Published in It’s About Time: Black Panther Party Legacy and Alumni (USA)
December 2007
By Larry Pinkney

“Strike to win, strike only when success is certain. If not do not strike at all.”— Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap (Vietnam)

By the early fall of 1968, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and elsewhere throughout the United States, it had become crystal clear that Black college students, other students of color, and other progressive allies were not willing to stand idly by and continue to be miseducated by a systemically racist and hypocritical “educational” system. During this period in the S. F. Bay Area, the Black Students Union (BSU) at what was then known as San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University), became the vanguard in the struggle by college students. However, the Black students at S. F. State were by no means alone.

The message in Point 5, of the Black Panther Party’s Ten Point Program, calling for (in relevant part), an “education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society” was strongly resonating with Black college students throughout the S. F. Bay Area and the nation. This message was also taken seriously by many college students at City College of San Francisco (CCSF), where I too was then a student and Black Panther Party member who had recently returned from southern California, to the S. F. Bay Area.

Of the hundreds of Black college students at CCSF, many, including Anna Barry, Derrick Hill, Jerry L. King III, and myself were organizing on campus, in our determination to press the CCSF administration to 1) establish an accredited Afro American Studies Department, 2) hire Black instructors and administrators, and 3) to create a Black history section in the college library.

An ad hoc committee known as the Students for Action Committee (SAC), was formed for the specific purpose of obtaining the above mentioned objectives, and for the expressed purpose of bringing about a radical political change in the “leadership” of Black students on CCSF’s campus. As a CCSF student and SAC organizer, I happened to also spend a considerable amount of time studying at San Francisco State College, and building alliances between Black SAC students from CCSF and certain members of the embattled Black Students Union (BSU) at S. F. State. Meanwhile, Derrick Hill who was also a CCSF SAC member/organizer was elected in campus wide elections, as student body president of City College of San Francisco (CCSF). This was a stunning turn of events at CCSF, which propelled the “radical” Black SAC students at CCSF into the limelight and added momentum to our struggle to obtain a Black curriculum, Black faculty, and a radical new Black student leadership at CCSF. The white college administrators of CCSF were clearly angered and in shock at the victory of the SAC contender in the campus wide student body presidential elections. Even many of us in SAC were pleasantly surprised and encouraged that the majority of Black, Asian, Latino/a, and white students had voted to make a radical Black SAC member, their student body president. SAC intensified its efforts to bring about a fundamental change in Black student leadership of the so called Negro Student Association (NSA), who were correctly viewed as active collaborators with the white CCSF college administrators, and who, along with the CCSF college administration, openly scorned the sit ins and subsequent student strike by Black students and their allies at S. F. State. Thus, SAC increased its organizing activities at CCSF, calling for 1) “new” Black student leadership at CCSF and the electoral elimination of the NSA and the immediate creation of a CCSF Black Students Union (BSU), 2) a Black Studies Department, hiring of Black faculty, an Afro American section in the CCSF college library, and 3) support for the sit ins and subsequent student strike at S F State. SAC fielded a full slate of “BSU” candidates, including myself for chair/president, and Anna Barry for cochair/vice president for the upcoming CCSF Black student elections.

“Burial of the Tom Negro”

To the consternation of the college administrators at CCSF, the message and organizing activities of the Students for Action Committee (SAC) at CCSF were well received by Black students. The CCSF Black student elections were held and resulted overwhelmingly in the election of the entire SAC “BSU” slate bringing in myself as chairman/president and Anna Barry as cochair/vice president of the over four hundred member CCSF Black Students Union (BSU). As a result of the election, all officers of the then newly named “BSU” including myself and Anna Barry, had come from the ranks of the Black radical Students for Action Committee (SAC) and became members of the central committee of the CCSF BSU. Thus, SAC disbanded itself since it was now the elected CCSF BSU leadership.

