Black Panthers in San Diego

by on April 15, 2019 · 3 comments

in Civil Rights, History, San Diego

Interview with Henry Wallace – San Diego Black Panther

There are Black Panthers here in San Diego today. Henry Wallace – for one – is a member of the San Diego Black Panther Party. Henry Wallace was also a Black Panther here in San Diego back in the late Sixties, fifty-some years ago.

Today a Black Panther Party chapter exists in San Diego. And Henry Wallace is responsible for breathing new life into the militant political party that calls our town home.

Henry was a teenager when he joined the San Diego chapter of the Black Panthers in the late 1960s. His sister had been a founder when it unfurled its banner in San Diego for the first time in 1967. The Party reached its zenith locally over the course of the next two years later, but it had shaken the white establishment so much, the establishment reaction forced the party out of it public existence.

This is all part of the history Henry shares with us here in an interview with the OB Rag.

Henry Wallace and other Black Panthers at the Alfred Olango protest in El Cajon. Here, Wallace is being interviewed on KUSI. He later met with a contingent of police officers where he spoke to them about cleaning up their department and engaging in a more positive way with minority communities.

For historical context, back in the day – the late 60s – the Black Panthers were either lied about or ignored by the mainstream media such as the San Diego Union and the Evening-Tribune. Three years ago, however, the Black Panthers were “rediscovered” when UT reporter Peter Rowe interviewed Wallace and other members still in town and wrote a fairly decent article about San Diego’s Black Panthers .

It’s important for present-day San Diegans to understand in the late 1960s the local party was active and supported by the African-American community of San Diego. But it was literally driven underground by a constant campaign of harassment and jailings – even killings – at the hands of San Diego law enforcement and the FBI.

Eventually, the San Diego chapter was forced to halt any public activities, while a national campaign against the Party by the FBI and municipal police departments included numerous shoot-outs with Panthers, as in Chicago and Los Angeles, and even the assassination of Panther leaders in some cities.

Forward to today, Henry Wallace is again wearing the insignia of the Panthers having been instrumental in reigniting the local chapter and helping the Panthers to celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2016.

Wallace performing as Captain Morgan-Lee and the Village of K.O.R.E.

Henry is also a well-known local musician, playing Blues, R&B, Soul, Funk and Pop with his group, “Captain Morgan-Lee and the Village of K.O.R.E”.

Henry – now 67 – joined with the OB Rag to put this interview together.

Henry, thanks for doing this – we’ve been meaning to do this interview for quite some time. Many San Diegans may be excused for not knowing there was a Black Panther Party chapter in town. There certainly was a news boycott of you Panthers at the time back in the late Sixties. Probably a deliberate effort to shovel San Diego’s turbulent civil rights and Black power movement history under the proverbial rug.

Question: So, for folks who don’t know much about the Black Panthers, Henry, give us an overview of what you and they were about.

Answer: Frank, the San Diego Original Black Panther Party was created in 1967 – I don’t have the actual day and month.

As the Revolutionary Vanguards of the Revolution, it was our mission to bring enlightenment to our people first. Later, we decided to align ourselves with other groups of tax payers, who were subjected to the harsh treatment by our biased government. These groups – Mexicans, Indians, Asians, Jamaicans, poor whites, women and the LGBTG community.

We were willing to die for our freedom, equal rights and for self determination. We recognized that our tax dollars were being used to hire bullies, to keep us living in submission.

My sister Shirley George-Meadors and her boyfriend Kenneth “Kenny” Denmon were students at San Diego State College. They were members of the Black Students Union. They were approached by the Black Panther’s Central Headquarters to open a chapter of the Black Panther Party in San Diego.

So, your sister was one of the founding members?

Yes she was! … She died in 1985 or 1987.

One of the most well-known programs the national Black Panthers ran were the free breakfast programs. The Party distributed groceries to needy members of the community and ran free breakfast programs. At one point, across America, the Panthers were serving free breakfasts to 20,000 kids a day. That’s incredible.

San Diego in 1968, Deputy Minister of Defense Kenneth Denmon had invited national leaders Eldridge Cleaver and David Hilliard to speak at the memorial gym. Pictured L to R in foreground: Kenneth Denmon, Sylvester Bell, Eldridge Cleaver and David Hilliard, and unidentified Panther on far right.

