Will You Die with Me?: My Life and the Black Panther Party

Will You Die with Me?: My Life and the Black Panther Party

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by Flores Alexander Forbes
     
 

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Amid the social turmoil of the 1960s and ,70s, a young man in California found his purpose in the rise of the Black Panther Party, made a deadly mistake that cost him his freedom, and ultimately got his life back, having learned the true lessons of the Buddha Samurai.

By the time Flores Forbes was twenty-five years old, he had just a GED and sixty college… See more details below

Overview

Amid the social turmoil of the 1960s and ,70s, a young man in California found his purpose in the rise of the Black Panther Party, made a deadly mistake that cost him his freedom, and ultimately got his life back, having learned the true lessons of the Buddha Samurai.

By the time Flores Forbes was twenty-five years old, he had just a GED and sixty college credits to his name. But he had gone far in his chosen profession as a revolutionary. In 1977, Forbes had been in the Black Panther Party for almost a decade and had become the youngest member of the organization's central committee. In this remarkable memoir, Forbes vividly describes his transformation from an angry youth into a powerful partisan in the ranks of the black liberation movement. Disillusioned in high school by the racism in his native San Diego, he began reading Black Panther literature. Drawn to the Panthers' mission of organizing resistance to police brutality, he eagerly joined and soon found himself immersed in a culture of Mao-inspired rigor. His dedication ultimately earned him a place in the Party's elite inner circle as assistant chief of staff, charged with heading up the "fold" -- the heavily armed military branch dubbed by Huey P. Newton the "Buddha Samurai." "My job was one of the most secretive in the party," writes Forbes, "and to this day most of the people who were in the Party over the years had not a clue as to what I really did..."

With intimate portraits of such BPP leaders as Elaine Brown, Eldridge Cleaver, and Huey P. Newton, Will You Die with Me? is a riveting firsthand look at some of the most dramatic events of the last century and a brutally honest tale of one man's journey from rage to redemption.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] blistering account...in lean, aggressive prose, shifting seamlessly between articulate circumspection and the hard-edged slang of his characters." - San Francisco Chronicle

"In unparalleled detail, we are given the inside story...The case [Forbes's] book makes against the Black Panther legend [is] hard to dismiss." - The New York Times Book Review

"Reads like a modern-day Crime and Punishment" - Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416525233
Publisher:
Atria Books
Publication date:
05/11/2010
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
File size:
4 MB

Read an Excerpt


1

I was twelve years old that day in 1964, riding my brand-new Sting-Ray bicycle up the hill from my parents' home on Forty-seventh Street in Southeast San Diego. When I reached the intersection of Forty-seventh and Market, I could hear the tires of a car slowly following behind me on the gravel of the parking lot. I stopped at the light and heard a man with a distinctly Southern drawl call out, "Boy, come over here."

I was pretty scared by the time I turned around and saw two white policemen just getting out of their cruiser. The officers came over to me and said, "Would you come with us?" I started looking around for help. I wanted to shout, but nothing came out of my mouth. I was terrified. The policemen took my bike and put it in the trunk of their car, opened the back door, and told me to get in. People in their cars were looking at this scene, but they just passed on by. Like a frightened fool and the innocent I was, I hopped in. There was some degree of positive excitement: I was getting a ride in a police car. They drove me up the hill on Market Street toward downtown San Diego.

After a ten- or fifteen-minute ride, they pulled into a residential area just short of downtown and drove up to several other police officers and a white couple. The car stopped and the cop on the passenger side got out and walked over to the group of people and pointed back toward me while explaining something. The couple walked over to my side of the car and peered in. They looked at me, then at each other, before the white man shook his head. He took the woman by her hand and walked back toward the policemen, who returned to the car, then drove me back to Forty-seventh Street and pulled into the parking lot I was kidnapped from. There was this huge crowd of people, and standing in the center was my mother. The policemen stopped, got out, and went around to open the trunk and get my bike. My mother, with the crowd of neighbors in tow, approached the cops, asking, "What are you doing with Flores? Did he do anything?" The cop got my bike and told my mother to "back off, bitch. This is official police business." My mother stopped in her tracks. This was the first time I ever saw my mother kill someone with a look. They let me out of the car. I ran to grab my bike and get near my mother. No sooner did this happen than the police car pulled off, spinning its tires in the gravel and kicking up rocks and dirt as it dipped into the street and drove away. For me, this was strike number one against the police.

