How the Black Panther Party Was Organized
Speech by John Hulet
(Chairman, Lowndes County Freedom Organization)
[Note that the Lowndes
County Freedom Organization (LCFO) in Alabama — which
was also known and referred to as the "Black Panther
Party" — was separate and distinct from the Black
Panther Party for Self Defense which was initially organized in Oakland
California. With the permission of the LCFO, the California organization
adopted the Black Panther Party name and symbol.]
I'm happy to have the opportunity to come and share this evening with
you. I'd like to give you a general idea of what's happening in the
state of Alabama and in Lowndes County. This county, as far as I'm
concerned, is one of the worst counties in the state of Alabama, and not
only that, it is one of the poorest counties in the nation.
Lowndes County consists of a population of about 15,000 people. Out of
these 15,000 people, 80 percent are Negroes, 20 percent white. The
entire county is controlled entirely by whites. It has always been this
Last year in March , some 30 people assembled at the courthouse in
Hayneville to make an attempt to get registered. They were talked about
and many people were sitting by their radios that day and their
televisions, waiting to see what would happen in Lowndes County. We made
the attempt and two weeks later, two people became registered voters.
Today we have at least 2,500 registered Negro voters.
According to the 1960 statistics, there are only 1,900 possible white
registered voters in the county. Today, all of these people are
registered. Two years ago, 118% of these white people voted. In the
general elections this year for governor, I learned that there will be
even more white people voting.
Last year, we started a group in Lowndes County known as the Lowndes
County Christian Movement for Human Rights. This was a civil rights
group. We fought for integration in this county. We fought that Negroes
might have a right to get registered to vote. We protested at the school
so that all the people could have education — and for
this we got nothing.
We sat down together and discussed our problems. We thought about what
we were going to do with these 2,500 registered voters in the county,
whether or not we were going to join Lyndon Baines Johnson's party. Then
we thought about the other people in the state of Alabama who were
working in this party. We thought of the city commissioner of
Birmingham, Eugene Bull Conner; George Wallace who is now the governor
of the state of Alabama; Al Lingo, who gave orders to those who beat the
people when they got ready to make the march from Selma to Montgomery;
the sheriff of Dallas County, known as Jim Clark — these
people control the Democratic Party in the state of Alabama.
So the Negroes in Lowndes County decided that it's useless to stay in
the Democratic Party or the Republican Party in the state of Alabama.
Through the years, these are the people who kept Negroes from voting in
the South and in the state of Alabama. Why join the Democratic Party?
A Political Group of Our Own
Some time ago, we organized a political group of our own known as the
Lowndes County Freedom Organization, whose emblem is the Black Panther.
We were criticized, we were called communists, we were called everything
else, black nationalists and what not, because we did this. Any group
which starts at a time like this to speak out for what is
right — they are going to be ridiculed. The people of
Lowndes County realized this. Today we are moving further.
Too long Negroes have been begging, especially in the South, for things
they should be working for. So the people in Lowndes County decided to
organize themselves — to go out and work for the things
we wanted in life — not only for the people in Lowndes
County, but for every county in the state of Alabama, in the Southern
states, and even in California.
You cannot become free in California while there are slaves in Lowndes
County. And no person can be free while other people are still
slaves — nobody.
In Lowndes County, there is a committee in the Democratic Party. This
committee not only controls the courthouse, it controls the entire
county. When they found out that the Negroes were going to run
candidates in the primary of the Democratic Party on May 3 , they
assembled themselves together and began to talk about what they were
going to do. Knowing this is one of the poorest counties in the nation,
what they decided to do was change the registration fees in the county.
Two years ago, if a person wanted to run for sheriff, tax collector or
tax assessor, all he had to do was pay $50 and then they qualified to be
the candidate. This year, the entrance fee is about $900 [equal to
$6,000 in 2010]. If a person wants to run, he has to pay $500 to run for
office. In the primary, when they get through cheating and stealing,
then the candidate is eliminated. So we decided that we wouldn't get
into such a primary because we were tired of being tricked by the
southern whites. After forming our own political group today, we feel
real strong. We feel that we are doing the right thing in Lowndes
We have listened to everybody who wanted to talk, we listened to them
speak, but one thing we had to learn for ourselves. As a group of
people, we must think for ourselves and act on our own accord. And this
we have done.
Through the years, Negroes in the South have been going for the bones,
while whites have been going for the meat. The Negroes of Lowndes County
today are tired of the bones — we are going to have some
of the meat too.
