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Founder of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party speaks to students

Niko Newbould, Staff Reporter
Originally published May 4, 2018

Miles WhitworthDixon spoke about the goals and accomplishments of the Black Panther Party and his experience as one of the founders of the Seattle chapter.

Miles Whitworth

Dixon spoke about the goals and accomplishments of the Black Panther Party and his experience as one of the founders of the Seattle chapter.

History teachers brought their classes up to the library on April 26 for a special presentation with Elmer Dixon, the founder of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party. Students sat in chairs unaware of the inspiring messages to come.

A survey of students in the room all mainly guessed that the panthers were “for civil rights” when asked about the party’s purpose. Dixon countered with the idea that the Black Panther movement was “not only about civil rights, but about God-given rights” and proceeded to reveal the party’s connection to the Declaration of Independence. Historically the Panthers were after life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—all of which are guaranteed under that document.

Dixon was 13-years-old when he marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. here in Seattle, but that was only the beginning of the journey toward his legacy in the city. An alum from Garfield High School, Dixon was always politically active. In 1968, he helped organize the Black Student Union at his school. That same year, Dixon and his brother Aaron traveled to Oakland to attend a National Black Student Union convention. While in Oakland, the Dixon brothers were exposed to the death of Bobby Hutton, the first recruit to join the Black Panther Party, and attended his funeral. At the funeral Dixon was moved by the pain and strength exhibited there. From that moment on, at the age of 17, Dixon and his brother vowed to make a difference by developing the chapter of the Black Panther Party back home in Seattle. During his presentation Dixon said, “We all gave our lives to the revolution.”

He and his brother had started the first chapter outside of California and had a lot of rules to follow. “We had to store weapons and ammo to protect ourselves, read two hours of law books a day and attend ten political education classes at least twice a week,” Dixon said.

The Seattle chapter quickly grew to become a main hub in the movement. They formed many coalitions with various groups across the country, made connections internationally, educated people throughout various Seattle neighborhoods, set out to end violence in black communities and started a breakfast program for those without access and even set up a health clinic.

Despite the end of the Black Panthers in 1982, Dixon’s political legacy still continues. The health clinic that they opened up, now called the Carolyn Downs Health Clinic, is still serving people today. The free and reduced lunch programs in place at our schools are thanks to the model that Dixon and the other Black Panthers set up. As Dixon put it, the Black Panthers weren’t just about Black empowerment, but were focused around the idea of “all power to the people.”

During the Q&A session afterward, Dixon was asked how students today could help keep the sentiments of the Black Panthers alive. Dixon replied with, “I’m not the one to tell you that, it’s up to you. You all hold the future in your hands. Make sure to love and respect one another regardless of race, regardless of orientation, regardless of any differences. You have the power in your hands. Make no mistake, lots of misconceptions

exist— fake news has always been around. Become awoke. Become aware.”

As residents celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party’s Seattle chapter, this presentation was timely and informative in a way that really couldn’t be paralleled. Hearing and seeing history in action as opposed to just reading about it in textbooks sparked student engagement during the talk. The community held a celebration from April 26-28 at Washington Hall that featured keynote speakers, art, special guests and performances all in honor of the legacy of the Black Panthers.

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Founder of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party speaks to students