The original Black Panther’s food program was one of our corner stones – in which it endeared the community to us. This simple gesture, helped to prove to our community that we can help each other to survive.

Our program was designed to feed our children breakfast, to keep them from being hungry while in school. Our food program was duplicated through out our many Black Panther Chapters around the world.

After our official closures, the U. S. Government and civilian organizations, has continued our feeding programs, through various named programs.

The San Diego Chapter also had a free breakfast program, right?

The original San Diego Black Panther Party had a smooth running children’s breakfast program. We fed the children out of Christ the King Catholic Church and some homes. We were able to receive donated food and bought food from our neighborhood grocery stores…. Brunos and Sawaya Brothers Grocery stores were our main sources for getting food to feed the children.

How was it funded?

We used money from our jobs, the selling of the Black Panther news paper, The Red Book, personal items and donations from the citizens of San Diego to help fund our program…

I want to back up now and focus on you and your experiences. You didn’t grow up in San Diego, did you? Where did you grow up?

Growing up, I was born at Travis Air Force base, in Fairfield, California. My home was 20-plus miles away, in the city of Vallejo, California.

My father, Henry L. Wallace IV, was an Air force Sergeant. Because of his job, we moved around quite a bit.

My parents divorced – which caused a great hardship for my mother. She struggled to make ends meet. We moved to various houses and apartments. Every year, I was in different schools…

In 1964 my mother re-married – to Mr. Frankie J. Germany… He was in the Navy. When he retired in 1965, our financial situation had gotten so bad, we had too move to a city called Suisun, California.

My step father found a job at Travis Air Force base. Within a year we were on the move again….. We moved to Vallejo where he found work at Mare Island Naval Base, as a cook… Shortly, after that we moved to Richmond, where I began my musical talents as a frontman and band leader.

In the summer of 1965, my mother and step father moved our family to my sister’s apartment in San Francisco. We lived in the Potrero Hills Housing projects…

I also came face to face with the Civil Rights Movement! As my brother Vincent L. Wallace, members of my band and myself, were shopping in downtown Richmond for outfits to perform in, a riot broke out. The police had taken up positions on the roof tops of the businesses. During the riot, I heard a lot of gun shots. I looked up at where the sound was coming from and saw the police firing upon the people.

My group took refuge at the Black Funeral parlor, which was located in a old white house with large front windows…… This parlor was on Barrett or Barnett street. I hid under a casket, I decided to touch the face of this lady. Her face was cold to my touch. That touch released a flow of emotions. I reflected, that I could’ve been her, had I gotten killed on the streets, that day…..

Because of the Richmond Riots, my parents moved our family back to San Diego.

You also remember watching the Watts riots in 1965 on TV, right? How did that affect you and your family?

Watts Riots!!! On our way to San Francisco, we stopped in the Watts housing projects, for a week. We stayed at my oldest brother and sister’s father house…

2018, preparing for the Pride Parade.

While in Watt’s, I had seen first hand how a people without much, can be violent against each other…. As a young pre teenager, I’ve had my share of fights, but I’ve never seen young people fight with bats, bumper jacks and knives….

Watt’s wasn’t a place I wanted to live in… By the end of summer while living in Suisun, the news came on and showed Watt’s and other areas in Los Angeles rioting. I was so relieved that we had left Los Angeles, just in time. My heart was sad, because of the misery these citizens had been forced to live in. They were living on top of each other, with no hope. That was a toxic combination, which blew up into a Riot….

Eventually, your step-father, Frankie Germany, moved the family down here to San Diego, right? When was that?

In early 1967, my step father and my mother decided to move our family back to the safe environment of San Diego. At least that’s what they thought it was going to be – safe.  My family moved in with my mom’s sister – Georgia Mae Ross-Martin. My aunt had seven children of her own. My family had eight children. We all lived at 3151 L Street in San Diego.

Where did you move to then?

My step dad found a house on Craigie street. We moved into our own house two weeks after we landed back in San Diego….

Your mother Evelyn and step—father also joined the local chapter?

After the opening of the Black Panther chapter, my step father and mother became members. Shortly after they joined, my brothers and I joined the party. It was very exciting times. Our community developed a sense of pride.

Your step-dad and mother worked for the Free Breakfast program? How did they get involved with that?