Fighting the Tricks of the Racists
At the present time, we have our own candidates which have been
nominated by the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. And we fear that
this might not be enough to avoid the tricks that are going to be used
in Lowndes County against us.
In Lowndes County, the sheriff is the custodian of the courthouse. This
is a liberal sheriff, too, who is "integrated," who walks around and
pats you on the shoulder, who does not carry a gun. But at the same
time, in the county where there are only 800 white men, there are 550 of
them who walk around with a gun on them. They are deputies. This is
true; it might sound like a fairy tale to most people, but this is true.
[Under Alabama law,
unpaid members of the sheriff's posse are issued badges and accorded
some law-enforcement powers.]
After talking to the sheriff about having the use of the courthouse lawn
for our mass nominating meeting — not the courthouse but
just the lawn — he refused to give the Negroes
permission. We reminded him that last year in August, that one of the
biggest Klan rallies that has ever been held in the state of Alabama was
held on this lawn of this courthouse. And he gave them permission. A few
weeks ago an individual who was campaigning for
governor — he got permission to use it. He used all
types of loud speakers and anything that he wanted.
But he would not permit Negroes to have the use of the courthouse. For
one thing he realized that we would build a party — and
if he could keep us from forming our own political group then we would
always stand at the feet of the southern whites and of the Democratic
Party. So we told him that we were going to have this meeting, we were
going to have it here, on the courthouse lawn. And we wouldn't let
anybody scare us off. We told him, we won't expect you to protect us,
and if you don't, Negroes will protect themselves.
Then we asked him a second time to be sure he understood what we were
saying. We repeated it to him the second time. And then we said to him,
sheriff, if you come out against the people, then we are going to arrest
And he said, I will not give you permission to have this meeting here. I
can't protect you from the community.
Then we reminded him that according to the law of the state of Alabama,
that this mass meeting which was set up to nominate our candidates must
be held in or around a voters' polling place. And if we decide to hold
it a half a mile away from the courthouse, some individual would come up
and protest our mass meeting. And our election would be thrown out.
So we wrote the Justice Department and told them what was going to
happen in Lowndes County.
All of a sudden the Justice Department started coming in fast into the
county. They said to me, "John, what is going to happen next Tuesday at
I said, "We are going to have our mass meeting." And he wanted to know
where. And I said on the lawn of the courthouse. He said, "I thought the
sheriff had told you you couldn't come there." And I said, "Yes, but we
are going to be there." Then he wanted to know, if shooting takes place,
what are we going to do. And I said, "That we are going to stay out here
and everybody die together."
And then he began to get worried, and I said, "Don't worry. You're going
to have to be here to see it out and there's no place to hide, so
whatever happens, you can be a part of it." And then he began to really
panic. And he said, "There's nothing I can do."
And I said, "I'm not asking you to do anything. All I want you to know
is we are going to have a mass meeting. If the sheriff cannot protect
us, then we are going to protect ourselves." And I said to him, "Through
the years in the South, Negroes have never had any protection, and today
we aren't looking to anybody to protect us. We are going to protect
That was on Saturday. On Sunday, at about 2 o'clock, we were having a
meeting, and we decided among ourselves that we were going to start
collecting petitions for our candidates to be sure that they got on the
ballot. The state laws require at least 25 signatures of qualified
electors and so we decided to get at least 100 for fear somebody might
come up and find fault. And we decided to still have our mass meeting
and nominate our candidates. About 2:30, here comes the Justice
Department again, and he was really worried. And he said he wasn't
satisfied. He said to me, "John, I've done all I can do, and I don't
know what else I can do, and now it looks like you'll have to call this
meeting off at the courthouse."
And I said, "We're going to have it."
He stayed around for awhile and then got in his car and drove off,
saying, "I'll see you tomorrow, maybe." And we stayed at this meeting
from 2:30 until about 11:30 that night. About 11: 15, the Justice
Department came walking up the aisle of the church and said to me,
"Listen. I've talked to the Attorney General of the state of Alabama,
and he said that you can go ahead and have a mass meeting at the church
and it will be legal."
Then we asked him, "Do you have any papers that say that's true, that
are signed by the Governor or the Attorney General?" And he said no. And
we said to him, "Go back and get it legalized, and bring it back here to
us and we will accept it."
And sure enough, on Monday at 3 o'clock, I went to the courthouse and
there in the sheriff's office were the papers all legalized and fixed
up, saying that we could go to the church to have our mass meeting.
