The Black Panthers’ Influence in Worcester  

By Gordon Davis
The recent showing of the Black Panther Party documentary on the Public Broadcasting System reminded me of the late 1960s when the Black Student Union of Holy Cross college marched to the Worcester police station on Waldo Street to protest police brutality against a Black teenager, “Patsy.”

As I watched the documentary, memories of the Black Coalition Party in Worcester came flooding back. It was formed in the early 1970s, after the so called Kitty Kat incident. The Kitty Kat was a Black owned night club on Main Street that doubled as a meeting place for the Black community.

During the summer of 1971 Paul, a young Black man, was severely beaten by the police in Worcester.

Some in the Black community came together at the Kitty Kat Lounge.  From the Kitty Kat a march to the Worcester City Council meeting was organized. There were reports that some of the marchers broke windows; true or not, the police began to arrest people.

It is said that the Worcester City Councilors were informed of the march and fled the scene.

After the march, the Black Coalition was formed. In many ways it was an umbrella group and it included some White people. As is the history of most umbrella groups, the Black Coalition had fewer and fewer people come to meetings. Soon it became a smaller group of the more militant and committed. This smaller group became the Black Coalition Party.

The Black Coalition Party modeled itself after the Black Panthers. We were armed and patrolled the neighborhood. We held several rallies, including one which had a starting point near what used to be Gilreins Bar and Grill and another starting point in the Laurel Clayton neighborhood.

Like with the Black Panthers, there were social programs such as the sickle cell anemia testing program which we coordinated with the City of Worcester. The program worked so well that we were offered a grant to continue these programs.  The grant was not accepted.

The Free Breakfast for Children program was supported by the Black Coalition Party, but we did not organize it. As I remember it, Anne Marie organized the Breakfasts in Main South and Ed organized the Breakfasts at Our Lady of Fatima Church. Neither organizer was in the Black Coalition Party.

The Black Coalition Party had an outlook of community organizing of working people. This was in contrast to the line of the Black Panther Party which was to emphasize what some called the Lumpenproletariat or exploiters.  Our view of the Lumpenproletariat was that they were working people who made mistakes. The differences were mostly of emphasis. To some extent these differences in outlook exist today.

Several people in the Black Coalition continued their fight against police brutality and misconduct in the Peace Coalition formed in 1993.  Like with the Kitty Kat incident in 1970s the community became outraged at the homicide of an El Salvadorian man by the police. The Co-Chair of the Rainbow Coalition, Delanot, called for a protest at the police station.

There was a meeting at Centro from which a march was organized. The marchers went to the Worcester City Council meeting which was suspended by then Mayor Jordan Levy when the group showed up.

The Peace Coalition was an umbrella group that did not want to use the term “racist terror.” Many in the group fell away when the City said the police were not guilty of any wrong doing. The more militant people in the Peace Coalition formed the Justice for Cristino Hernandez Committee to carry on the struggle until the City of Worcester reached a settlement with the Hernandez family.

Beyonce’s performance at the Super Bowl had more impact when she stated it was in support of the BlackLives Matter and in tribute to the Black Panthers. When I first saw the performance, I thought it was gimmicky. I underestimated the reaction.

One can say the BlackLives Matter new civil rights movement in Worcester has been influenced by the Black Panthers.  The Progressive Labor Party, Community United Collective, Socialist Alternative and others are continuing the fight for racial and economic justice.

The Panthers – for all of their faults – are the model for young people of color to free their minds from the mental slavery of the system stacked against them.