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Showdown in Desire

The Black Panthers Take a Stand in New Orleans

Orissa Arend

Publication Year: 2009

Through interviews with many individuals involved with the Black Panther Party in New Orleans in 1970, including Robert H. King, one of the Angola 3, Showdown in Desire tells the story of a year that included a shootout with the police on Piety Street, the creation of survival programs, and the daylong standoff between the panthers and the police in the Desire housing development.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xv

The Black Panther Party, cofounded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in October 1966, still remains one of the most indelible icons embodying both the promise and challenge of radical grassroots politics during the turbulent 1960s. During its relatively short sixteen-year...

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pp. xvii-xxvi

New Orleans, Louisiana: the Crescent City; birthplace of jazz, gumbo, and the French Quarter; home to one of the most notoriously brutal and racist police departments in the United States; and home of one the largest chapters of the Black Panther Party (BPP). By the time...

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pp. xxvii-xxxiii

Two days before Thanksgiving in 2002, I was shopping for dessert for the family meal. Instead of the crowded isles of my favorite uptown family-owned grocery store, I was in the home of Robert King Wilkerson (most people call him King) buying Freelines, a...

I. Bullets and Breakfast on Piety Street

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1. Desire and the Panthers

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pp. 3-14

When Donald Guyton crawled on his belly through the Piety Street house beneath the tear gas and bullet holes, he didn’t foresee the mild September evening thirty-three years hence when he would again come face to face with the people responsible for those bullets and that...

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2. The Panther, The “Mayor of Desire,” and the Mayor’s Special Assistant

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pp. 15-21

Donald Guyton’s and Henry Faggen’s families had known each other since Guyton was a child. The Faggens were one of the first families to move into the Desire Housing Project. Bob Tucker and Henry Faggen had come to know each other through Tucker’s research for his study...

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3. Remembering and Forgetting

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pp. 23-27

The Panther, Malik Rahim, and the city official, Bob Tucker, were poised against each other in 1970 in a life-and-death struggle. Henry Faggen stood firmly in between. Thirty-three years later, they would be together again, telling the story at a public forum. The forum was...

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4. The Nuts and Bolts of Infiltration

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pp. 29-38

Larry Preston Williams Sr., an African American, joined the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) when he was nineteen years old. The NOPD was only about 15 percent black in the late 1960s, but Williams’s draft number was ten, and he didn’t want to fight in...

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5. Moving the System

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pp. 39-45

In 1970 the consciousness of Malik Rahim and many other black New Orleanians was changing. So was the city administration. Newly elected Mayor Moon Landrieu shocked the city by bringing African Americans into top leadership positions in City Hall. Cecil Carter was...

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6. The “Kidnapping” of Ronald Ailsworth

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pp. 47-49

When I first interviewed Malik Rahim, Marion Brown, and Robert King Wilkerson about the Panthers, they spoke fondly of Ronald Ailsworth, a Panther brother involved in the Piety Street shootout who now resides at Angola State Penitentiary. Marion praised him as an...

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7. A Pig or Officer Friendly?

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pp. 51-53

In 1970 Linda Francis was a curious teenager living in Desire. She moved to Desire with her family when she was nine, the day after Hurricane Betsy in 1965. Desire was the only one of New Orleans’ ten housing developments that was built for large families, and it was still...

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8. Just before the Shootout

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pp. 55-67

What was it like in and around Desire just before the cataclysmic shootout occurred? There seem to be as many stories as there were people down there that night. It was a Monday, the night youth from the project and elsewhere gathered in and around Panther...

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9. The Shootout

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pp. 69-78

After the undercover cops escaped and after several people in Desire were wounded by snipers during the night, after the white couple and attorneys Ernest Jones and Robert Glass had gone home, there was a lull in the shooting for several hours. But in the morning, the...

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10. After the Shootout

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pp. 79-87

The group included Johnny Jackson, director of the Desire Project Community Center; Sidney Duplessis of the Sons of Desire, a “black capitalist organization”; Barbara Allen, on leave from the Desire Area Community Council; Henry Faggen of Concerned Residents of...

II. Desire Heats Up

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11. The Rematch

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pp. 91-94

After the Piety Street shootout, the confrontation between the Panthers and the police seemed to end for a time. Malik Rahim and the other Panthers in the Piety Street house were locked up in Orleans Parish Prison. But Althea Francois and several other Panthers had gone...

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12. This Time We Ain’t Movin’

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pp. 95-100

The evictions from St. Thomas and from Piety Street had only increased the Panthers’ determination not to be evicted from Desire. Their programs had continued without interruption after the shootout, and the police stance had strengthened support for the Panthers in...

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13. The Massacre that Almost Occurred

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pp. 101-111

It was a Tuesday, November 17, when the men of the cloth realized that the Panthers could not be “negotiated out” of Desire. “These people [Panthers],” the Rev. William C. London, an African American Methodist minister, told the press, “believe they are the vanguard of...