My step-father was a trained cook. He and my mom used to cook the breakfast for the low income children in our community, before the children went to school. The party would escort the children across the street to Christ the King Catholic Church. We would take turns, serving food to the children.

Some of those people still live around the area of 30th and Imperial ave. They still remember the social work of the San Diego Original Black Panther Party and our role in the civil rights movement…

Now, by my count, in 1968 or so you were an older teenager, right? What did you do while a member of the Panther chapter?

I became a transportation officer. I was one of the only member’s who owned a car.

I had a 1960 Chevrolet Corvair which my step father and mother bought me when I graduated from my high school driver’s education class. I drove that car back to San Diego from Richmond, California, with my baby brother Patrick J. Germany.

That car was loaded full of the family belongings, also the salt water from Northern California had rusted out the floor boards of the car.  I had to put down wooden boards, so our feet wouldn’t hit the streets… My step father followed in the family’s station wagon, all the while my little engine was throwing out oil onto his windshield.

Did you stay in San Diego during your Panther days? Did you ever travel on behalf of the Party?

pride parade 2018

I was young and enjoying the adventure of a life time. I would drive members around to sell newspapers, to political rallies, to Los Angeles to help their chapter at the parks, etc. In Los Angeles we would ride around in a medium size vegetable truck, which was modified for us to sit in. This truck was called the Black Mobile!

Not long after, I was sent to Job Corps by Kenneth Denmon,to shore up my education. I was failing in school… While in Job Corps, I recruited other corpsmen, to become Black Panthers in their home communities.

While at Parks Job Corps, in Plesanton, California, I learned how to box in the gym. I met George Forman during a riot we had at the Job Corps. This was before he became the heavy weight champion of the world. The director of Parks Job Corps sent George Forman down to the compound to ask us to stop rioting. I believe he had just won a gold medal at the summer olympics….

What was an average day – if there ever was one – like in the Panthers?

There was never an average day – in the life of a Black Panther Party member.

We had to get used to relying on members we didn’t know. We had to live as brothers, sisters and comrades; like a family… We were called comrades…. We still have that same love for one another today. 

Even if we didn’t see each other, we all shared a common struggle. You have to love someone, who was willing to put their life on the line for the struggling masses. Today, when we communicate with each other around the country, we automatically talk like family members….

The local chapter had a headquarters for a while, right? Where was it?

In San Diego we had 3-different headquarters, during our time in San Diego… They were all located on Imperial ave…. Also, we had safe houses and communes.

Did you do watch duty around the headquarters?

I didn’t have to do watch duty at any of the headquarters. That was done by the older members and a contingent know as the Vanguards. These men and women were usually military trained individuals.

Were the cops constantly patrolling around your HQ?

We were stopped and harassed, inside and outside of our small areas of this city. We were discouraged from traveling to areas, such as National City, Chula Vista, La Mesa, La Jolla, etc… If we traveled or walked with 2 or more people, we were stopped and/or body searched, as though we were criminals… This type of treatment really intensified, during the turbulent sixties….

The police were constantly harassing the San Diego Black Panther Party. The police would use any reason to stop us. We considered them as Pigs”!!! The name was fitting of them at that time. The police were unleashed upon the low income minorities neighborhoods, in every American city…

They were the hired bully’s of the capitalist social circle. The funny thing is that they used our tax money to pay for these bullies…. Their job was to keep the low income minorities in a powerless state of mind and physical servitude status, while the rich capitalist robbed our communities of our resources.

Who were they?

They were the slum lords, land owners, business owners, industrialist, super markets, the insurance companies, the drug companies would flood our neighborhoods with prescription drugs,  while the law enforcement agencies allowed contraband drugs in our neighborhoods,  the one percent, etc.

1968: Foreground L to R: Lt. Jeffrey Jennings, Eldridge Cleaver, Sgt. of Arms David Combs and  behind them: Shirley George-Meadors, and Sylvester Bell,

The Black Panther Party was created to protect the community against these types of entities which were able to enforce their will, through the law enforcement of those days.

Our job was to empower the community to know their rights to bare arms, know how our Government is supposed to work for them, let our community know that our Government was created with our tax dollars and was accountable to the people, not the other way around, let them know that the Government is supposed to serve all the citizens. The most important lesson was, is to become self reliant, through self defense! Because of our work, we were targeted by the local, state and federal police agencies.

