Two young members of the Black Panther Party, Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John Huggins, were slain on the campus of UCLA forty years ago today. Students at the time, Carter and Huggins were shot during a meeting about the formation of a Black Studies department. The direction and the leadership of the department had become just the latest point of conflict between two rival black power organizations; the Black Panthers and the Maulana Karenga led group “Us.” The FBI under J.Edgar Hoover, ever keen, sought to exploit and heighten whatever tension there was between the groups as a means to dismantle the potentialities of an ever increasingly militant black power movement. It is in this important and necessary context that the shoot out between the two groups that left Carter and Huggins lying dead at UCLA occurred.
The current Afrikan Student Union at UCLA held events to commemorate Carter and Huggins yesterday as they did the year before. Once more, former Black Panther Party Chairwoman Elaine Brown was an invited speaker as was Ericka Huggins, the widow of John Huggins.The 40th anniversary of the killings has largely passed through the media, however, without much coverage. There was but one article in the Los Angeles City Beat by Witani Stiner, the only man remaining in prison for the murders that took place that day.
Uprising radio invited Brown and Huggins to appear on the show to speak about that day, however, scheduling for the out-of-town guests didn’t work out in the end. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case last year when we had Brown on for the entire hour in-studio. I remember that interview well as I had worked hard to prepare it. On the occasion of this anniversary, what I can offer to readers are excepts from that interview a year ago about the murders of Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John Huggins:
When asked about the date, January 17th, 1969, and its meaning to her on the show, Elaine Brown replied:
The date January 17th is a part of my life. It’s as significant as my own birthday or as any other date. This was the assassinations of Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John Huggins. On January 17th of 1969, I was there, I was with them, I had just left them when they were shot down and killed by a member of Ron Karenga’s US Organization. People would like to say that this was an argument or that this was some sort of a dispute between two Black organizations at the time. I absolutely am convinced that this was as much of an operation of CoIntelPro as anything else. So, let me just say something about who they are. Bunchy Carter was the founder of the Southern California Chapter of the Black Panther Party, which I joined, parenthetically. But, the Southern California Chapter was the first chapter of the Black Panther Party. In other words, the Party just existed in Oakland and when it branched out the first chapter that was formed was in Southern California.
Bunchy had been a leader of what was then the Slausons Street Gang or street organization – I know people say “gang” – which was, at that time, over 5,000 members of the second largest street organization in America at the time, the largest being in Chicago, the Keystone (sp?) Nation Blackstone Rangers and headed by Jeff Fort. And so, this would be, if one could imagine it today, if you were to imagine all of the Bloods and the Crips coming together out of L.A. and having a leader that would suddenly say, wait a minute, let’s not shoot each other, let’s go and turn our guns and our energies on the true enemy which is the state, meaning the United States Government and all of its variations and branches throughout the country, including the government of California and so forth. We want to change this, we want to have a revolutionary change – let us do something together. You can imagine what a dangerous moment that was. And so we have to know why Bunchy Carter was killed. He wasn’t killed over some small dispute at UCLA. He was killed at UCLA in this moment. No one could have killed him in the ‘hood because they know they wouldn’t have come into the ‘hood to shoot him unarmed and to shoot John Huggins in the back.
They were killed and I say that they were killed for bigger reasons. If one understands, and most people do at least now have an inkling when you see the Patriot Act today which is really another extension of the various machinations of the United States government to keep dissidents and dissent down and any form of dissent down and all kinds of activities are used – dividing people against each other and so forth. But murder was certainly the ultimate. Fred Hampton was murdered at the end of the year. We know for a fact that it was by the FBI. We don’t have to question it – this was proven in court. It had to be, it took 10 years to prove it but it was proven.
And so we have the same scenario in January with John Huggins and Bunchy Carter. So, yesterday for the first time, in all of these years, there was an acknowledgement and this was powerful. And there was a young sister named Kendra Arseno and others in the African Student Union who decided – we want to commemorate these brothers. We want to say that somebody shed blood here and that blood was shed so that we could have just the few opportunities that we have. At this moment at UCLA, the black population is down so much that in the 10,000 students coming in, not last year but the year before, 10,000 came in and of the 10,000 incoming freshmen, less than 100 were Black. And so, the numbers have dropped as opposed to coming up and everything has been done to get rid of, you know, the poor. In other words, college education is only for the elite at this point, at least at certain universities. So, that became a part of the scene – how can we get back to the agenda that John and Bunchy had as part of their agenda which was, we used to say in the Black Panther Party, we used to sloganize and say, “educate to liberate”?
