Theme: Call To Action
At a critical time in the 1960s Seattle civil rights movement, the Seattle chapter Black Panther Party (SCBPP) was an active participant in the fight for equity and justice. The chapter was founded in 1968 and was the first chapter to be located outside of Oakland, California.
The first SCBPP headquarters was a storefront in the Central Area’s Madrona Neighborhood on 34th Avenue. Nearby was the home of SCBPP captain and co-captain Aaron and Elmer Dixon. When this space became too small and the national headquarters insisted that they move to a location that could be fortified, a duplex in the Squire Park neighborhood at the corner of 20th Avenue and Spruce Street became the SCBPP’s second home.
The SCBPP occupied both levels of the duplex, and they made modifications to the building that allowed for more protection if necessary. The need to barricade and sandbag this location was deemed mandatory, given the threats and targeting of the Party that were fueled by recent shootouts and raids on headquarters in other cities. The SCBPP organized community outreach programs from this location that included a free medical clinic, free breakfast programs, a bus-to-prison program, and a sickle cell testing program, and it was a daily jump-off point for distribution of the Black Panther Party newspaper.
In 1970, Black Panther Party satellites were ordered to consolidate their efforts in Oakland. The SCBPP left the 20th and Spruce headquarters in 1972 and relocated to new offices a block away to focus on community needs programs. Almost immediately following the move, the duplex was torn down. Elmer Dixon posits that this was because “the police did not want our headquarters to stand as a symbol of our defiance.” All that remains today of the headquarters’ existence is the east-facing portion of the People’s Wall.
The People’s Wall, a mural commissioned by the SCBPP in 1969 for the street-level retaining wall that surrounded the property, was painted by artist Dion Henderson. Henderson’s body of work reflected the times and the African American mood not only in Seattle but nationwide. It was important to the Party that Henderson incorporate the names of fallen comrades and iconic images. Miraculously, the People’s Wall survived the demolition of the duplex. Preserving the past and paying tribute to the correlation between this historic treasure and the tenacity of Seattle’s Black community, the mural was given a facelift in 2008, when local African American artist Eddie Walker was called on to restore the wall. Walker preserved the beauty and strength of the mural, and the People’s Wall stands today as a reminder of SCBPP history and as a call to action to serve, protect, and empower the Black community.
Seattle Chapter Black Panther Party
SCBPP principles to advocate for disenfranchised communities are alive and well today in Seattle. The 50th anniversary celebration of the SCBPP in 2018 was a renewed call to action energizing current generations to formulate a strategic approach to serving the people’s needs, especially centered around health and food justice. You can read more about the SCBPP at the University of Washington-Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project webpage which includes oral testimony, photos, and detailed history.