Any specific incident with San Diego cops you recall?

There’s grainy youtube footage of the San Diego police department destroying our headquarters during a city wide riot, that didn’t have nothing to do with us. You would have thought, we had started the riot, by the way the police raided our office. The police used to drive by my family’s house and threaten us, with gestures, with their fingers… One day they stopped in front of our house in shell town, on Nordica st, in San Diego. They questioned my mom about us… She went off on them!!! They stopped coming by…..

Now decades later, we know about the FBI’s COINTELPRO national campaign against the Panthers  – orders from the top, from J. Edgar Hoover, to smash the group.  Would you agree local San Diego police – and the FBI – literally drove the Black Panthers underground?

Cointelpro -the San Diego Original Black Panther Party chapter was eventually closed because of this program. Inside and outside pressures…. Our leaders were getting arrested, our office had been raided and a lot of other issues had came into our organization….

I was around San Diego in those days and active in the activist movement and I recall reports of Panthers being pulled over constantly by the cops for minor vehicle violations – or for just having a Panther bumper-sticker.

The Police were definitely against our existence. They felt that they had a moral duty to harass the Black Panther Party, also the whole southeast community. We were a threat to the status quo..

The new Black Panthers’ first march in the Martin Luther King Parade.

They were trying to put the genie back in the bottle, but it was too late. The people had gotten a taste of respect from their resistance.

Back in those days, the police force had not been integrated and San Diego cops were notorious for being racist.

The police were brain washed into believing that the minority communities shouldn’t have civil rights. That they could continue to oppress and repress our communities. The police were trained to believe we weren’t human beings worthy of respect….

We as a organization was in a full confrontation with the capitalist power structure and it’s governmental bullies. Through our actions, we had empowered the many low income communities to fight back, by any means necessary.

The government recognized what we had done and decided to change – the way they dealt with these marginalized communities.

We did have a couple of people- who were privileged to have information – they would reach out to our leaders and inform us of pending actions against our organization and our community…

There was an older, white lawyer who did a lot of pro bono work for the San Diego Panthers. His name was Ted Bumer. Did you know him or ever meet him?

Attorney Ted Bumer – I didn’t know of him… When we first opened our chapter. Our attorney of record, was John Porter(deceased)…. He married his black secretary; her name was Jean… He had a young intern attorney, by the name of Richard (Pete) Savitz (alive), he also married a black woman….

We now know the FBI intentionally pitted the Panthers against another African-American group here in San Diego – and 2 Panthers were gunned down as violence between the groups escalated. Were you very close to those guys or on what was going down?

I was very close to my brothers/comrades: John Savage and Slyvester Bell. They were like my big brothers. They were role models, when it came to helping others, they were selfless… They were set up by our government, to be killed by members of the United Slaves, also known as the US Organization.

On behalf of the Black Panthers, Wallace accepts the commendations from San Diego State University and the State legislature.

Our government should be criminalized and sued for what they did. They murdered U. S. citizens, to repress the Black race, for wanting their civil rights and the power to defend themselves against tyranny…. They need to be held accountable for it’s murderous actions against the Black Panther Party… There should be a class action lawsuit, now that we know the truth!

What did  you end up doing after the demise of the BPP?

Right before the closing of the San Diego chapter of the Black Panther Party, I went through a very long dark period in my life… I’d became addicted to alcohol and drugs, which had led to many years of going in and out of jails and prisons.

On July 23rd, 1998, I was faced with being incarcerated for life, under the Three Strikes law. I remember my mother’s words; of giving my life over to the lord. I asked him to come into my life and save me from my drug addiction and spare me from a life time of incarceration, if it was his will for me… I promised him that I would do his will…. A light came on and I was spared that life sentence. I became, what Michael Jackson song about: The Man in the Mirror!

How do you look at that period now?

Looking back 50 plus years ago, our government has been more inclusive in it’s ranks. They have diversified in some areas of the government.

As I stated earlier, the government hasn’t learned from it’s treatment of it’s low income citizens.

However, in San Diego they are giving contracts and permits to business, that aren’t hiring blacks…. It is quit evident, when moving around southeast San Diego. A lot of the street repairs, construction jobs and a lot of private business aren’t hiring blacks. You see one or two, that’s it!