And so, we talked about what happened to them and we talked about what we can do with that legacy. And one of the things that we’re hoping to do – the students there and joined with a number of us outside of there and old people like me – is to have, at least, that place where they were murdered renamed after them, so that Campbell Hall will become Carter-Huggins Hall or Carter-Huggins Building or whatever and put up a plaque and so forth, have a scholarship, but at least to keep alive that piece of history. So, I was very honored to be a part of it. It was a heavy day for me on an emotional level. I was there with Ericka Huggins, of course, whose husband John was murdered there that day and her daughter, their daughter, came with her son named after John. So, it was all kind of an emotional day as well as a politically powerful day to see all these young people. And there weren’t just Blacks – it was Black students and Latino students and White students and Asian students and Native.
If you name every single part of the rainbow, truly they were there and saying, yes, we have to remember, not because they were Black men killed on this campus but because they stood for something. And I think one of the other things we talked about was how the Black Panther Party was in the vanguard, not only in revolutionary change, but we did create these coalitions with AIM, with the Brown Berets and so forth and that we need to get back to that agenda of recognizing who the enemy is and not allowing the enemy to divide us against each other and therefore weaken our ability to make change. And so that came out yesterday. We had an all day conference and it was well attended and I think it was a very powerful moment. I was very inspired to see so many young people come together around this.
Elaine Brown is also a fantastic singer and pianist. When she was in Los Angeles last year, part of her activities in commemoration of Carter and Huggins was a rare concert performance at Cafe Largo. During Brown’s set, she played songs from her album “Seize the Time,” including “Assassination” which was of course written about her two fallen comrades. There was a camera crew with Brown that week and I hope they put the concert footage on youtube soon! When asked about the song, “Assassination” on the show, Brown replied:
I wrote this song when I was in jail. We were arrested, all of us in the Southern California Chapter, almost all of us, were arrested on the 17th of January. The funny thing is that the people who killed John and Bunchy were not arrested but we were arrested, rounded up by the police and taken in. Ericka Huggins was with us. She had just had her baby three weeks before and she was taken in the police car with the baby and she named the baby in the police car, Amai, after a Vietnamese woman that John wanted to name his baby. At some point they discussed it – they hadn’t named the baby yet. We used to laugh about that. And we all went to jail that day and sitting there at Sybil Brand Institute, as they called it, in that cell, I kept feeling that John and Bunchy weren’t dead, as people do when you want to go into denial about your friends dying and it was so shocking – we were all so young. And I sort of just wrote this song like the writing hand. You know, it was what I wrote for them. And as a result of that, as a matter of fact, after I got out of jail and after, at Bunchy’s funeral – I sang for his funeral – I sang Precious Lord, at his mother’s request.
David Hilliard, who was the active leader of the Black Panther Party at the time as the Chief of Staff, came down for the funeral and had heard about these songs and asked me if I had some more and, of course, I did. And he said, go forth and make an album. And a wonderful man – I want to say this – named Horace Tapscot, who was a great jazz pianist and really had a wonderful jazz orchestra and who died, but whose work is still very much alive here in the L.A. area, particularly in Leimert Park, where there’s a lot of activity going on. And Horace had been someone I had met at something called the Watt’s Happening Coffee House on 103rd. So, I knew him and I knew he could write music. When I say write, I mean he could script it out. I can do it too but it would take me three years to do one song but Horace could do it, you know, he was brilliant. So, he orchestrated all of the pieces for this album. He got me in touch with somebody and we did it for something called Vault Records and every single day we did this. It was, they called it, direct to disc, meaning you don’t have tapes, you can’t replay, once you do it, that’s it. It’s like a live thing. So, we had all his orchestra people there – Arthur Black on saxophone, all these wonderful jazz musicians. You just can’t imagine how honored I was. And Horace lifting up my piano most of the time – I played most of it but he lifted it up because he’s a great pianist and we did that album.
The police were outside all the time. We were stopped all the time. And, I was pregnant. It was a wild, scary moment in 1969. Every single month of that year, we had someone in the Southern California Chapter of the Party killed. And then, of course, at the end of the year we had the deaths of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago and the raid on our office so it was in this incredible moment that this song was made or this music was made. So, I say that to say, I never really write these songs, the people who live these lives write them and I’m just taking a photograph in words and music of what powerful things they’ve done.
To listen to Elaine Brown’s song “Assassination,” and other tracks, she has a myspace music page at myspace.com/elainebrownmusic. Also online is a rare recording of Alprentice Bunchy Carter reciting his poem, “Black Mother.”