The second strike came just two years later. It was nighttime and I was jogging around the track up at Lincoln High School, about two long blocks from my house. I was playing Pop Warner football, and I was two or three pounds overweight. So I wrapped my body from the waist up in cleaner's plastic underneath my workout clothes so that I could sweat the pounds away. I ran hard to the top of the hill where Lincoln High School sat. Tomorrow was Saturday and also game day, and I really wanted to play. On one corner, where the old Hudson store used to be, was a dance hall for young people. This was Friday night and it was packed. I could just barely hear the Temptations' latest record, "It's Growing," over the outside speaker. I turned left at the intersection and carefully crossed the street and headed toward the track. I crawled under the fence surrounding the track and began sprinting. I had been running for about fifteen minutes when I saw dozens of police cars racing past the track, headed for the dance hall. The young blacks at the dance were restless or something, or maybe it was the first signs of rebellion in San Diego, but they started throwing rocks, bottles, and what have you at the policemen, who had taken up positions behind their cars. The police made a push and everyone outside of the dance started to break for it, scattering down Forty-seventh Street and Ocean View Boulevard. Many were heading toward the campus. I continued my workout. Then this spotlight started following me as I ran around the track. Innocent and unsuspecting, I continued to run, thinking only about losing the weight and showing Coach Wallace that I was not the "lazy slob" he had called me at our last practice. All of a sudden I could see cop cars lining up along the fence just above the depressed field I was running on. As San Diego cops in beige uniforms began climbing the fence, I heard one of them say, "Here's one running down the track." I kept going, and as I made the turn, this one cop who was near me hit my legs with his club. The blow knocked me off my pace and I tumbled to the ground. I was then hit again with a club and kicked several times. Several cops with clubs, flashlights, and scowling faces surrounded me. One black cop interceded. It was Mr. Cunningham, the first black policeman I knew of in San Diego and the father of Marty, a friend. He walked over quickly and pulled me up and toward him with one hand while he pulled my sweatshirt hood off my head with the other. He flashed his light in my face.

"What are you doing up here running from us?" he said.

"I'm trying to make my weight for tomorrow, Mr. Cunningham," I said, almost crying.

The other cops pulled at me and jostled me before Mr. Cunningham said, "My God, this is the Forbes boy; he goes to school with my kid." They calmed down then. One of them said, "Get out of here and run home as fast as you can."

I broke the grip they had on me, ran to the fence, scaled it, and headed home. My heart was still pounding into the next day at the game. Two years later, when it finally dawned on me that there was something wrong with how the police had treated me, I got mad and wanted revenge.

This was actually an unusual occurrence for my quiet neighborhood and me. In the black community of Southeast San Diego, it had always been relatively quiet and safe. There was a time when you could leave your front doors open and unlocked. The community was populated with stable families. Everybody on my block and most of the people I knew had two parents. The single-parent households could be counted on one hand. However, we weren't without our problems. After saving every penny he could, plus his GI Bill voucher for housing, my father had attempted to purchase a home outside of Southeast San Diego in an area called Allied Gardens/Princess View Manor. This location was just east of the area called Hotel Circle, where Jack Murphy Stadium was located. His contract to purchase the home was blocked as the broker tried to steer him to another area that was predominately black.

Welcome to sunny San Diego.

It wasn't just mistreatment by police and the housing discrimination against my parents that motivated me to want to fight to change things and eventually join the BPP. Much of it had to do with the example my parents set, always trying to help people in general and our homeboys in particular. Both Fred and Catherine Forbes were extremely active in the black community of Southeast San Diego. They worked with and led the Horton Elementary School PTA. My mother was the president. My father was a scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts, and my mother was a den mother with the Cub Scouts. My father was a Little League coach, and both of my parents were very active in the church. Watching them working to help many of my friends made a lasting positive impression on me.

Copyright © 2006 by Flores Alexander Forbes

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