The Black Panthers were recognized by the National Action Network’s president Shane Harris for past Civil Rights actions.

Hopefully, with the new Democrat’s majority in the city council, they’ll address these government contracts and permits.

Hopefully, they will level the playing field for the black community’s participation in receiving some of these contracts, so we can get more of our people into these jobs, within our community….

The government have learned that it’s better to engage with the many cultures of the United States of America, than to marginalize these communities….

You’ve seen some changes?

Things have changed some; some police officers have been educated and trained and there’s more African-Americans, Latinos and women on the San Diego force. Has there been that much progress?

I have noticed some changes within the police department… There’s less incidents of violence against our community by the police…Today it is still evident, that San Diego still uses our tax dollars against us…

Wallace preparing for the San Diego Black Panther Breakfast forum.

As I look around southeast San Diego, there is very few Black men and Women working on street projects, Construction projects and most of the business in southeast San Diego don’t hire blacks…

But given the Black Lives Matter movement, things haven’t changed. What do you think about the BLM?

Black Lives Matters has continued the Black Panther’s program of highlighting the abuses of law enforcement…. They have forced the police departments into being more accountable to the people – that they were hired to protect.

From the Rowe article, there appears to be a good deal of support and respect for the Black Panther legacy here. Is that your experience these days?

Writer Peter Rowe has sparked the San Diego communities to read about the San Diego Original Black Panther Party and understand, that we wee actually modern day “American Patriots”….

How often do you get in touch with your fellow either current or former Black Panthers?

Yes, I am in touch with active and former Black Panther Party members. We tend to meet once a month in Los Angeles, at a restaurant called simply Wholesome. We call this our Breakfast forum…. We share our collective experiences and talk about current issues, effecting our different communities,.

So, there is an active chapter – what do you guys do whenever you get together?

We have re-activated, in 2017… We decided to re-establish some of our social programs.

We will intervene politically if there’s a community concern, such as the recent Jussie Smollett cartoon  in the San Diego Union Tribune… I called on my contacts at the Union Tribune to protest against this negative image, which helped to get a retraction from the Union Tribune.

The Black Panther Party was recognized by the San Diego State University and the State legislature, for past contributions, in the fight for Civil Rights.

Just recently, the San Diego Original Black Panther Party, was recognized by the State of California and San Diego State University for our commitment to fight for the civil rights of all disenfranchised citizens… The city, county of San Diego nor the U.S. Government has thanked us, nor have they apologized for the unwarranted violence against us and the use of the counter intelligence program used against us… The Original Black Panther Party are true American Patriots, as was the Patriots of Colonial America….

In Peter Rowe’s article you told him: “San Diego has never wanted to recognize its history within the civil rights movement, especially the Black Panthers.” Why do you think that is so?

San Diego’s reluctance to recognize it’s civil rights history, goes back to it’s military and sleepy town image. While it had this image throughout the world, it had a wicked side.

This city had a very racist agenda towards it’s tax paying minority brothers and sisters. This city easily disregarded the grievances of the Black and Mexican populations. This city used our tax dollars, against us by using our police and military to contain us to our designated communities… this city wanted the world to believe San Diego, had a great relationship with the formal Slaves…

Are you invited to speak to various groups these days about the Panther history here?

As for speaking at various events and/or groups – I haven’t spoken since early 2018…

As a new non profit 501 (c) 3, I have a lot of physical work to do.  It takes money to implement our social programs. I’m hoping to employ some interns to help us to accomplish our goals. Once again I have had to put my entertainment on hold to stabilize our re-activated chapter. If I am asked to speak, it must be worth it and set up well in advance to allow schedule adjustments.

Three years ago, you were working with a film producer doing a documentary, “American Patriots: The San Diego Chapter of the Black Panthers”.  Did that film ever materialize? How was it? Where can we find it?

The documentary of The San Diego Original Black Panthers, called: American Patriots, was shelved due to technical issues, with the filming. There is a trailer on youtube…

We continue to see cultural references to the Black Panthers. Did you see the commercial film, Black Panther? Any comment?

As for the Black Panther movie, – it’s a beautiful super hero movie, that happens to be filmed in Oakland. As you might know Oakland is where the Original Black Panther Party was created. But, in my opinion, Oakland is the only connection that this film have to us.

