Black Student Union University of Washington

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Part 3: Radicalized

In the spring of 1968 a string of events motivated the BSU to take more aggressive actions.  The first of these events was a major student sit-in/protest at Franklin High School on Friday, March 29, where an estimated one hundred students took over Franklin Principal Loren Ralph’s office and forced the school into early dismissal.[25]  At the head of the protest was Franklin High School BSU members Trolice Flavors and Charles Oliver, and University of Washington BSU members Eddie Demmings, Aaron Dixon, Larry Gossett, and Carl Miller.

 The direct cause of this demonstration is unclear.  According to Larry Gossett the protest was ignited after school officials expelled two young Black women for wearing the “Natural” or Afro hairstyle on the grounds that it was “unladylike.”[26]  However, school officials reported the protest followed the suspension of two Black male students after a hallway scuffle the day before.[27]  The truth of the events are further obscured by the fact that all suspensions resulting from the hallway incident were reversed on the following Monday (April 1) when a Human Rights Commission panel found “discrepancies in the testimony concerning the...suspensions.”[28] 

Perhaps the protest was already planned and the hallway incident the day before was a coincidental occurrence which further angered the students.  Certainly there is evidence that Franklin did have significant race problems beyond the dubious circumstances of the alleged fight.  In a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article that ran in June of that year, national racism critic, Edward P. Morgan, identified Franklin as a “sick school[29].”  Regardless of the circumstances leading up to the protest, what is important for BSU history is that following the Franklin sit-in, Aaron Dixon, Larry Gossett, Carl Miller, Trolice Flavors, and others were arrested by Seattle Police and charged with unlawful assembly.[30]

While sitting in jail Dixon, Gossett, Miller, and Flavors found out that Martin Luther King had been assassinated that same day, April 4, 1968.  King’s death had a deep impact on the Black community in Seattle and across the country.  Even young activists who criticized King mourned his death.  The night of King’s murder Black communities across the country ignited into a fury of rioting, arson and violence.  In Seattle, although no major disturbances were reported, emotions ran high and many of the city’s Black youth, infuriated by King’s death, maligned the judge’s refusal to lower the Franklin protest leaders’ unusually high bail and release them.[31]  The following day, April 5, all of the arrested Franklin protest participants were released.  But this did not prevent the inevitable eruption of Black hostility.  That night twenty-one arson fires were reported in the Central District alone.[32] 

Soon after their release, Dixon, Gossett, Miller, and others left Seattle for a second Western Black Youth Conference in San Francisco, California, stepping into yet another tense situation.[33]  Two days after the assassination of King, the Oakland police assaulted the headquarters of the Oakland Black Panther Party.  The Black Panther Party was one of the most outspoken advocates of Black Power.  The group was known for patrolling Black neighborhoods to protect African-Americas from police violence and providing free breakfast to poor school children.  In the ensuing shootout that occurred when the Oakland Police raided the party’s headquarters, eighteen-year-old Black Panther member Bobby Hutton was killed and Eldridge Cleaver, another Panther, was wounded.[34]

            The raid and killing dominated the entire conference.  Bobby Seale, chairman of the Black Panther Party, was a featured speaker at the event and gave a rousing call to action.  That speech and the funeral of Bobby Hutton the following day touched the passions of the UW BSU members.  More than ever they felt the urgency, resolve and confidence to fight to stop such injustice. 

Within two weeks of this second conference, many of the UW BSU members founded the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party, the first chapter outside of California.[35]  On April 14, 1968, Seale came to Seattle and met with a small group of local activists, many of whom had been active in the UW BSU and Franklin High protest.  Seale approved the Seattle Black Panther Party and appointed Aaron Dixon as Captain.[36]  These events of March and April of 1968—the Franklin protest, the assassination of King, and Hutton funeral—radicalized the BSU and showed them that no progress would be achieved unless risks were taken.

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