LA People 2009: Stalking the Panthers Gregory Everett
It was months before the ’92 riots and Gregory Everett was upset. The estranged son of a Black Panther, Everett was attending a community meeting in South Los Angeles organized by a collection of old-time Pan-Africanists. It was the first such meeting Everett had ever attended, and he expected righteous indignation and searing radicalism. Instead, the men were trying to raise money to provide solar panels for a small village in Africa.
“I got up in the middle of the meeting,” remembers Everett, “and said, ‘we’ve got people being shot by the police in our very own neighborhood, and you want to talk about Africa?’ ”
Everett’s outburst caused a small scene, one he would soon come to regret. After the meeting, one of the organizers took Everett aside and partially disrobed, revealing a canvas of bullet holes and tear-gas burns. The man was former Black Panther Roland Freeman.
“He told me he’d been dealing with the police his whole life,” Everett says. “I had no idea people like Roland were still around. That was the last time I ever mouthed off in a room full of people I don’t know.”
Now 46, and an experienced filmmaker, Everett has long since stopped talking and started listening. For the past four years, with Freeman’s help, Everett has been tracking down former members of the Southern California Chapter of the Black Panthers and chronicling their stories. His ongoing effort has lead to an ever-evolving four-hour documentary titled 41st and Central — named after the location of the L.A. Panthers’ headquarters — which Everett has been screening at universities and community events throughout California.
No two viewings are the same. With each new interview Everett manages to weave into his piece, the story of black radicalism in Southern California becomes more layered and complex.
“What fascinates me most about the Panthers, and what’s been most difficult to capture, is how young they all were,” says Everett. “These were 18-, 19-year old kids organizing their communities and doing battle with the LAPD. Everyone talks about Oakland, but nine of the first 10 Panthers killed in the revolutionary struggle were from the Southern California chapter. And [L.A. Black Panther] Chip Fitzgerald is still in prison on trumped-up charges. The legacy of the Southern California Black Panthers deserves to never be forgotten.”
Everett says that when he approached former Panther Gil Parker about being interviewed for his film, Parker broke down in tears.
“He told me, ‘Until you came along, I thought everything I did was for nothing.’”
By the time he’s done, Everett expects to have far and away the most comprehensive oral history of the Southern California black power movement.
“The four-hour piece is just Part 1. I’m trying to get the funding together for another four hours.”
Everett says he plans to transcribe hundreds of hours of his interviews and make them available at libraries and universities after the completion of his film.
“If I don’t share this information, I’m an enemy of the people.”
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