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Fri, 05.15.1942

David Hillard, Activist, and Educator born

David Hillard

*David Hilliard was born on this date in 1942.  He is a Black activist, educator, and former member of the Black Panther Party.   

David Hilliard was born in Rockville, Alabama, to Lela and Lee Hilliard. David had six brothers and five sisters: Theodore, Allen, Nathaniel, Van, Roosevelt, Arthur, Rose Lee, Sweetie, Dorty Mae, Vera Lee, and Eleanora.  His mother and father met in 1916 when his mother was 16. In his childhood, Hilliard met Huey Newton. After reading Malcolm X's autobiography as a teenager, Hilliard deeply respected his militancy. Although he admired the charisma of Martin Luther King Jr., he did not agree with MLK's advocacy for non-violent resistance.  

In his early teen years, Hilliard had little involvement in politics. In the summer of 1965, his nephew Bojack participated in the riots in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. Seeing his nephew on TV inspired Hilliard to learn more about activism and politics.  Hilliard married Patricia (Pat) Hilliard in 1959.  Due to his lack of a high school diploma and skills, he had difficulty finding jobs. He worked many odd jobs, including cleaning up after skilled laborers, being a tile chipper, working at canneries, and being a car salesman. David and Patricia Hilliard had three children: Patrice, Darryl, and Dorian.  During their early married life, David faced alcohol addiction and anger management issues.  Hilliard also began an intimate relationship with Brenda Presley and had a daughter.  

Hilliard became involved in the Black Panther movement in 1966. Newton informed him of this organization which was Bobby Seale.   The BPP followed a 10-point plan outlining "What We Want" and "What We Believe." Early actions of the Party involved intercepting in police brutalities by using arms to enforce police rules of conduct.  After the arrest of Newton on October 28, 1967, for an armed scuffle with the Oakland Police resulting in the death of Officer John Frey, Hilliard acted as the interim leader. He helped organize a rally in February 1968 called the "Free Huey Rally" that drew 6,000 people. Hilliard was involved in the many programs organized by the BPP.

They organized programs called survival initiatives, including breakfast for schoolchildren, health clinics, and programs for prisoners. These programs were called survival programs because they simply help communities survive rather than addressing systemic reasons. These programs were free to those in need.  In 1971 the Party formed the Intercommunal Youth Institute. This program addressed the systematic oppression of African American students in public schools. The Black Panthers believed that public schools failed to teach the analytical skills necessary to survive in society. This Institute for children in Oakland taught children to analyze and criticize and respond with creative solutions.  

Fellow Party and BPP Central Committee member Donald L. Cox has suggested that during Hilliard's stint as BPP Chief of Staff, Hilliard became an autocrat highly influenced by Stalin.  Simultaneously, Cox says, Hillard dismantled the power and authority of all other central committee members aside from himself and that of Huey Newton. In January 1968, Hilliard was arrested for handing out pamphlets outside of Oakland Technical High School. He was also convicted on two counts of assault with a deadly weapon for his part in a 1968 encounter with the Oakland Police in retribution for the assassination of Martin Luther King.  The April 6, 1968 encounter led to the murder of party member Bobby Hutton, who was shot by police while surrendering with his hands up, and the capture of Eldridge Cleaver. Hilliard left this standoff unscathed, hiding under a friend's bed.  

The FBI's attention on the Black Panthers heightened after the 1968 encounter. J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, called the Black Panthers "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country."  On December 3, 1969, Hilliard was arrested for threatening to kill Nixon.  This threat was given in Hilliard's speech given earlier that year at Golden Gate Park. In his speech, Hilliard was quoted saying, "We will kill Richard Nixon."  In July 1971, Hilliard was sentenced to one to ten years and incarcerated at Vacaville Prison.  In January 1973, he was denied parole while serving a sentence of six months to 10 years. After prison, Hilliard moved to Los Angeles and worked at Tom Hayden's organization, the Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED). During this time, Hilliard struggled with drug addiction and moved to Connecticut to work as an organizer for the New England Health Care Employees Union.  

He lost contact with Newton, who was murdered during a drug deal on August 22, 1989; Hilliard gave his eulogy.  In 2006, he became a visiting instructor at the University of New Mexico. With Huey Newton's second wife, Fredrika Newton, Hilliard later formed the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation.  The mission of this organization is "to preserve and promulgate the history, ideals, and legacy of the Black Panther Party and its founder Huey P. Newton through development and distribution of educational materials, the establishment of educational conferences and forums, maintenance and exhibition of historical archives."

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