Utilizing a large makeshift wooden coffin, the first political action by the “new officers” of the CCSF BSA/ BSU was to hold and lead, a ‘Burial of the Tom Negro’ rally in CCSF’s football stadium. The BSU invited others, including CCSF students from the campus chapters of La Raza Unida, the Chinese Voice Party (CVP), Students for A Democratic Society (SDS), and the Samoan Students Association who all also attended the rally. At the rally, the CCSF BSU symbolically buried what it called the ‘Tom Negro’ urging students to a new political awareness based upon “unity,” and called for “action” in order to get Black faculty hired and establish an accredited “department of Afro American Studies.” The students were told to “prepare to act” with “determination” to make the goals of the BSU a reality. [Reference: THE GUARDSMAN newspaper of CCSF, November 27, 1968, article entitled, ‘Tom Negro’ Buried During Black Students Rally Held In Stadium Last Thursday.] The CCSF BSU followed up this rally by repeatedly leafleting the CCSF campus urging students to support the campus objectives of the CCSF BSU, and to support and show solidarity with the embattled students over at S. F. State College.

“Battle On The Agenda”

The CCSF BSU leaders, including myself, were collectively summoned to meet with college administrators where we were told that we had “gone too far” in our organizing activities on CCSF’s campus, and warned that further political activities would lead to our “expulsion.” We responded that we had “not gone far enough” and presented the administration with yet another specific list of our “demands” re the hiring of Black faculty/administrators, establishing a Black Studies Department, and creating an Afro American section in the college library. We were ordered to “leave,” with which we complied, and proceeded to redouble and intensify our political organizing activities.

On Wednesday, November 20th, 1968, both myself and Anna Barry, representing the CCSF Black Students Union (BSU) had met with CCSF’s “Executive Committee of the Academic Senate” and made it clear that the BSU not only wanted our other requests re establishing a Black Studies Department and an Afro American section in the college library met; but that we also had conducted our own search for Black faculty and had found an eminently qualified Black woman (Dr. Mary Golding), whom we insisted be hired by CCSF as a college Dean. We further made it clear to that body that the BSU expected serious action to be taken on these matters before the upcoming Christmas vacation. We were then told by the Academic Senate that it was unwilling to make any commitments and scornfully told to “wait and see.” This the BSU ultimately was not willing to do. [Reference: FREE CRITIC newspaper of CCSF, December 2nd, 1968, page 2, entitled, EDITORIAL.]

It was clear to the CCSF BSU that the white racist administration, consisting of white men and women, were stone walling and cared nothing about the important academic and cultural needs of Black students at CCSF. The CCSF BSU leadership turned to its full membership requesting a vote on the matter. The full BSU membership voted and authorized the BSU central committee to take a strike vote. The central committee voted unanimously to call a strike, authorizing myself and Anna Barry to openly call for a strike, which we did. The intransigence of the CCSF administration had in fact “placed the battle on the agenda.”

The central committee of the CCSF BSU now had a strike mandate from the full BSU membership and immediately engaged in intense, virtual nonstop, negotiations with its La Raza Unida, Chinese Voice Party (CVP), Students for A Democratic Society (SDS), and Samoan allies on and off campus. A date was decided upon for the CCSF student strike to occur.

Working in concert with our various allies, including Al Wong of the Chinese Voice Party (CVP), the CCSF BSU agreed that the purpose of the strike would be not only an “action” to demonstrate that we were serious about the issues on CCSF’s campus, but also to show solidarity with the embattled students at S F State by attempting to draw some of the repressive police forces away from S F State College.

On the morning of the CCSF student strike, the allies of the BSU were out in numbers and could be identified by the arm bands which they wore throughout the campus. The BSU for its part, sent groups of people (led by BSU members) to every part of the campus interrupting and closing down classes, the college library, the cafeteria, and the administration building. Simultaneously, picket lines were put up at entrances to CCSF, including the Phelan Avenue college entrance. The BSU held a brief rally calling on students to support the strike and reemphasizing its importance. Within approximately thirty minutes from the beginning of the strike action, thousands of CCSF students had streamed out of classes, laboratories, the library, the cafeteria, etc., many giving the clenched fist salute in support of the strike, and hurriedly leaving the campus. The so called “impossible” had been accomplished: City College of San Francisco (CCSF) had been shut down. The CCSF administration reacted precisely as the BSU and its allies had anticipated: by calling for a show of force by the San Francisco police department. A contingent of the infamous San Francisco police tactical squad were rushed from the campus of S. F. State to the campus of CCSF to put down the student strike. Yet ironically, while the “tac squad,” clad in their Gestapo-like attire was rampaging on CCSF’s campus, most of the students there, taking a lesson from Vo Nguyen Giap’s book, War of the Flea, had simply disappeared. Meanwhile, on the same day after we students had closed down CCSF, I led a group of CCSF BSU students to the campus of S. F. State and briefly addressed a large student rally there, declaring our “solidarity” and informing them that CCSF “was on strike”! The thunderous applause and shouts of approval from that crowd at S. F. State reaffirmed the correctness of our actions.

