey explained.
He asked that the party be judged by its actions and its contribution rather than its media image; and he emphasized the fact that the Party was subordinate to the people.
"We can't free political prisoners," Huey pointed out, "only the people can free political prisoners. And a people who are not free cannot free their prisoners, cannot free the prisoners that fascism makes."
Huey spoke about "lifting the consciousness of the people" and "exhausting every possible tactic," but he reminded his listeners, "there are many things we will not discuss in public."
The Friday before Huey was on a TV talk show and Eldridge Cleaver was cut in and spoke out against Hilliard and Huey on the same program. Huey said he would respond later through the party paper.
To date there has been no direct answer to Eldridge's charges although Eldridge has been denounced as a male chauvinist and accused of the murder of a black brother. Huey's birthday could be classed as a philosophical answer.
In his talk, Huey advised, "what kind of action you will take depends upon the particular set of conditions" and acknowledged "that the Party and the world today, is under turmoil."
But Huey was not dismayed by this. In fact, he said "this is very good. We have always welcomed all forms of contradictions." From the contradictions, he said, "We hope to have a qualitative leap. If this leap eliminates some of us, then, of course, we'll weep for that. But," he told his listeners, "We must not stop the Revolution."
He pooh-poohed "the news media that has attempted to discredit the Party by saying that it's over."
After Huey had left the stage, the Grateful Dead entered. Ken Kesey and Paul Krassner were seen coming down the middle aisle. Kesey told BARB that he and the Dead had had to wait until Huey's speech was over until they could enter the auditorium.
While the Dead set up, a good many of the white culture freaks moved up and occupied the space between the seats and the stage. Most of the blacks and the white power freaks filed out of the auditorium, having heard what they came to hear.
A little over a thousand were left, including a sprinkling of blacks. A fight broke out between a group of five black-leatherjacketed blacks and some whites sitting in front of the stage, but it was cooled by a Panther who was still hanging around. The blacks had been trying to keep the aisles clear, apparently not realizing that the arena was practically empty.
Earlier that evening, BARB saw a fracas between two Panthers and a black in the hallway. The black was hurled outside through a glass door and escaped. Someone reported to BARB that on the opposite side of the auditorium there was blood on the steps.
The Dead managed to get in a really good set and had everybody bobbing up and down with good vibes up until the time they were forced to stop by the 11 o'clock closing deadline.
It wasn't as much as everybody had hoped for; but, at least, it ended on a good note.

(from the Berkeley Barb, 12 March 1971)

* * *


Huey Newton, leader of the seriously divided Black Panther Party, made only brief mention of the feud between himself and Eldridge Cleaver last night at an Oakland rally celebrating his birthday.
The event was more notable for its tight security than for its gaiety - the party got underway two hours late because Black Panther guards searched every one of the 4000 persons who attended.
The majority of the crowd was white.
When Newton finally strode onto the stage, sporting the swagger stick he says symbolizes his leadership of the party, he was surrounded by a bodyguard of Panthers. The crowd rose in unison, raised their clenched fists in salute and chanted,"Power to the people!"
In his hurried speech, he failed to mention Cleaver by name, but there was an allusion clearly aimed at the exiled Panther information minister.
"The Black Panther Party," he said, "stands against all forms of fascism, including sexual fascism. We're against sexual chauvinism."
The audience cheered the oblique, sarcastic reference to Cleaver. The Black Panther newspaper, controlled by Newton, charged earlier in the week that Cleaver is holding his wife, Kathleen, a virtual prisoner in Algiers, that he beats her up and that he killed a man who was having an affair with her, charges Kathleen denied during a telephone conversation with The Examiner.
In his ten minute speech, he also told the crowd in Oakland Arena:
"The party and the world today is in a turmoil. There are many things that we will not discuss in public. We cannot get together by substituting verbal expressions for unity. Words will not start the revolution - only action."
Mrs. Cleaver had been billed as one of the featured speakers at the rally, which was advertised as a "revolutionary intercommunal day of solidarity," but she made her position clear in a telephone interview with The Examiner this week.
She said she would not attend the benefit, to which a $2.50 admission was charged, because she did not want to associate with "the low life Oakland clique."
About the only light notes in the otherwise gloomy celebration were provided by The Grateful Dead rock group and The Lumpen, a Black Panther rock band. Photographers, and anyone with a tape recorder, were barred.

