Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bobby Seale on Mao's Little Red Book

"I think we were about five months old, and one day Huey had an idea how we could raise some money. And what happens here is that Huey calls up and says, 'How much money have you got?' I say, 'I don't know; a hundred or so dollars.' He says, 'Come on over. I know how we can raise some money to pay some rent and buy some more shotguns.' And so I picked him up [and he] says, 'Let's go a place called the China Bookstore.' When we got there, this particular bookstore sold all kinds of publications from China, Hong Kong, Red China, whatever, OK? Taiwan, whoever. And he says, 'The Red Book,' he says, 'do you remember seeing ...?' I says, 'I remember seeing something about Mao Tse-tung,' I said, 'I saw it two or three times, and millions of people were holding this little red book up telling the thoughts of Chairman Mao Tse-tung.' He says, 'I just found out we could get these things here for 25 cents.' And he says, 'I'm sure we could sell them at the University of California, Berkeley, for a buck.' ...

"So I says, 'OK, [Huey],' I says, 'let's get a couple of hundred books.' So we got a couple of hundred books ... and went to this gate at the University of California, at Berkeley: 'Get your red book, the thoughts of Chairman Mao Tse-tung! One buck!' They went like hot cakes. I'm talking about in a matter of an hour all 200 or so books were gone. We jumped in the car, ran back, got some more books, came back up, sold a couple of hundred more, ran and bought a shotgun, went and paid some phone bills, paid the rent up. And this was like, now, we had not read this book. I mean, the next thing you know, we're selling books [right and left]. ... We were busy selling the book for the dollars to get our rent, to buy more shotguns, to buy more books for the reading list for the party members that we had going."
That's Bobby Seale, the co-founder (with Huey Newton) of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in a 1996 interview with CNN on how they sold Chairman Mao's Little Red Book to pinko college students to raise money for shotguns.

The book above is mine -- my brother got it for me on a trip to China. It's 4 inches by 5 and a quarter inches and it has a thin plastic jacket over a cardboard cover. The jacket isn't intended to be removed. It says it was published in 1966, a first edition by Foreign Languages Press in Peking.

(The Black Panthers were not perfect, but they were misunderstood. Their original plan included free meals for school kids and armed patrols to monitor police interaction with black people. The Panthers carried law books and tape recorders and were able to quote sections of applicable local laws when challenged by police. It worked for a little while.)

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