Last day of the Original Black Panther Party’s 50th Anniversary in Oakland, California.

I want to also mention this: Thanks to Tina and Christine Tavers at the Balboa Park History Center. there is a interactive oral history at the Center in which San Diego Black Panther Party members are finally able to tell our own stories. Along with portraits of how we look today. My understanding is this exhibit will be on display in June 2019. Also, San Diego State University did a video shoot of our individual members to be displayed at the library within the near future, thanks to Ms. Lynn Hawkes of the university library…. We’re hoping to have copies sent to the African American Museum in Washington, D.C.

Three years ago in the Rowe article you were driving buses. Are you still doing that?

I no longer drive buses, since my operation on my knee.

However, I’m feeding the needy of San Diego… I even feed some of my old passengers that I met over the years while driving the buses. As I was driving the many bus routes, I was privileged to get to know some of the homeless and low income passengers. I knew where a lot of them hung out. So now I visit them at there make shift homes and deliver prepared food to them.

Some of them help me to distribute to other citizens… Our food distribution program is named after my step father and mother, because they had dedicated their lives and money to feed the less fortunate after the closing of the San Diego Original Black Panther Party…..

Are you still playing music? What kind?

I’m still performing after all these years; I’m performing the Blues, R&B, Soul,, Funk and Pop.

I started off as a teenager, with great potential in music. At that time, I was a teen idle in the bay area. I gave it all up to free my community and race, from a racist, abusive oppressive governmental system.

Now, the times has changed and the Government is more accountable, to all the citizens of the United States… I’m now free to enjoy my life…

A portion of my show, is dedicated to the struggles of the civil rights movement. I’m amazed at the reaction of my audience, when I explain the reason for the songs and music. I’m basically telling them my life story.

Captain Morgan-Lee and the Village of K.O.R.E. has performed at The Diamond Street Fair, the Tin Roof in the Gaslamp, in Palm Springs and Baja.

What’s your group’s name? Where do you play?

The name of my band is “Captain Morgan-Lee and the Village of K.O.R.E”….

March the 2nd I did a cameo appearance with Manzanita Blues band, under the direction of Mr. Gary Orlansky, at the Landing night club in El Cajon, and that same night I received an award for my music and service to the community, at Diamond Jim’s night club in Chula Vista.

On March 9th I performed In the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego, at Prohibition Lounge, to a packed house. I am scheduled to perform on April 26th at the Landing night club in El Cajon at 9pm and on May 26th at Coronado ferry landing at 2pm….

I’ve slowed down my performances, so I can focus on the re-activated San Diego Original Black Panther Party for Community Empowerment.

We are feeding 3 days a week. we want to feed 5 days a week. It’s needed!

Anything else you’d like to add, Henry?

In closing I want our citizens to know, that we as Americans have a United States Constitution, that empowers us to be duty bound to protect each other and the world, from any and all abuses, from individuals, groups and Governments, who have become entitled and/or drunk on power!

If one person is abused, it can happen to all of us, if power is unchecked. We must always question our Government’s actions. It’s our duty under the U.S. Constitution to stamp out abuse of our citizens…..


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

thequeenisalizard April 15, 2019 at 9:27 am

Thanks for a great story Frank. So much of their history is ignored. Brave men and women all. Did they ever find out who the informers here were?


Eric April 16, 2019 at 11:30 am

Great article, thank you. The Black Panthers did a great deal of good in Oakland for their community which as a white kid in a neighboring city I had no idea because they were unjustly demonized by the government, the press and by society as whole. I was lucky to have finally learned the truth of it all in the 90’s from my Professor Dr. Cecilia Arrington who was brought to Merritt College in Oakland by Huey Newton to teach African American History. To learn outside the box of Eurocentric history was shattering and opened up a huge world.


Ernest McCray April 18, 2019 at 4:34 pm

Nice. Brings back some vivid memories of San Diego in the late 60’s. It was painful watching the FBI and the San Diego police Department shamefully get involved in the black struggle with the mission of putting an end to our progress, by all means they felt necessary, spreading rumors between US and the Black Panthers, particularly, to destroy trust in the community. Kenny Denmon was a friend of mine. The law stayed on him like barnacles on a whale.


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