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Bobby Seale, an Air Force veteran and standup comedian, worked for years in student and community politics in the San Francisco Bay area. He was a member of the Afro-American Association, the Soul Student Advisory Council, the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, the NAACP, and the Revolutionary Action Movement. In the aftermath of a race riot involving police brutality in September 1966, Seale, then working at an Oakland anti-poverty center, co-founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense with Huey Newton, taking the panther symbol from the Lowndes Country Freedom Organization that Stokely Carmichael had helped create.
Seale served as the Black Panthers' first chairman and took part in a May 1967 demonstration of the right to carry weapons at the California state legislature, for which he was arrested. He was also charged with conspiracy to incite riots as member of the "Chicago Eight" and was imprisoned for contempt of court; all charges were eventually dropped. Seale was known for his Black Power oratory with its distinct wit and imaginative humor. While Newton was in prison, Seale led the Black Panther Party from a local movement into a national organization with branches across the United States and affiliates in other countries.
Seale participated briefly in the negotiations over the Attica prison takeover in 1971 and unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Oakland in 1973. He left the Black Panther Party in 1974.