Message from Dr. Tolbert Small

Message from Dr. Tolbert Small

All power to the people!

I worked with the Black Panther Party from 1970 to 1974. If we had a government that truly served the needs of the people, we wouldn’t have had a need to exist. But we don’t have a government that serves the needs of the people….

I was born in Mississippi. In 1955, I was in Mississippi when Emmett Till was savagely murdered. I often followed my grandfather with his mule, plowing the red clay in Mississippi. While in medical school, from 1963 to 1967, I worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1965, the first Black Panther Party that I supported was the Lowndes County Freedom Party in Alabama. I even had a Black Panther bumper sticker on my car.… Lowndes County was a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan; the Lowndes County Black Panther workers carried guns to protect themselves from the Ku Klux Klan. 90 percent of Lowndes County was black; yet, no black folks could vote. When… Huey [Newton heard] about the Lowndes County Black Panther Party, that’s where [he] got the conception of the Black Panther Party.

In 1968, I came to Oakland to intern at Highland Hospital. In 1970, I went by the Black Panther office and told June Hilliard, “If you ever need a doctor, give me a call.” Within days, the FBI attempted to contact Dr. Malcolm Nelson, the medical director of Highland Hospital, to inform him that Dr. Tolbert Small had agreed to work with the Black Panther Party. However, who did the FBI talk to? They didn’t talk to the medical director; they talked to my intern, David Nelson, who shared the same last name as the medical director…. Through COINTELPRO, the FBI planted 67 paid agents into the 45 Black Panther Party chapters. COINTELPRO and contradictions within the Black Panther Party played a significant role in the demise of the party….

But let’s go back to the time when the Panther Party was founded. In 1966 racism firmly ruled this land. Our televisions portrayed the traditional black actor’s role as a servant, such as Beulah. Northern inner-city police terrorized the Black communities. Southern Black travelers faced the dilemma of either sitting in the back of the bus or facing the threat of a lynching. Northern medical schools satisfied their quotas by admitting one or two Black students in each class. Southern medical colleges traditionally admitted no Black students. Thus the ghetto’s health care mirrored the institutional racism of our society. Bobby Seale was aware of racism in health care. It was his idea to set up our national Sickle Cell Anemia Program. As national chairmen of the Black Panther Party Sickle Cell Anemia Project, we dramatized the American government’s neglect of sickle cell anemia.… [Today] every major city in this country [has] a sickle cell anemia project.

…I think we have to remember that although the Black Panther Party has come and gone, its spirit still lives…. Unfortunately, racism and poverty have not come and gone. As we [begin] this century, racism no longer struts on the front porch of the White House. It crawls through the back door of our ruling circles.

Thank you. All power to the people!

Dr. Tolbert Small
April 16, 2005

Oakland, California