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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 August, 2003, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
A passion for action
The Black Panthers were armed and followed the police to check up on their activities

Ericka Huggins grew up in Washington DC and was 15 when she attended the march. The event ignited a passion for social action and she went on to become a member of the Black Panthers, a party built on the premise that by the mid-1960s, non-violence as a strategy had had its day.

The thing that moved me the most during the march was when singer Lena Horne stood up at the microphone and sang the word "Freedom". It rang out over our heads and landed on our ears in such a way that it sent a chill down my spine.

Ericka Huggins in the early 1970s
The Panthers were perceived as violent, but what I participated in was bringing to the fore the violence of this country from slavery onwards
I knew the event would have an impact on the African-American community that would last for generations. It was already having an enormous impact on my life. I knew then that I wanted to serve my people.

I was in high school in Washington when I heard about the march. I knew who Martin Luther King was, and it was the most amazing thing I had ever heard. I wanted to go, but my parents said no. I reminded my mother that she had always spoken of the need to step forward for our people and to make a difference. But she replied that she didn't mean for me to do it. I went anyway.

It was when I went to Lincoln University that I realised that black student organisations were the way in which I could get involved in promoting the African-American cause. But I realised that it wasn't enough to be sitting on the college campus.

Action needed to be taken, the world at that time needed people to step forward. There was a lot of police brutality against the African-American community - partly because we were saying no, loudly, on every level.

I read about young people who were patrolling the police [pictured top] and encouraging people to say no to police brutality. This was the Black Panther Party and I wanted to be part it. It seemed for me that from the day of the March on Washington and the time that I drove to California to find the Black Panthers, there was no gap at all, it was a momentous continuum in my own life.

The Panthers were perceived as violent, but what I participated in was bringing to the fore the violence of this country from slavery onwards. The response would have to be one of defence.

We saw ourselves as people who wanted to dismantle oppression on various levels - one was police brutality and the other was a system of government that did not support human beings in living the quality of life that they deserved by right of their birth.

There were a number of things that we did, including declaring the need for a whole different government.

There were lots of mistakes and incredible flaws in what we did, but there were also many successful things, including community support and education programmes as well as helping to change the way in which African-American people think and speak about themselves. Sadly, however, there is still so much to be done.


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