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Black Against Black: The Agony of Panthermania

By then a Navy veteran, John had seen something of the world. He had learned how to kill and how to stay alive as a Class A radarman in Vietnam. Discharged with a Navy unit commendation, he returned to enter Lincoln University. Next door to this quiet black college in Pennsylvania John met a high-spirited super-black girl, Ericka, whom Junius came to know later in New Haven. A tall, angry, insistent girl whose militant ideas were new to John. She was not about to stick around West Chester, Pennsylvania, at the proper black Cheyney School, studying to be an old- biddy school teacher with the rest of the Oreos.

There was no way for John to explain these things to John Huggins Sr., Permittee of the Fence Club. So he switched tactics.

"I want to marry a college girl. We'll come home together this summer so you can meet her." The one thing he could really use, John mentioned to his father, was a car.

He got a Chrysler. Mr. Huggins bought it in the fall of '67 for the betrothed couple to drive back to Lincoln University. But they sailed right through to Southern California, and that was the last time the Hugginses saw their son alive.

Southern Cal. . . . the ideal tinder-box for Panthermania. Watts offered itself as a reference on one side, and on the other, winding hot off the desert over the Santa Ana hills, blew a wind that dries out the nerves. If one is looking for them, one can find people as capricious and primitive as that wind, which has a habit of fanning sparks over parched canyons, generating fires that drive men and animals to the sea. Inevitable. John Huggins was baptized into instant black consciousness.

It was all there waiting in and around UCLA. Exotics, parolees, other misfits from retarded hamlets like New Haven looking for action with a new mixed force of black and white revolutionaries . . . known as the Black Panthers . . . and a ready-made feud with the prevailing Black Nationalist group called US, led by UCLA graduate Ron Karenga. US stood for black separatism and wanted UCLA as a power base. Karenga had style. He also had a string of goons with Swahili names ready to launch deadly power games on the infant Panther movement.

". . . Gunfire began to howl and screech in the air. John caught the first dumdum bullet an eighth of an inch from his heart . . ."

John and Ericka looked over UCLA as a base for political organizing. The High Potential program looked fertile, with a black component of 50 scholarship students. They met Alprentice (Bunchy) Carter, who agreed. Bunchy was on parole from an armed robbery sentence and knew the militant black network of Southern California, including a hot-tongued sister by the name of Elaine Brown. They all joined the High Potential program. Between perfunctory appearances in class, they made friends for the cause. Bunchy and John became the brains of the Panther movement in Southern California; Bunchy the Number One man and John the best-liked militant on campus.

"There's a real bad blood between the Panthers and US," Bunchy Carter warned the director of the High Potential program. It was the fall of '69 and John and Bunchy, nearly bounced the previous year, were beginning to see certain advantages to getting an education while they were politicizing UCLA. The director was afraid of a war between the rival groups over selection of a director for the new Black Studies program.

"If I have anything to do with it," Bunchy assured her, "there won't be any fighting at UCLA."

But the Simba Wachuka (Young Lions), Karenga's goon squad of eighteen-year-olds trained in soul sessions to fight Swahili-style, kept elbowing into meetings of the Black Student Union.

"We got a man to head your Black Studies program," ran the Karenga line. "You're politically naïve. Let us run the show and everything's gonna be cool."

The students balked. Finally the Panthers found their political legs in the power vacuum and formed a resistance movement. John Huggins was named chairman of the criteria committee to select a Black Studies program director. But the word was out. "The Simbas are tough. Karenga speaks and they jump to say 'Right On.' "

In January of 1969 Karenga made a personal appearance at a UCLA meeting, accompanied by the full complement of his goons.

"Oppressors come in all colors!" the riled students shouted at him. Elaine Brown and Bunchy Carter were particularly vocal. Seething in his shameful retreat, Karenga made a point of stopping Bunchy Carter. "What do you and the Panthers have to say about all this?" he demanded. Bunchy threw down the gauntlet.

"Power to the students!"

The goons came back with guns a week later. Donald Hawkins, a Karenga lieutenant from US, collared an unaffiliated black girl on her way out of the final meeting of John Huggins' committee.


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