As he spoke to an overflow crowd more than 500 strong at Southeast Missouri State University Wednesday night, Black Panther Party co-founder and chairman Bobby Seale seemed like a piece of living history combined with a stand-up comedian -- delivering an entertaining talk that still retained its political edge.
Wearing a suit and tie, he walked onto the stage at Rose Theatre donning a baseball cap with a military tank on it while about half the assembled crowd delivered a standing ovation.
The outspoken former civil protest leader didn't hesitate to let his views be known just an hour before President George W. Bush would take the stage for his State of the Union Address.
"You may be wondering why I'm wearing this hat," Seale said, who has a 38-year-old son in the Army Reserves in Iraq. "I don't support this war ... I don't believe wars should ever have existed in the first damned place. It's in support of all our young troops, male and female, caught up in this war."
But modern politics wouldn't be the focus of Seale's monologue, which would explain his role in the protest movement of the 1960s and the campaign to destroy the Black Panthers.
Seale explained how the party gained prominence, speaking of his difficulties with one of the current president's heroes, Ronald Reagan, who was then governor of California.
"Ronald Reagan called me a hoodlum and a thug," Seale said in his delivery, "for observing police with law books, tape recorders and guns. We were so legal they had to go to the legislature to stop us from carrying guns."
Throughout his speech Seale took an informal air which seemed to draw many audience members in, uttering expletives and emphatically gesturing as he recalled the Panthers' role in the 1960s.
Earlier in the day he had connected with many professors and students at Southeast, talking to them as a human being instead of an inaccessible newsmaker at a noontime forum at the university and a reception at Bellevue Bed and Breakfast in the afternoon.
But Seale's message was serious, as he advocated a new "cooperative humanism" in which people would come together to end political and economic equality all across the globe, aiming that message at the youth.
"You don't need guns now," said Seale. "We know that less than one percent of people in the face of this Earth ... control 90 percent of the resources. We need policies and legislation that makes human sense.
"America is on the threshold of leading the world down this path."
After his hour-long lecture, Seale took questions from the crowd before signing books.
"If there's one thing you'd want us to tell our parents about you, what would it be?" said one female audience member of her unsympathetic parents.
"Tell them it's not true," said Seale, referring to the image of the Panthers as an anti-white group.
Many were extremely happy with Seale's talk and very sympathetic with his message and his activities in the '60s.
"We came out to hear a powerful speaker share some of his past history," said local business owner Robert Gentry. "It's always encouraging to see this kind of thing. Twenty-five years ago, the welcome mat would probably not have been as polished and well-presented. I really hope people were open to a different point of view this evening."
Others didn't necessarily agree with Seale, but thought the experience was great regardless.
"I think he's a really good speaker," said one student who wished only to be identified by his first name, David. "It's nice to hear it from someone who's been there. I don't agree with his politics, but oh well."
Seale was brought to the university through the efforts of numerous campus and community organizations who put up the $4,500 speaking fee and private individuals who assisted with transportation and lodging costs.
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