Black Panther Party was professor’s haven, vice

Adina Zerwig

It was the summer of 1968, a time of political and social unrest.

War was raging in Vietnam and Martin Luther King, Jr. had just been assassinated.

It was this summer that Sacramento State professor Stan Oden said shaped his outlook on the world and raised his “political consciousness” for the rest of his life.

After King’s death Oden said he felt like the civil rights movement was coming to an end. Oden, one of only 40 black students at UC Davis, was living in Oakland working a summer job. It was in Oakland, The Black Panther Party’s founding city, that Oden first became involved with the infamous political party.

According to, the Black Panther Party started in 1966 under the leadership of Huey Newton and was greatly influenced by the teachings of Malcolm X. The Black Panthers believed that social equality could not be achieved through peaceful means. Its leaders urged the black community to protect themselves from brutality that was taking place against them.

Oden said he first experienced a Black Panther meeting at a church when he was living in west Oakland. Oden said he was drawn to what they were teaching. The Black Panther Party offered political education and held various community outreach programs.

“I thought (the Black Panthers) were really addressing the political issues of the black community that nobody else was really talking about,” Oden said.

Oden joined the Black Panther Party that summer and involved himself with many community activities and protests.

Oden’s involvement with the Black Panther Party altered when the Sacramento Chapter leaders turned – on him. While studying political science at U.C. Davis Oden helped start the first Black Student Union on campus. He and the rest of the Black Student Union raised $500 to bring a Black Panther leader to speak on campus. Oden said the lecture hall was packed and felt that a lot of students were “educated on black issues” that day.

A couple days after, the leaders at the Sacramento Chapter demanded an additional $500 for the speaker. Oden told them that there was no way he would be able to pay the money. When he realized that the Black Panthers were serious about their intentions of doing him harm, Oden quit as a member of the party.

“I didn’t play around,” he said. “Little did I know you can’t just quit the Black Panthers like I did.”

The Black Panthers were relentless with their threats. Oden hid out at a safe house in Davis fearing for his life. His friends and brother armed themselves and guarded the house.

“They were coming to get me on a Friday night,” he said.

Much to his relief the Sacramento leaders were called off by the Black Panther’s main chapter in Oakland. Oden turned himself in, wanting to avoid others involved from harm.

Oden said he’s not sure why the Black Panthers were called off, but said he thinks it had something to do with his aunt, who was very close to the leaders at the Oakland chapter.

After the incident, he still supported the Black Panther Party’s work. Although the party was notorious for its violence, Oden said the party did many good things for the community. He said the party had dynamic leaders who were truly concerned and focused on educating people. He recalls both of the leaders of the Black Panther Party whom he knew personally.

“Bobby (Seale) was a very engaging person, very smart and in tune with the needs of the community,” Oden said. “He had the gift of communication. He could talk to the highly educated person and he could talk with wino on the street.”

Huey Newton was a different story. Oden’s aunt was a real estate broker in Oakland and secured Newton a penthouse suite in a high-rise building in Oakland. Oden said that Newton was a complex person, a genius who he said was also self-absorbed.

“(Newton) was very much addicted to cocaine, good liquor and good women,” Oden said. “But, he made a mistake by becoming the supreme leader of the Black Panthers and dissolving all the chapters except Oakland.”

Oden believes that much of what The Black Panther Party stood for still applies to the black community today. As a government professor, Oden said he believes that an education is absolutely invaluable.

“Education is the most important thing going for the (black) community,” he said. “It is the critical issue of the 21st century.”

Just like King, Oden has dreams. At age 40 he achieved one of them when he went back to school and earned his doctorate. He said he had always wanted to be a professor and getting his Ph.D. from U.C. Santa Cruz changed his life.

Oden has been a professor at Sac State for seven years, despite a speech impediment that he has had since youth.

Yonas Melikian, a senior exchange student from Ethiopia studying political science, said when he began Oden’s class he wasn’t doing well on any of the quizzes or tests. Melikian said he took advantage of Professor Oden’s office hours and worked with Oden one on one. Milikian said his grades improved, which he credits to all the help he received from Oden.

“I think (Oden) is a great teacher,” he said. “It was interesting to hear his personal experiences.”

Oden’s goals haven’t stopped here. He said he wants to eventually teach internationally and just recently returned from a trip to Dubai visiting his son.

“I try to be as inspiring as I can to my students and give them an accurate view of what’s happened the last 40 years,” Oden said. “I’ve lived through a lot of the major parts of history, and I want to share the experience.”

With Black History Month coming to an end, Oden said it is a great time to stop and think about the great and unique history that blacks have.

“It’s a time to celebrate what’s been accomplished and think about what needs to be done,” Oden said.

Adina Zerwig can be reached at [email protected].