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14. The Day after the Standoff, Revelations in a Pig’s Eye, Kinship, and Luck

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pp. 113-117

But still, there was the morning after. Don Hubbard, over in the Desire neighborhood center, had to field the complaints from residents about what the police had done. Hubbard remembered these calls: “This is so-and-so in apartment such-and-such. Somebody came in and...

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15. Double Dirty Tricks

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pp. 119-129

On the fifth and sixth days after the standoff, the police pulled what many considered to be two dirty tricks. A lot of New Orleanians remember the first one, probably because it involved a celebrity. But amazingly, very few remember the second, the final arrest of the...

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16. The Year After: Did the Panthers Make a Difference or Were the People “Tricked as Usual”?

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pp. 131-135

The problems didn’t go away after the last group of Panthers was ousted from Desire in the post-midnight arrest on Thanksgiving of 1970. Bob Tucker reflected on this in 2003 with Cecil Carter, Don Hubbard, and Henry Faggen at the Hubbard Mansion Bed and Breakfast owned by...

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17. Panthers and Principles on Trial: “Somebody Has to Not Have Fear”

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pp. 137-145

Awaiting trial for eleven months in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) was a trial in itself for the Panthers. The bail, set by Judge Bernard J. Bagert, owner of the St. Thomas Street house that was the first Panther headquarters, was $100,000 apiece. In spite of continuous pleas from their...

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18. “Better Off in the Penitentiary”

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pp. 147-149

When Malik Rahim came out of Orleans Parish Prison in 1971 there was no person he trusted quite like Lolis Elie, one of the lawyers who had won an acquittal for the Panthers after eleven long months in OPP. Just five days after Malik was released from that “hellhole,” he...

III. Prisoners and Those Who Love Them

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19. The Escapees—Now Known as the Angola Three—and the Panthers

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pp. 155-163

Four of the people I interviewed for this story, Malik Rahim, Robert King Wilkerson, Henry Faggen, and Geronimo ji Jaga, had been incarcerated for various lengths of time—sixty-one years combined— because of their Panther activity. All were innocent. Their prison...

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20. “The Mayor” Goes to Prison

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pp. 165-167

This article appeared in 1971 in the Black Panther Newspaper soon after King, Woodfox, Wallace, and Ailsworth had been shipped off to Angola. Another player in the Panther drama would join them there in four years—none other than the venerable “Mayor of Desire,” Henry...

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21. Geronimo ji Jaga

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pp. 169-171

Geronimo ji Jaga (formerly Elmer Pratt), a Morgan City, Louisiana, native, was a Los Angeles Panther who successfully led underground military campaigns. By 1970 Pratt had risen to become the party’s Deputy Minister of Defense. Ji Jaga, like Malik Rahim, is a Vietnam...

IV. Making Sense of It

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22. Where Have All the Panthers Gone?

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pp. 175-182

After Lolis Elie got Malik Rahim out of Orleans Parish Prison for the last time, Malik needed a “safe house.” He knew that all freed Panthers could become police targets at any moment. Knowing that Marion Brown and her roommates lived in the Newcomb dorms, Malik...

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23. Grits, Not Guns: The Panther Legacy

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pp. 183-190

The war against the Panthers in New Orleans coincided with the war against the Panthers nationally. “The assault against us was an unrelenting campaign. Hoover wanted to shut us down by 1969. That didn’t happen. But by 1971 we had been virtually destroyed, and...

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24. And Then Came Katrina

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pp. 191-202

Before the deluge, I left town hastily, a split-second change of mind early Sunday morning, a day ahead of Katrina. I wasn’t planning to stay away long. Like so many others, I didn’t think beyond a few changes of summer clothes. Malik Rahim remained at home in Algiers...

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pp. 203-209

The more interviews I collected, the more questions I fielded from my sources about what I had learned from the interviews of others. Perhaps I listened more as a mediator (my primary calling) and a psychotherapist than as a journalist. While I slowly pieced together the New...

Image Plates

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pp. 211-212

My editors, Beverly Rainbolt, Lili LeGardeur, Edmund Lewis, and Renette Dejois-Hall, and the Louisiana Weekly, where many of the interviews were first printed; John Kemp and the Louisiana Endow - ment for the Humanities; and Larry Malley at the University of...

Appendix A. Cast of Characters

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pp. 213-216

Appendix B. October 1966 Black Panther Party Platform and Program

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pp. 217-220

Appendix C. Eight Points of Attention

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pp. 221

Appendix D. Three Main Rules of Discipline

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pp. 222


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pp. 223-226


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pp. 227


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pp. 229-242

Suggested Reading and Viewing

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pp. 243-253


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pp. 255-258


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pp. 259-269

About the Author, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781610753807
E-ISBN-10: 1610753801
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557289339
Print-ISBN-10: 1557289336

Page Count: 294
Illustrations: 31 photographs
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Crimes against -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Black Panther Party -- History.
  • Violence -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History -- 20th century.
  • Police-community relations -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History -- 20th century.
  • Public housing -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History -- 20th century.
  • New Orleans (La.) -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
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