Consequences & Benefits: The Struggle Continues
Though, relative to the student strike at S. F. State, the CCSF student strike was short lived; the consequences and benefits were high. On the day of the strike at CCSF, the administration immediately expelled and barred a number of BSU leaders from campus, including myself. However, an Afro American section was immediately established in the CCSF college library, and within a year Black faculty and Black curriculum were brought to that college. Despite the high personal and academic costs for certain CCSF BSU leaders, the students ultimately won. Only the relentless political organizing activities by Black students at CCSF had unequivocally compelled the college administration to comply with the legitimate needs and desires of CCSF students.

BSU leaders from a number of San Francisco Bay Area colleges, including San Francisco State College and City College of San Francisco, also held open forums in off campus communities, with an emphasis upon reaching Black high school students. One such forum sponsored by the organization Plan of Action for Challenging Times (PACT), was held at Polytechnic High School in San Francisco. At this forum a number of “BSU presidents” including “Benny Stewart” of S. F. State, and myself of CCSF, explained the necessity for the struggles at both colleges the need for a “revolutionary black philosophy,” and the role of Black high school students. [Reference: San Francisco Examiner newspaper, December 20, 1968, page 8, article entitled, ‘Seizure of Power Goal,’ Poly Blacks Told and San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, December 20, 1968, page 2, article entitled, Fiery Black Meeting at Poly High.]

The impact of the Black Panther Party and particularly of Point 5, of the BPP Ten Point Program, upon the consciousness of Black college students was undeniably a major factor in the student movement of those times.

Today, in the 21st century, many of those hard won gains by Black students have been eroded, while others, though under systematic intense racist assault, remain tenaciously intact. It is absolutely necessary today, that young and old alike learn from the lessons of the not very distant past Black student movements, with a view towards creatively raising the consciousness of Black youth. What is now at stake is the very survival; economically, politically, and culturally of Black youth in particular, and Black people in general in the United States of America. In the beginning years of the 21st century, Black senior citizens, Black youth, and the dwindling number of Black students etc. are not only being deliberately “left behind” with their backs against the wall; but are callously being buried in the wall by a cynically racist, hypocritical, and avaricious “American” society. Thus, the struggle for economic, political, and social justice on the part of all Black people, including Black students, assuredly must and does continue!

All Power To The People,
— Larry Pinkney
cc: Kathleen Cleaver
     Landon Williams

Larry Pinkney is a veteran of the Black Panther Party, the former Minister of Interior of the Republic of New Africa, a former political prisoner and the only American to have successfully self-authored his civil/political rights case to the United Nations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In connection with his political organizing activities, Pinkney was interviewed in 1988 on the nationally televised PBS News Hour, formerly known as The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, and more recently on the nationally syndicated Alex Jones Show. Pinkney is a former university instructor of political science and international relations, and his writings have been published in various places, including The Boston Globe, San Francisco BayView newspaper, Black Commentator, Intrepid Report, Global Research (Canada), LINKE ZEITUNG (Germany), 107 Cowgate (Ireland and Scotland), and Mayihlome News (Azania/South Africa). He is in the archives of Dr. Huey P. Newton (Stanford University, CA), cofounder of the Black Panther Party. For more about Larry Pinkney see the book, Saying No to Power: Autobiography of a 20th Century Activist and Thinker, by William Mandel [Introduction by Howard Zinn]. (Click here to read excerpts from the book.)


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