They espoused coalition politics. In fact, Richard Aoki, a Japanese American, was a field marshal in the organization.
Today's occupiers would have felt right at home at a Panthers rally. Really.
Because I grew up near their headquarters in Berkeley, Calif., the party leaders were like rock stars to me. So when I learned last week that Bobby Seale would be the keynote speaker for the Black Panther Party's 45th anniversary in Philadelphia, I knew I had to seize the time.
The National Alumni Association was established in part to sustain the legacy of the party by supporting grassroots organizations that promoted its Ten Point Program, originally drafted in Oakland, Calif., by Newton and Seale in 1966.
Among the points was an end to police brutality. And advocating for peace and freedom. Employment. Housing. Education. All issues that occupiers are fighting for now.
I couldn't help but soak in their influence - and mission against injustice - during those heady times. I was the passive Negro girl who got dunked into a pool of Black Power and came up unequivocally black.
Not a joiner
It would be easy to argue that I was too young to join the party, but truth be told, I never wanted to. You had to be bold and brazen if you wanted to be a Panther. The party taught paramilitary tactics to deal with the Oakland police, who were notorious for their brutality. Standing up to the police, you had to learn how to shoot a gun and be willing to defend yourself.
Which resulted in too many bloody shoot-outs and too many dead or jailed revolutionaries - Newton and Seale among them.
My goal was to end up in college, not in handcuffs or worse.
Since resigning from the party in 1974, Seale has reinvented himself several times - everything from Temple African American studies instructor to barbecue sauce master. He returned to Oakland about seven years ago.
At 75, he's still most passionate about passing his community organizing expertise to the next generation of activists. Good thing, too, since Seale is one of the few surviving original Panthers.
"You've got to remember I was six years older than Huey [killed in 1989] and the rest of them," says Seale, who's lost none of his rapid-fire rhetoric.
As party chairman, Seale, the former military man, was responsible for securing space and resources for the Panthers' 22 community programs. In its heyday, the group boasted 5,000 members and 49 chapters and branches.
There were citizen patrols. Voter-registration drives. Free health clinics. Free sickle-cell anemia testing. The Free Breakfast for Children program, which at its height in 1969 fed 10,000 kids a day, was later copied by the federal government.
Still, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover targeted the Panthers for his surveillance, infiltration and police harassment program, labeling them "the greatest threat to internal security in the country."
Never mind that Hoover was later revealed to be the bigger danger.
Threats to internal security don't usually run for mayor of Oakland and force runoff elections with over 30 percent of the vote, as Seale did in 1974.
"We were talking about all power to all the people," Seale said. "That's what human liberation is all about."
Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or Ajohnhall@phillynews.com, or follow her on Twitter @Annettejh.