In 1972, on The Mike Douglas Show, John Lennon and Yoko Ono invited the Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale to share their audience of millions of Americans. This revolutionary moment was an exemplar of the daring stance that Lennon and Ono took by voicing their open philosophical views. At the time, the Black Panthers had been mired in several controversies, many of which have since sadly been revealed as externally engineered, but Lennon and Ono boldly vowed to ignore all the outside noise and get to the core of the movement by meeting with an originator of the socialist party.
While many other artists would fear that ties to the party would attract issues and affect their own footing, Lennon and Ono recognised that Seale was an important voice to hear, and they lent him their platform. Therein, Seale elucidated the core philosophy of the original Black Panthers movement. “Our philosophy is basically what we call inter-communalism,” Seale began. “We’re not nationalists. We don’t believe in nationalism. Nationalism […] is akin to superiority, is akin to racism, is akin to sectarianism.” At which point Lennon excitedly interjects and calls out in agreement, “That’s what I said in my song! Imagine no countries.”
Thereafter, Seale continues: “We understand the world to be a form of dispersed communities. And the technology and travel and communications we have nowadays interconnects the communities of the world, peoples of the world, everywhere. So, understanding this, then we have an understanding of the economics of inter-communalism, which is based on redistribution of the wealth.” This statement alone proved a very powerful one. By 1972, flashpoints and incidents had swayed public perception of the Black Panthers. Likewise, infiltration had also split the group internality and damaged the initial integrity.
However, as Seale explains, the group was formed simply to address the issue of disparities in America and geared itself towards creating a more egalitarian society for everyone. By 1969, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had described the group as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” but in truth, when they formed in 1966, they simply set up paid jobs running youth service programs in poor urban environments. What began with Free Breakfast for Children and the central question of “How would black people in America win not only formal citizenship rights but actual economic and political power?” quickly was railroaded towards Hoover’s disparaging decree.
Lennon – who had been spied on by the FBI and threatened with exportation himself – understood the complex web of factors at play that had seemingly pulled the party away from its original benevolent values and he set about redressing the matter on live TV. “We see the programs, the survival programs, becoming significant and redistributing the basic wealth to the poor and oppressed people of the world,” Seale explained. In fact, it is proven that the vast majority of the Black Panthers own limited resources did, indeed, go towards these survival programs. These programs involved free clothes, free food and free medical care to those in need.
“Three-quarters of the world is poor and oppressed,” Seale explained, “but we practice it in the black community so the rest of the world can learn. So people start getting united behind skin colour and all that kind of stuff, the poor and oppressed people get united around basic programs that serve their basic interest.” This basic notion of empowering the power through solidarity and the provision of basic needs is something that Lennon and Ono were fully behind, and they saw it as vitally important that voices within the civil rights movement were given an uninterrupted platform to re-balance a discourse that was being pulled towards controversy.
In truth, while The Beatles may well have been called out for appropriating black music in the past, from their initial vow to never play in front of segregated audiences, they always aimed to empower neglected voices and promote peace. Lennon’s simple act of sharing the spotlight continued this viewpoint as millions of Americans watching on were given a second side to the story in place of usual talkshow self-promotion.