To me, this showed strength. When people are together, they can do a lot
of things, but when you are alone you cannot do anything.
There are 600 Negroes in the county who did not trust in themselves and
who joined the Democratic Party. We warned the entire state of Alabama
that running on the Democratic ticket could not do them any good,
because this party is controlled by people like Wallace; and whoever won
would have to do what these people said to do.
Now, to me, the Democratic Party primaries and the Democratic Party is
something like an integrated gambler who carries a card around in his
pocket and every now and then he has to let somebody win to keep the
game going. To me, this is what the Democratic Party means to the people
in Alabama. It's a gambling game. And somebody's got to win to keep the
game going every now and then.
There is another guy who was running on the ticket
calling — himself a liberal, the Attorney General of the
state of Alabama" Richmond Flowers. Most of you have heard about him.
When he started campaigning to the people of Alabama, especially the
Negro people, he assembled all their leaders and he made all kinds of
promises to them — if you elect me for your governor,
I'll do everything in the world for you.
And at the same time, he never made a decent campaign speech to the
white people of this state. We kept warning our people in the state of
Alabama that this was a trick and many Negroes listened to their so-
called leaders, who profess to speak for the state of Alabama, and they
got caught in the trap too.
I would like to say here, and this is one thing I am proud of, the
people in Lowndes County stood together, and the 600 people who voted in
the Democratic primary have realized one thing, that they were tricked
by the Democratic Party. And now they too are ready to join us with the
Lowndes County Freedom Organization whose emblem is the black panther.
We have seven people who are running for office this year in our county;
namely, the coroner, three members of the board of education, and if we
win those three, we will control the board of
education — tax collector, tax assessor, and the
individual who carries a gun at his side, the sheriff.
Let me say this — that a lot of persons tonight asked
me, "Do you really think if you win that you will be able to take it all
over, and live?"
I say to the people here tonight — yes, we're going to
do it. If we have to do like the present sheriff, if we have to deputize
every man in Lowndes County 21 and over, to protect people, we're going
to do it.
There was something in Alabama a few months ago they called fear.
Negroes were afraid to move on their own, they waited until the Man, the
people whose place they lived on, told them they could get registered.
They told many people, don't you move until I tell you to move and when
I give you an order, don't you go down and get registered.
Evictions and Threats
Then all the people were being evicted at the same time and even today
in Lowndes County, there are at least 75 families that have been
evicted, some now are living in tents while some are living in one-room
houses — with 8 or 9 in a family. Others have split
their families up and are living together with their relatives or their
friends. But they are determined to stay in Lowndes County, until
justice rolls down like water.
Evicting the families wasn't all — there were other
people who live on their own places who owe large debts, so they decided
to foreclose on these debts to run Negroes off the place. People made
threats — but we're going to stay there, we aren't going
I would like to let the people here tonight know why we chose this black
panther as our emblem. Many people have been asking this question for a
long time. Our political group is open to whoever wants to come in, who
would like to work with us. But we aren't begging anyone to come in.
It's open, you come, at your own free will and accord.
But this black panther is a vicious animal as you know. He never bothers
anything, but when you start pushing him, he moves backwards, backwards,
and backwards into his corner, and then he comes out to destroy
everything that's before him.
Negroes in Lowndes County have been pushed back through the years. We
have been deprived of our rights to speak, to move, and to do whatever
we want to do at all times. And now we are going to start moving. On
November 8 of this year, we plan to take over the courthouse in
Hayneville. And whatever it takes to do it, we're going to do it.
We've decided to stop begging. We've decided to stop asking for
integration. Once we control the courthouse, once we control the board
of education, we can build our school system where our boys and girls
can get an education in Lowndes County. There are 89 prominent families
in this county who own 90 percent of the land. These people will be
taxed. And we will collect these taxes. And if they don't pay them,
we'll take their property and sell it to whoever wants to buy it. And we
know there will be people who will buy land where at the present time
they cannot buy it. This is what it's going to take.
We aren't asking any longer for protection — we won't
need it — or for anyone to come from the outside to
speak for us, because we're going to speak for ourselves now and from
now on. And I think not only in Lowndes County, not only in the state of
Alabama, not only in the South, but in the North — I
hope they too will start thinking for themselves. And that they will
move and join us in this fight for freedom.
Thank you and good night.
Copyright © John Hulet, 1966.