FADE TO BLACK

"But he said he was okay. It was like, `I don't need this; I couldn't continue with them, anyway.'"

Watson wasn't alone in finding himself cut loose. Newton had grown increasingly distrustful of his lieutenants. By the mid-Seventies, with Newton exiled to Cuba and many party leaders dead or in prison, the Panthers had fizzled. For an organization that burned so brightly and drew so many people into its furious swirl, the Black Panthers were gone in a flash.

Eldridge Cleaver became a born-again Christian and a stalwart member of the Republican Party. In recent years he has been busted several times for cocaine posession. His ex-wife, Kathleen Cleaver, is a law professor at Emory University.

After moving to Denver and hosting a radio show, Bobby Seale went on to write a cookbook, Barbecuing With Bobby. He now runs a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia.

On August 22, 1989, Huey Newton was found in a pool of blood at the entrance to an Oakland alley, the victim of a drug deal gone wrong. The news of his death reignited a general interest in the Black Panther Party and jump-started former members' memories.

In 1993, former chief of staff David Hilliard wrote This Side of Glory, a chronicle of the party and his slide into self-destruction. The following year journalist Hugh Pearson's The Shadow of the Panther revealed the organization had been riddled with violence, infighting and misogyny.

Yet the group has also regained some of its romantic appeal. Last year's movie Panther was sympathetic, even lionizing, although it bombed at the box office. In a telephone interview from his Berkeley, California, home, where he recently started the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation (Newton received a Ph.D. in the history of consciousness from the University of California in 1980), Hilliard says the rediscovery of the Black Panthers confirms that the party tapped a vein of social awareness.

"We had an agenda that made sense," he says. "People are seeing that when you get beyond the surface stuff of guns and violence, we were a community-based organization."

For Lauren Watson, however, the two-year flare of the Denver Black Panthers was more visceral, a time of raw energy released. "The police confrontations were exhilarating," he says. "It's human nature to want to defend youself against your enemies. Until Huey Newton, people felt defenseless. I never realized how healthy it was not to run. The violence never bothered me."

"What happened in the Black Panther Party is like water on a rock, always eroding," says Mary Lou. "Constantly being in front of the press, the losing of lives, the incarcerations; it begins to wear on you. You don't always see the toll it's taken until it's already been taken."
At first the backlash against Watson's Panther activism was obvious. Thanks to the Nixon administration's fear of the group, he couldn't keep a job with the government.

The documentary aside, Watson had always been just a local player and had never grabbed national headlines. To the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover, though, the entire Panther organization was a threat. By late 1970, as Watson started casting about for a new life, his Black Panther affiliation had begun to haunt him.

"This memorandum will cover the situation regarding Mr. Lauren Watson, alleged member of the Black Panther Party and Interim Director of Resident Participation of Denver, Inc.," begins a September 1970 letter from Floyd Hyde, the assistant secretary for Model Cities, to George Romney, then secretary of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The letter, which is copied to Vice President Spiro Agnew, Hoover and Attorney General John Mitchell, continues: "This report is intended to answer as fully as is possible the inquiry of Mr. J. Edgar Hoover and to provide information to others who may be similarly concerned.

"Several months ago, our office of investigation brought to my attention the fact that Mr. Watson was a militant, former member of the Black Panther Party, and had been appointed to a position in the resident component of the Denver Model City Program. During my next trip to Denver I brought the matter to the attention of Denver officials. I was advised by them that they were aware of the situation and that police surveillance was being maintained in this matter.

"All of our information confirms the reports of Mr. Watson's militant and anarchistic activities and we would view his continuation in the Denver program as an extremely dangerous and intolerable situation."

Following a flurry of concerned letters, HUD secretary Romney was able to assure Hoover that "both Mr. Hyde and the Mayor of Denver [Bill McNichols] are undertaking to bring about a termination of Mr. Watson's association with the program." Soon after, they succeeded.

Unwilling at first to give up community organizing, Lauren took a stab at politics, helping George Brown on several successful campaigns for the state Senate ("Going door-to-door, going to meetings, handing out literature--doing campaign things," Brown recalls). He attended the first National Black Political Convention, in Gary, Indiana. In 1975 he ran for city council against Elvin Caldwell and lost. In time, he abandoned politics.

"I think he went through a grieving process," Mary Lou says. "It took a while: In the beginning, he withdrew inside himself. In the later years, what I saw was more externalizing of his anger. He was very disenchanted."

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2 comments
DayDreamer1
DayDreamer1

I failed to point out that a man does not forfeit the right to live...if it is taken where NO EVIDENCE has been discovered for a 53 gun solute to take place...to this day evidence remains inconclusive where our State of the Art crime Lab should have pulled this case as it was one of the first bizarre, African American deaths to be tried where it did "change crime lab procedures," for the historical value of how we are to conduct work today.


With Gods Will 

DayDreamer1
DayDreamer1

As I research, I wish to congratulate Mr. Watson on his sustaining his physical abuses of what inhumane life brought for that time period. However, there is a man, who sustained the same appalling ordeals in our far State. He was a man who dates back to the same conflicts of simple traffic nonobservances that resulted in many harassments' documented in the 1950s. Mr. Watson and this man, my father, once stood for the same goals: the freedom to help elderly stay in their home, to not shave his beard, to have fair education, many uncalled for battles with law enforcement.. i.e. all are in articles. Their were men, Dr. King, Malcolm X, Emmitt Till, Medger Evers, Fred Hampton, and many others, who knew they were going to die for what we have in our present time and do not appreciate. It is sad, I cannot find any information on my father; when goggled.  However, to have many articles says a lot about a man who no one wants to do a follow up on.


Articles as this one was true for the Civil rights Era. I wish to "Lay" my father "Down In Peace" with the truth told. A true story untold.


My father's death was a horrific "53 gun" solute where there was no proof of wrong doing." No True Bill" did read" No True Will".


As God Continues to give His Grace and Mercy

 
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