Panthers Speak

Last week the surviving members of the Winston-Salem Chapter of the Black Panther Party celebrated their 50th Anniversary.

Panthers Speak
October 31
02:20 2019

Winston-Salem Chapter of the Black Panther Party celebrates 50th Anniversary

In the fall of 1966, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton founded the Black Panther Party (BPP) for Self-Defense in Oakland, Calif., an organization calling for the protection of African American communities from police brutality and all other forms of injustice. 

Three years later, a group of young people here in Winston-Salem, inspired by the “A&T Four,” founded the first chapter of the party to be established in the southeast. And last week the surviving members of that chapter came together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of arguably the most successful chapter of the Black Panther Party to ever exist.

Although the original chapter in Oakland is no doubt the best known for establishing “survival programs” that would eventually take hold in African American communities across the country, when you look back at the success of the programs established by the Winston-Salem chapter and the success of the members after the party ended, it’s hard to argue with Dr. Larry Little when he says, “The Winston-Salem chapter of the Black Panther Party was the baddest in the country.” 

The Joesph Waddell People’s Free Ambulance Service 

As part of the larger Black Power movement, the party emphasized black pride. Although the party was often portrayed as a gang of troublemakers looking to cause problems for police, they are credited with starting a number of popular community social programs, including free breakfast programs for school children and health clinics in 13 different cities across the country. 

The Winston-Salem chapter’s list of survival programs included the free breakfast program, clothes and shoes giveaways, pest control, screening for sickle cell anemia, and registering people to vote. The chapter is also the only one in the country to offer a free, around-the-clock ambulance service. The service, which was provided throughout the city, was offered to those who couldn’t afford to pay the county fee to use the public ambulance.

While discussing the Joesph Waddell People’s Free Ambulance Service, Nelson Malloy, one of the original members of the local BPP and a graduate of Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), said they saw a need and fulfilled it. He said they started the free ambulance service after the county started refusing to transport black patients unless they paid the fee upfront. 

Malloy said after analyzing the problem, they decided to send members to Forsyth Technical Community College (FTCC) to study emergency medical care and the ambulance service took off from there.

“We didn’t complain; we as Black Panther Party members saw a problem, we analyzed it and said, what are we going to do? What do we do to solve this problem?” Malloy said. “…We came up with the Joseph Waddell People’s Free Ambulance program, providing emergency transportation to the hospital and doctors’ appointments.” 

Malloy encouraged the dozens of students and community members in attendance during the panel discussion held during the anniversary event, to take a page out of the BPP’s book when they’re faced with an issue and go on to fulfill their purpose. He said, “Even today, if you have a problem, you’re smart, you’re intelligent, you’re articulate; analyze it, study and come up with a solution. 

“We fulfilled our mission and we’re still doing it today. Your challenge is to fulfill your purpose and find out why you are here.” 

Continuing the fight

The free ambulance service and the other programs offered by the local BPP continued until 1976. Although the Party didn’t have the funds or support to continue, many of the members continued the mission of the Party by entering the realm of public service as politicians, teachers, college professors, attorneys, and community organizers. 

For example, after his time with the BPP, Nelson Malloy went on to serve on the Winston-Salem Board of Alderman (now Winston-Salem City Council). After being elected in 1989, Malloy served the residents of the North Ward for 20 years before deciding not to run for re-election in 2008.

Former BPP president Dr. Larry Little served two terms on the Board of Alderman before turning his focus to the N.C. justice system and fighting for justice for the innocent. Little, who is now an associate professor of social science at WSSU, graduated with honors from WSSU with a BA in political science, earned his master’s of public affairs degree from UNC Greensboro, and a juris doctor degree from Wake Forest University. 

Most known for his work to free Darryl Hunt, Kalvin Michael Smith, and Ronnie Long, who is still fighting for his freedom today, Little was also instrumental in the landmark case of Joan Little. She was the first woman in the United States history to be acquitted using the defense that she used deadly force to resist sexual assault. 

In 2008, Mayor Allen Joines issued a resolution honoring Malloy and Little for their work to strengthen civil rights in Winston-Salem. 

Hazel Mack is another noteworthy Panther who would go on to continue the fight after the party disbanded. In 1997, with help from a group of determined individuals, Mack opened Carter G. Woodson School, a public charter school with a mission to give every child a sound education that not only prepares them for the future, but is also encouraging and uplifting in an environment that is supportive at all times. 

A retired attorney, Mack also worked 30 years for Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), a statewide nonprofit that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. 

When discussing her journey through law school, working for LANC, and opening a school, Mack said the BPP is what led her on the path of public service. 

“The party allowed that little girl from the projects to go to law school, raise a family, start a school, work for legal services for 34 years, because I never wanted to do anything else other than try to help those who are under oppression,” Mack said. 

Panthers Speak

Throughout the weeklong 50th anniversary celebration, surviving members of the Winston-Salem chapter of the Black Panther Party came together to reflect on their time spent in the party. The festivities began on Monday, Oct. 21, with a panel discussion called Panthers Speak.

Before answering questions from students and others in attendance, Nelson Malloy Jr., Hazel Mack, and John Moore shared their stories. 

Malloy said the Black Panther Party served as his vehicle to bring about change. He said after reading about other movements around the world, they set out to make a difference right here in Winston-Salem. 

“We were young. We were bold. We were brash. We were angry, but we were also eloquent. We were not stupid, we were smart,” Malloy continued. “We studied about revolutions that occurred around the world. We educated ourselves and tried to instill those principles in our everyday activities. As it’s been stated before, we had love for our people,” Malloy said. 

Mack, who joined the BPP when she was only 17 years old, said when she made the decision to join the party, the world seemed to be on fire. She said, “We were in the middle of the ‘60s and everything seemed to be going crazy.” Mack said the Party gave her a way out. 

“The Party gave me a way out of that despair. That’s what it offered me. Ultimately, it empowered me to know that I and I alone will determine my destiny,” Mack said. 

John Moore, who served five years in the U.S. military and fought in the Vietnam War before joining the BPP, said he has more respect for his comrades in the BPP than the men and women he fought beside in the war. Moore, who also helped establish a workers’ union for customer service employees at U.S. Airways (now American Airlines), said his greatest accomplishment was working with the BPP. 

“I have twice as much respect for my Black Panther brothers and sisters. They have earned my utmost respect,” Moore continued. “My greatest achievement over the years has been working with the Black Panther Party.” 

Marching on

The celebration of the most successful chapter of the Black Panther Party wrapped up on Saturday, Oct. 26, as dozens marched from the historic marker on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Fifth Street to the Party’s original headquarters. After the march, Dr. Little announced that they are currently working on a book and a documentary on the party. 

In honor of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Winston-Salem chapter of the Black Panther Party, an exhibit is currently on display at the Malloy/Jordan East Winston Heritage Center, 1110 East 7th Street. The Larry Little Collection will also be on display at the O’Kelly Library on the campus of WSSU throughout the week. 

For more information, visit “Winston-Salem Black Panther Alumni Association” on Facebook. 

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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