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Feature Story
reed magazine logoWinter 2009
women saluting

Women saluting, 1968, photo by Ruth Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones

The original chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California, in 1966. Their first document, a list of demands for human rights called the Ten-Point Platform and Program, cited the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence in support of its points. The Party’s first actions included patrolling the city streets, armed, in an effort to silently monitor Oakland police, a precaution meant to ensure that black citizens were either arrested or let go—but not beaten or waylaid on the way to the station, as had happened all too often.

The following year, in 1967, members of the party—wearing black jackets and sunglasses—appeared at the California State Legislature with guns to protest a bill intended to ban the display of loaded weapons. That same year, Huey Newton was critically wounded and arrested following a shoot-out on an Oakland street that left a police officer dead. These events, especially as they involved weapons, were well documented by an astonished press.

What never got as much attention were the Panther social programs—the clinics; the breakfast programs; the testing for sickle cell anemia, high blood pressure, and lead poisoning; and the community outreach and education on the legal rights of the individual.

The Portland chapter got its free children’s breakfast program up and running in fall 1969. Every school day for five years, the Panthers provided breakfast for up to 125 children in the dining room of Highland United Church of Christ. (To this day, it is not unusual in Portland for one of the former Panthers, now in their 60s and 70s, to have some 40-year-old come up to them and say, “Do you remember me? You used to give me pancakes in the morning before I went to school.”)

Also that fall, Kent Ford got a call at the new Party office on Union Avenue (renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in 1989), which would lead to Hamerquist’s third big favor for the fledgling chapter. “I hear you guys are thinking about opening up a health clinic,” he said. “I got just the guy you need to talk to.”

That was how the Party came to work with Jon Moscow ’69.

A Long Island native, Moscow had joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) after studying a front-page story in Newsday about a group of people who got arrested while demonstrating against school segregation. “I just thought it was something I wanted to be involved in,” Moscow recalls. He was 13 at the time.

He chose Reed for two reasons: he had fallen in love with the Pacific Northwest from listening to Woody Guthrie songs, and he wanted to get as far away from home as he could. “I didn’t even think about Hawaii,” he realizes today.

Reed accepted him as a freshman in 1965, when activism was still attractive to schools. “They hadn’t yet experienced students taking over their buildings,” Moscow points out. (The Columbia University uprising didn’t occur until 1968.)

He turned 18 in October of his sophomore year. It was 1966 and troop levels in Vietnam were inching up toward 400,000, but, in order to register as a conscientious objector, Moscow refused the 2S deferment he would have received automatically as a full-time student. His C.O. status denied, he eventually reported to Fort Hamilton, where he failed his physical because of asthma. “I didn’t want to get out that way,” Moscow says, “so I burned my draft card in Grant Park during the ’68 Democratic Convention and sent the ashes to the draft board.”

reed magazine logoWinter 2009