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Where Are They Now?

Bobby Seale

Black Panther leader was one of the "Chicago Eight"

Bobby Seale

— AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, AP Photo/S.F. Examiner

On a Scandinavian speaking tour the following spring, a reporter told him he'd been indicted for crossing state lines with the intent to riot.

"I've been indicted? Me? What are you talking about?" Seale said.

As the trial of the Chicago Eight began in the fall of 1969, Seale's lawyer became ill and Seale loudly insisted he had a constitutional right to represent himself.

The proceedings became increasingly contentious, with Judge Julius Hoffman insisting that Seale sit down and be silent. Seale refused, railing that his rights were being denied, and calling Hoffman a racist, a fascist and a pig. At one point, he criticized the judge for displaying pictures of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson behind his bench, saying they had been slave owners. Hoffman, aghast, said he never thought he would hear "the father of our country" denounced in federal court.

After Seale refused to be silent, Hoffman had him gagged and chained to his chair. Within days, Hoffman declared a mistrial and ordered that Seale be separated from the rest and tried alone. The following year, he was convicted of 16 counts of contempt of court and sentenced to four years in prison. He spent two years in jail while the case was appealed. In 1972, the contempt charges were suspended and he was released.

He has no regrets about what transpired in the courtroom. "I'd cuss him out again," he said.

After Chicago

Returning to Oakland after he left prison, he found the Black Panthers in disarray, with many of the members killed in confrontations with the police and dozens in prison. He ran for mayor of Oakland in 1973, losing in a runoff. The next year, he left the Panthers, citing combat weariness.

In the 1980s he moved to Philadelphia, where he worked in a nonprofit jobs program, and then as a community liaison for the Department of African American Studies at Temple University. He moved back to Oakland about seven years ago.

He has written two memoirs, A Lonely Rage and Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panthers and Huey P. Newton. He is working on several others, including one on modern community organizing, and is developing a video documentary.

Away from politics, barbecuing—or "Bobbyque" as he prefers to call it—is one of Seale's abiding passions. He's been perfecting his technique since he learned it in his early teens from an uncle in Texas. A portion of the proceeds from his cookbook, Barbeque'n With Bobby Seale, benefits his Bobby Seale Reach Foundation, which provides job and leadership training. After a heart attack eight years ago, he eliminated the artery-clogging recipes and added low-salt, heart-healthy ones.

He stopped smoking and drinking years ago, and works out every day for an hour at the Berkeley YMCA near his home in Oakland. He has one son from a brief first marriage, Malik, named after Malcolm X, who used the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz after he left the Nation of Islam. Malik Seale fought in Iraq, and is now serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Although Bobby Seale condemned the war in Iraq, he supports the war in Afghanistan.

"Now I don't want my son in the war, but he's there and he made that choice. I'll support my son," he said. He and Leslie Johnson-Seale have been together since 1971, although they have never married. "We consider ourselves married '60s style," Seale explained. She has a son, Romaine, whom the couple raised together, and they have a daughter, J'aime. They have four grandchildren.

These days, he looks back proudly at the work of the Black Panthers. The group's goals, he said, included decent education, full employment, housing, free preventive health care and an end to police brutality.

Seale laughed as he recalled how then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan called him a hoodlum in 1967.

"I'm an engineer, I'm a carpenter, I'm an architect, I'm a jazz drummer, I'm an expert barbecue cook," he said. "I am not a hoodlum. I'm a community organizer."

Kitty Bennett is a news researcher and writer based in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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