Earlier this month, five members of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party discussed their experiences with the Chicago Reader, from joining the Black Panthers in their teens and early 20s until now.
Wanda Ross: I was 18. It was my first year of college on Circle Campus, which today is UIC, and that was when I was exposed to a lot of groups. I heard Fred speak there, and I was impressed. We went by the office, and we were blown away.
The thing about the Panthers is that between 18 and 25 we were very sure we were going to change the world. King getting killed was kind of the last straw. I remember as a kid watching them use the dogs and turning the hoses on to attack the marchers. I’ll never forget crying and jumping up and down because I was still in high school, and I couldn’t go down south on the freedom marches. And you look at people who came back, they came back bruised; some of them had been in the hospital because they’d been beaten up.
And then you said, “Wait a minute, we’re just regular people, we’re trying to go vote, but it’s in our lifetime that we are seeing a change coming.” After Martin Luther King got killed, we needed to speed the process of freedom up. The Panthers were part of a perfect storm of the protests of the times. And King’s assassination was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
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