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Rumors prompt armed Black Panthers to visit Rainier Beach High School on September 6, 1968.

HistoryLink.org Essay 2293 : Printer-Friendly Format

On September 6, 1968, approximately 25 members of the Black Panther Party, half with firearms, visit Rainier Beach Junior-Senior High School following news reports and rumors that white students have been beating African American students. The men seek assurances that their "black bretheren" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) would not be molested. They leave after meeting with principal Donald S. Means.

Rainier Beach was a senior high school of about 2,000 students of which about 100 were African American. On the opening day of school, September 4, 1968, a 16 year-old white student and a 14-year-old African American student got into a fight after school as 200-250 white students looked on. Seattle Police officers responding to the disturbance reported that the white students were confronting the African American students. This report was picked up by the news media. The white student, already on probation and residing in the custody of juvenile authorities, injured the younger African American student.

The next day, the white student was suspended. There were scuffles among students in the school. Five African American Garfield High School students, dressed in the Black Panther uniform of black imitation-leather jackets and black berets, came to the school. They were asked to leave. So many parents arrived to pick up their children after school that they created a traffic jam. Approximately 10 Black Panthers gathered in the park across the street. The Seattle Rumor Center was flooded with calls. Approximately 100 parents withdrew their students from school.

On Friday, September 5, 1968, at about 2:00 p.m., 15 to 25 Black Panthers arrived, about half of them armed with rifles and two pistols. The rifle bolts were open and they were either pointed at the ceiling or slung over shoulders. "Captain" Aaron Dixon asked to meet with principal Means. Means later explained, "They wanted to know what kind of place could allow 200 white 'kids' to beat up on 12 black 'kids'" (The Seattle Times). Means asked them to leave and they complied. Police arrived afterward. At the time there was no legal prohibition against carrying firearms in a school.

At a meeting for parents and students, Police Chief Frank Ramon announced, "I tell you flatly the armed invasion of any school in Seattle will not happen again!" Plainclothes police officers were assigned to patrol the school and the incidents abated.

The Seattle Times documented the following rumors that grew out of the fist fight:

  • Three girls were knocked down in the school hallway -- False
  • Rainier Beach was going to be firebombed -- False
  • Principal Means was beaten up -- False
  • 35 carloads of African American youths would descend on Rainier Beach and "tear the place up" -- False

Sources:
The Seattle Times, September 5, 1968, p. 23; Ibid., September 6, 1968, p. 1, 25; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 7, 1968, p. 1, B; Ibid., September, 8, 1968, p. 19; Ibid., September 10, 1968, p. 12.


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