Monday, July 20, 2020

The People's Information Slot

 The book Airwaves of New York makes a passing reference to the Black Panther party having its own radio program on WLIB-AM in 1969, "The People's Information Slot." There are few corroborating references. But WLIB has long been regarded as the ''Voice of Harlem.'' In 1971, WLIB became the city's first black-owned radio station, and the crown jewel of Inner City Broadcasting Corporation. But it's worth noting that it was already using the slogan ''The Voice of the Negro Community.'' in the 1940s, three decades before it was black-owned.  So the claim is apocryphal, but not implausible.

My corroborating source turned out the be the U.S. government document: Black Panther Party: Hearings Before the Committee on Internal Security. They held hearings on the Panthers which via the U.S. Government Printing Office produced about 5,00 pages of documents in 1970. Page 2811 has one juicy tidbit. It reads:
"The Panthers announced that they would begin broadcasting their own weekly radio program on July 5, 1969. over the New York radio station WLIB. The 30-minute show was to be aired each Saturday from 8:15 to 9:15 p.m. and would be entitled "People's Information Slot." Although a sponsor was not identified, the announcement stated that "the show would not be unsponsored. Guests scheduled to be on the first program were Don Cox, Field Marshall of the Black Panther party, and Zayed Shakur, a deputy minister of information in New York. " 

The source cited there is The Washington Star Newspaper, July 21st, 1969. [LINK] It's difficult to find any information on this radio show. But the New York Daily News also mentioned the debut of the program on July 5, 1969, repeating much other above but adding that the guests will include attorney Arthur Turco. the wording is so similar they both probably draw form the same press-release. There are no further press mentions of the radio program that I've ever found. These three names are all way have to "box in" the end of the program if indeed it continued past July 5th.

The Black Panther Party (BPP) was founded in October 1966 in Oakland, CA. While none of those three guests was among the founders of the party, they were all of relatively high stature either internally, or publicly.

Don Cox joined the group in 1967, and received the title of "Field Marshal" in 1968. Cox was a natural leader within the organization. In 1970 he was invited to speak to guests at a gathering hosted by Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia at their posh penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side.  The writer Tom Wolfe described the politics of the event as "Radical Chic" in New York magazine. Cox was there to raise funds for the defense Black Panther members who were charged with conspiracy. That same year Cox was charged in the murder of a possible informant named Eugene Anderson in Baltimore. He fled to Algeria and resigned from the BPP in 1971. 

Zayd Shakur is probably better known today as the uncle of rapper Tupac Shakur. He was the deputy minister of information nominally under Eldridge Cleaver. In 1969 the "Panther 21" case arrested many BPP leaders in New York chapters but Shakur was not indicted. (eventually defendants were acquitted) Different articles in the 1970s list him with slightly different titles, but in a 2017 statement Sundiata Acoli referred to him as the Minister of Information for the Bronx, NY BPP chapter. That may have been a later higher rank closer to 1973. Shakur himself was killed in a shoot-out with New Jersey police in 1973.

Arthur Turco Jr. was definitely the guest and not the host. Nonetheless he is known to have defended members of the Black Panther Party in across the country. After Eugene Anderson's skeleton was discovered in Leakin Park in Baltimore, MD in October of 1969, Turco and others were charged with conspiracy to murder. A warrant was issued for Turco's arrest on April 29th, 1970. After a mistrial, Turco plead guilty to misdemeanor assault to avoid a lengthy prison sentence. His co-defendants were not so lucky. More here.

It seems highly likely from the name of the program, "People's Information Slot" that Zayd Shakur was the host of the program. Cox and Turco were probably guests. From his death in 1973 we have a firm latest possible date. But I think that it's more likely the show ended much earlier. In April of 1969 twenty-one Black Panther members were indicted. The BPP couldn't afford bail on so many members simultaneously, so most were stuck at Rikers. The loss of so many members, was probably a strain on the organization. A resource-intensive side project like a radio program, probably had to be sacrificed.

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