(from the San Francisco Examiner, 6 March 1971) 

No tape available. 

See also:


  1. Ironically, this lost show is one of the best-reported events the Dead appeared at, with full and detailed coverage in three papers that I've seen (and probably others as well)...but the Dead themselves are only a short footnote in each. All the reporters were there because it was a political event, hence 'newsworthy,' so the Panthers' problems and Newton's speech were reported at length, while the Dead's set was only worth a brief mention.
    There is also a radio recording of the Panther portion of the evening (speeches and music), but no recording of the Dead seems to exist. (As one reporter notes, "Anyone with a tape recorder was barred.") Oh well!

    More details on this event, and recollections from several attendees, are in the Lost Live Dead comments, so I won't repeat those here.
    Back on 9/16/70, the Dead had met Huey Newton on a plane flight to New York, talked with him through the flight, and spontaneously agreed to do a benefit for the Black Panthers. It was originally supposed to be in New York in December '70, but the plan changed and it ended up being in Oakland in March '71. McNally writes that it was "a very mixed experience... Panther notions of security led to pat-down searches of everyone in the band and crew, and...Elaine Brown failed to charm the Dead." (p.395)
    Peter Doggett also writes about the show at length in his book There's A Riot Going On (p.411).
    The Panthers' attitude toward the Dead was one of strong mistrust, and one article notes the Dead weren't allowed in the auditorium until Newton left. Needless to say, there was no further contact between the Dead and the Panthers.

    As these articles make clear, by the time the benefit took place, the Black Panther party was already disintegrating as the leadership attacked each other and split into factions. So it was not a happy occasion - these articles call it "gloomy...a downer...a sullen bad vibes environment." Underground papers like the Good Times devoted pages of articles to the Panthers' internal dissensions, trying to figure out what was going on, which side was more ideologically correct, and how true revolutionaries should respond. As one reporter put it, "Now...the whites are deciding who was righteous and who was a fascist, which isn't our right."

  2. Most of the people going to the benefit might not have cared about the disputes that much - it wasn't well-attended, most of the audience was white, and the kids the Barb reporter ran into were there "to hear the Dead" and didn't even know about the Panther split (though they sympathized with the Panthers in general).

    A couple attendees on dead.net recall:
    "I was there, a young lefty, for mainly the Grateful Dead but with interest in the speeches of the Black Panther leadership as well. After the political speeches finished, the entire group of Black Panthers and supporters left the building, as well as most of the politicos, leaving a very small audience for...a short but tight set of music."
    "Huey Newton, Black Panther Party Chairman, gave a long, rather boring speech before the band went on. As he introduced them, ALL the black people left the place! There were like 50 or so people left, so we all sat onstage to hear the band."

    The reporters note the bad sound system, and agree that the Dead played to a mostly empty arena of perhaps a thousand people:
    "Black people looked on rather amazed for a few minutes and then began to leave in droves."
    "Most of the blacks and the white power freaks filed out of the auditorium, having heard what they came to hear."
    The few Dead fans who remained gathered up at the front of the stage and danced. Per the Barb, "the Dead managed to get in a really good set and had everybody bobbing up and down with good vibes." But they had to stop at 11. (The event had started "two hours late" after the Panthers searched everyone coming in, so the entire proceedings may have taken only two hours or so.)

    In the Barb article, some kids from Sacramento say "the Dead had played in Sac the night before," and they were seeing them again. Although this seems to indicate a lost show, I can't find any evidence of the Dead playing in Sacramento; and since they'd just done a show there in December '70, a repeat visit so soon seems very unlikely. Maybe the kids had been at the Dead's Fillmore West show a couple days earlier and the Barb reporter misunderstood?