Eugene Chapter of the Black Panther Party

At every full collective gathering we acknowledge that we live in a society founded on stolen land and stolen lives. Someone researches and presents a relevant topic and then we take a moment of silence to reflect. We share the research here for others as well.

The Black Panther Party was one of the leading movements in the U.S. for the struggle of Black liberation, with armed community self-defense and community social programs at the core of its activities, and at its peak had offices in 68 cities, both in the U.S. and internationally. One of these cities is Eugene, Oregon.

In a primarily-white city, the Eugene chapter of the Black Panther Party grew out of the Black Student Union at the U of O, where black students dealt with the institutional racism of the university’s community and academia. Elmer and Aaron Dixon were two brothers who headed the Seattle chapter of the BPP that came down to help organize the Eugene chapter and left three Seattle members to help support its development.

At its height, the Eugene chapter had 18-20 members and 10-15 underground members, with its core members all coming from Compton, Los Angeles and brought to or influenced to move to Eugene by the chapter’s leadership, Howard and Tommy Anderson.

From the Eugene chapter, a few community survival projects emerged:

a) the Free Breakfast Program that served 20-30 children everyday

b) a Liberation School that focused on African and African American history while also unraveling some untrue accounts of Eurocentric history widely taught in Eurocentric academics/curriculum

c) and a Public Speaker Program that participated in demonstrations and rallies in Eugene, such as on racism, Vietnam, and other issues at the time. The speaker program also tried to educate the wider Eugene community about the goals and philosophy of the Black Panther Party.

The Eugene chapter also developed supportive relationships with other revolutionary organizations, including:

a) Patriot Party – a Euro-American organization that focused on poor whites

b) Brown Berets – headed by a small group of Chicanos from Los Angeles who organized resistance to the exploitation of the Chicano community in Eugene and other migrant farming communities in the surrounding areas. The Eugene Chapter was led by Ray Verdugo.

c) and Asian student organizers, such as Ellen Bepp and Sandra Muraoka, that focused on racism, stereotyping and other issues related to students of Asian descent.

It comes as no surprise that the Eugene chapter ran into confrontations with the Eugene Police Department in 1969. The Eugene Police attempted to enter the house of a party member, Oliver Patterson, but were met with armed resistance. When Howard and Tommy Anderson met with the police and Howard asked them to produce a warrant, the police were unable to do so and were forced to leave without making arrests. That same day, a warrant was issued for Howard and Tommy Anderson for “assault on police with deadly weapons and interfering with the Eugene Police.” All members of the BPP Eugene chapter showed up at the BPP Headquarters and decided not to give up the Anderson brothers without a fight to the death. With the Headquarters fortified and enough weapons to engage the Eugene Police in a short firefight, the BPP Eugene chapter was ready for an armed struggle, with armed white supporters outside in strategic positions and the support of many UO students protesting police outside.

However, before such a fight could happen, a respected attorney in Eugene named Ken Morrow approached the BPP Headquarters and offered his help as an attorney. With the judge agreeing to set bail at $10,000 per Panther, the money was raised within ten minutes, and Ken Morrow and the Anderson brothers went to City Hall, were arraigned, posted bail, and were back at Headquarters within one hour. He maintained a good relationship with the Panthers despite pressure from anti-Panther people in Eugene.

The Eugene Police continued to harass the BPP Eugene chapter for various reasons, but by 1970, the Eugene chapter had relatively dissolved, with some members moving to other cities to organize with other chapters and others remaining as students at the U of O.

***The article was written with the intent of recording the legacy of the Eugene Chapter of the Black Panther Party and its impact on the UO campus and the wider Eugene community:

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