Richard Aoki, Former Field Marshal of the Black Panther Party, Dies
He was one of six Asian Americans, known as “Yellow Panthers,” who ran with one of the most in/famous socio-political groups in American history, The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. And he was there, a charter member, at the very beginning.
Richard Aoki was born in 1938 in San Leandro, CA. He and his parents were caught up in the hysteria of the era when Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, ordering all Japanese Americans and nationals into American concentration camps after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. The Aoki family were interned at Topaz, Utah from 1942 to 1945. At the close of the Pacific War and the camps, the Aokis returned to the Bay Area, settling in Oakland, CA.
Aoki grew up in the same West Oakland neighborhood and attended the same schools as Huey Newton, David Hilliard, and Bobby Seale. However, it was only when Aoki was honorably discharged from the Army (for opposing the Vietnam War) that he became closer to Newton and Seale when they all matriculated at Merritt Community College, which had become a hotbed for radical thought by the mid-Sixties. Momo Chang said in his San Jose Mercury News obituary March 18:
The co-founders showed Aoki their 10-point platform and plan, which he liked. He became a member of the revolutionary group and helped organize the early rallies. He also gave them arms, which were then used to patrol the police against brutality.
It was his upbringing and friendships in the black community that led Aoki to join the Panthers. He was convinced that the Oakland police were “[…] at that time, was running roughshod over the people in the community.” And Aoki felt that a “revolutionary, black nationalist group was the path to liberation.” Add to this his childhood memories of the Topaz camp, and the privations and humiliations suffered there. Chang in the 2006 Oakland Tribune article wrote that Aoki provided not only small arms and rifles, but training in weaponry, and a political ideology, centered on the Little Red Book of Mao Tse-Tung. Upon his transfer to U.C. Berkeley, Aoki started a Berkeley contingent of the Party, and recruited two more Asian American members. For all this, Aoki was appointed field marshal in 1968, and was graduated with a B.A. in Sociology. (He later earned a MSW degree in 1970.)
While Aoki was better known as a Panther, he was also a spokesperson for the Asian American Political Alliance, which was the first known pan-Asian political organization in the United States. It was affiliated with the Third World Liberation Front, which staged massive strikes and building takeovers in support of Third World colleges and ethnic studies programs throughout the U.C. and state college system, and most famously at San Francisco State and at U.C. Berkeley. When the students of color emerged victorious, Aoki became one of the first coordinators of the Asian American Studies program at Berkeley. Thereafter, Aoki spent another 25 years as a counselor, instructor and administrator in the Peralta College system.
Throughout, Aoki kept in touch with his Panther brethren, and even at Huey Newton’s funeral, he proudly wore his black beret, shades, and black leather jacket.
“The Black Panther Party not only talked the talk, but walked the walk,” he said, adding that during the years the party was active, crime declined in Oakland.
Richard Aoki died March 15, 2009 from complications of dialysis. He was 71 years old.
- Black History: Honoring The Black Panther Party (moorbey.wordpress.com)
- FASHION FLASHBACK: The Women Of The Black Panther Party (hellobeautiful.com)
- Huey Newton is More than a Song Done By Whiz Khalifa-Happy B-Day Huey (hiphopandpolitics.wordpress.com)