The path to greatness has no specific way as the life of slain activist Malcolm X showed. Another notable fellow for the African cause whose life and contribution too deserve attention is Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter.
Carter was described by those close to him as a renegade and the unsung true hero of Los Angeles California. In the early 1960s, he was a member of the Slauson street gang in Los Angeles. He became a member of the Slauson “Renegades”, a hard-core inner circle of the gang, and earned the nickname “Mayor of the Ghetto”.
Imprisoned for armed robbery in Soledad prison for four years, he would be swayed with the message of the Nation of Islam and the teachings of Malcolm X converting to Islam. He would renounce the faith and dedicate himself to the black liberation struggle.
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Charismatic and intelligent, Carter would meet Black Panther Party leaders Robert George Seale, Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton in Oakland in 1967 taking up the cause of the party.
Carter formed the Southern California chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in early 1968 and became a leader in the group.
Roland Freeman, a former Black Panther Party member stated “his mannerisms were street but his mind had been developed. He became political. He was called the mayor of the ghetto. He was a natural leader.”
Carter was able to recruit new members from gangs. Turning Slauson’s members to revolutionaries having the ability to bring gangs together and redevelop and redirect them.
Freeman added that there were dances every Friday night with a couple of 100 people in session who partied, sweated and danced adding, “in the middle of it, we cut the music off, Bunchy will jump off on a table and start talking about 10 to 15 minutes touching on history, facts. People be stunned, be like wow and hey throw the music on. He get to do the Philly dog, the party be back on and the people will come back on Monday, 10 to 15 lining up to join the Black Panther Party. That was the type of person he was.”
A Bunch Carter quote held that “do something Ni..er…. If you only spit.” Longjohn Washington, a former Slauson and BPP member reckons he exemplified the leadership “we all needed and that is what we try to follow.” He continued that Carter conditioned the people to rise above the gang criminal mentality and rather live a life for the communal good.
For Ericka Huggins, a former BPP lady, Bunchy’s time “was a big, huge time in history.”
While the BPP recruited from the Slauson gang, other gang members flocked to the US Organization headed by Ron Karenga. They had different philosophies with some describing the US approach and ideals as being abstract while some saw the BPP as confrontational.
Joe Hicks of the US said he joined because the founder’s message resonated with him. “To seize political power through organizing and self-affirmation of who Black people were,” he rendered in the Bastard of the Party visual.
Given that both organizations were recruiting from gang structures, confrontations arose as things escalated and body counts mounted in Los Angeles. However, the animosity was exacerbated by the FBI using Edgar Hoover’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO).
Former FBI Agent, Wes Swearington held that in the agency under Hoover, the Black Panther Party was labeled as the most dangerous party to the internal security of the US.
To that end, the FBI ordered the party’s destruction and for Bunchy Carter to be neutralized. Using letters, caricature and cartoons, the FBI stoked animosity between the two organizations to a stage where when parties from both groups meet on the streets, there was hostility.
Even the “Free Breakfast for Children” program which provided meals to the poor in the community so successful that the LA chapter gained 50–100 new members each week by April 1968 was labeled as a threat by the FBI.
On January 17, 1969 on the UCLA campus at Campbell Hall, Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter together with another BPP member John Huggins were gunned down by a Claude “Chuchessa” Hubert. Hubert, the suspected murderer of the two men, was never caught.
The Black students at UCLA still commemorate Bunchy Carter born in 1942 and John Huggins yearly where they were slain in Campbell Hall. It’s been 51 years since the assassination of the two students.