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Thursday, January 29, 2015

So, back to Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter, "Mayor of the Ghetto," Founder of the Los Angeles Black Panthers

The more I learn about Bunchy Carter, his time and his family, the more parallels I see between then and now, Ferguson, Staten Island and our current movement to end racial bias and brutality under the law in this country. 

Of course, the current movement is one of non-violent protest, and the Panthers were emphatically about self-defense. And the current movement is aimed at police brutality, while Bunchy Carter told Geronimo Pratt, "Hey, jive motherfucker, we defend against cops; we don’t offend. We don’t punch, we counterpunch.” And Bunchy quoted Eldridge Cleaver: “In their rage against the police, against police brutality; the blacks lose sight of the fundamental reality; that the police are only an instrument for the implementation.’" 

All this clashes with my mental image of a Black Panther. You know, kind of like Shaft--Afro, Black leather jacket, dark shades, mustache, black beret, sullen-cool expression. I don't think of a child actor, who had polio as a kid, an intellectual college radical sucking in Harlem Renaissance literature along with Mao, Lenin and George William Frederick Hegel's theories of the development of the the slave-master dialectic and the relationship between immanence and transcendence while organizing and founding the three-tiered organization that was apparently the Los Angeles Black Panthers.

But all of that was, in fact, Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter, born in Shreveport, where he suffered a childhood bout of polio, and moved to Los Angeles, where his mother enrolled him in a "therapeutic" dance class, and where he acted as a child in at least one episode of The Little Rascals.

Bunchy was one of ten children. From here on in, I'm going to be talking about several Carter siblings. I mean no disrespect when I'm refer to them by first names, for clarity. 


Bunchy's oldest sibling, Bernie Carter, shown here with film-maker Gregory Everett, (son of another Black Panther and director of the documentary Forty-first and Central, the Untold Story of the Los Angeles Black Panthers, spoke in 2010 with Jasmyne A. Cannick, a reporter for The Front Page Online, a Culver City, CA newspaper.  In that interview, Bernie, a retired engineer, explains how his mother and step-dad had just broken up, and mother, Nola Carter, was worried about her children, asking Bernie to try to be there for Bunchy. Bunchy was already in the Slauson Renegades, a gang. He had just graduated from Fremont High School and was working at an upscale department store downtown on Wilshire. He had climbed the ranks of leadership at the gang, and became a leader there. 

One day, Bunchy came home with his brothers, John and Glen, all excited about the Nation of Islam. The boys declared "No more pork!" His big brother, Bernie, laughed about it in 2010: 

“It drove my mother insane.  Here she was trying to feed a family of 10 on a limited budget where there was no room to be selective about what was for dinner.  It was utter chaos.”  

“Bunchy was a partygoer, a ladies man, what young people now call a player." says Bernie. Carter.  “In 1961, Bunchy wanted a car. One day he came to me and asked me if I would co-sign on a car for him.  We looked for a car for a couple weeks. Finally, we settled on a 1956 red and black MG. At the time, he was just enjoying living life.  When he got that car, you couldn’t touch Bunchy with a 10-foot pole,” he chuckles.  


“Sometime after that, Bunchy was sent to Soledad Prison for attempting to rob a Security Pacific Bank. He was there for four years.  He came out two years after the Watts Riots ended and there were all these programs being started.  Our mother was involved with a program call N.A.P., and they had teen posts.  She got Bunchy involved in one of the teen posts at Central and Nadeau.  That’s where Bunchy met Caffee Greene and Nate Holden because they were also involved with those programs. At the time, they were working with Supervisor Hahn."


Elaine Huggins, an early Panther member and the widow of John Huggins, murdered in the same incident as Bunchy, tells the story a little bit differently. "We had heard about Bunchy Carter, but we couldn't find him. And when we found, when we did find him, we found out that he was still in jail from some gang rap. And he declared that when he returned, he'd be totally committed to the party." 

(Here is Panther Charles Bursey feeding kids in the free breakfast program.)







But back to Bernie Carter's memories of his little brother. 


“From that, all of a sudden, all I know is he’s in this organization called the Black Panthers. He begins traveling back and forth up north.  He had formed a kinship with Bobby [Seale], David [Hilliard], and Eldridge [Cleaver].  Initially, I thought it was just another gang.” 

Nola Carter was terrified. She told Bernie that as the older brother, he was responsible for setting an example for his brothers. Bernie thought the Black Panthers were just another gang. Bernie was worried about what Panther membership would do to his mother. 



“Bunchy sat me down. He explained his reasons for joining the Black Panthers,” Bernie said.  “He said he was tired of being oppressed.  



“You have to understand that Bunchy, he didn’t have the same fear I had.  He was a very proud, strong young man. 



“By this time, he had been arrested and incarcerated, whereas a person like me, who had not been involved in any of that kind of stuff, was scared.  



“There were certain values that our mother instilled in me as the oldest brother.  Like Bunchy, I had a role to play in our family, and he had his.  The bottom line was that I knew something bad was going to happen. I knew my brother felt strongly about the injustices that were happening to black people at the time.  But it was his destiny to fulfill, and I was concerned with making sure it had as small an impact as possible on our mother.” 


In March of 1968, Arthur (Glen) Morris, brother of Bernie and Bunchy Carter, Bunchy’s first bodyguard, was shot and killed on 111th, between Normandie and Vermont avenues.  He was the first member of the Black Panther Party to be killed.  

“When Glen died, things really started to changed,” Mr. Carter explains.  “Almost a year after Glen’s death, Bunchy and John [Huggins] were murdered at UCLA.”  (in a Rivalry between an African-American nationalist group called US--United Slaves and the Black Panthers, that was encouraged and exacerbated by J.Edgar Hoover's disinformation campaign, COINTEL-Pro. 

More to come. . .


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