A Black Panther Thing

“Excuse me, your honor, I’m not trying to be racist, but it’s a black thing … I gave my daughter her first cash box and told her, ‘always keep some cash.’” 

The witness was John Floyd, father of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Floyd also testified that until recently he was unaware of his daughter’s relationship with Nathan Wade, special prosecutor in the election interference case involving former president Donald Trump. Reports on the trial revealed that Floyd was a former Black Panther and had once dated Angela Davis. The history behind these characters may be unfamiliar to many readers. 

Floyd “joined a faction of the Black Panther movement in 1967 in Los Angeles. He renounced violence and enrolled at UCLA to study law after two Panthers, Bunchy Carter and John Huggins, were shot and killed in an altercation at a Black Student Union meeting,” according to Atlanta Journal and Constitution reporters Alexis Stevens, Greg Bluestein, and Tamar Hallerman.  There’s a bit more to the story.

The Panthers made common cause with white leftist radicals; and were rivals of another black nationalist group called US Organization. US Organization was founded by Ronald McKinley Everett, better known at the time as Ron Karenga. The Panthers mocked US Organization as the “United Slaves,” and on Jan. 17, 1969, the two groups shot it out at UCLA over control of the black studies program. Panthers John Huggins and Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter perished in the gun battle. 

Stevens, Bluestein, and Hallerman also noted that Fani Willis’s father “once dated Angela Davis, the academic and activist who ran twice for vice president on the Communist Party ticket.” As with Floyd, there’s just a bit more to the career of Davis. 

In August 1970, Davis, the “controversial former college philosophy instructor” and “avowed Communist,” was sought on warrants “charging her with murder and kidnapping in the Marin County courthouse shootout on Aug. 7 that left four dead, including a judge.” Guns used in the shootout were registered to Davis, who fled the scene and landed on the FBI’s most-wanted list. It’s not clear when Panther recruit John Floyd dated Davis, but it was probably not during this time.

The FBI tracked down Davis, who drew support from activists, celebrities, and religious groups alike. On June 4, 1972, an all-white jury found her not guilty on all charges. The avowed Communist then embarked on a tour of a tour of Cuba, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. By this time, the Black Panthers were heavily engaged in the murder business. 

In New Haven, the Panthers accused Alex Rackley, 19, of being an FBI plant, beat him with sticks, and tortured him with boiling water before shooting the young recruit and dumping his body in the Coginchaug River. The Panthers even made a recording of Rackley’s interrogation

In Oakland, New Left radical David Horowitz raised money for the Oakland Community Learning Center, the Panthers’ “showpiece and base of operations throughout the seventies,” and “a front for a criminal gang attempting to control the illegal traffic of the East Oakland ghetto.” For a bookkeeper, Horowitz hired his friend Betty Van Patter. On January 17, 1975, Van Patter was found in San Francisco Bay, killed by a blow to the head. 

As Horowitz explained at length in Radical Son, that marked the end of his career on the left. Angela Davis, by contrast, dedicated herself to the all-white dictatorship of the Soviet Union. 

In 1979, the USSR awarded Davis the Lenin Peace Prize. The following year, Davis ran for vice president of the United States with the Communist Party USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Soviet Union, on a ticket with the Stalinist Gus Hall. Davis and Hall made another bid in 1984, again losing to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. 

Davis gained a professorship at UC Santa Cruz, teaching the “History of Consciousness.” Her long career as a dutiful Communist conveniently forgotten, Davis now comes billed as “social justice icon” and so forth. In June 2020, Davis went on record that to vote for ourselves, “we will have to campaign for and vote for Joe Biden.”

In 2022, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, named Angela Davis as a “Golden State trailblazer.” Now in 2024, it has emerged that Fani Willis’s father John Floyd dated Davis, which Davis  has yet to confirm or deny.

Last year, the former Communist candidate got a surprise about her own family. On a “Finding Your Roots,” episode titled “And Still I Rise,”  professor Henry Louis Gates revealed that Davis’s 10th great-grandfather was William Brewster, who was born in England in 1570 and came to America on the Mayflower. “No, I can’t believe this,” said Davis. “My ancestors did not come here on the Mayflower. That’s a little bit too much to deal with right now.”  

Davis is one of many black-rights activists who have been confounded by their ancestry records. African American radio host Joe Madison learned that his great grandfather was a Confederate soldier who fought with Robert E. Lee and married a black woman. The View host and Black Lives Matter supporter Sunny Hostin found out her ancestors were slave owners. On the other hand, singer Carly Simon learned she was some 10 percent black through a pardo Cuban ancestor, the descendant of slaves. So maybe diverse ancestry is not just a black thing.

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