Among the many memories former Black Panther Party leader Ericka Huggins has from her time in the revolutionary organization, leading the Oakland Community School is one of her fondest. Huggins, who spent 14 years in the Party — the longest of any female leader in the organization — was the director of the school. “Those were some of the best years of my entire life. We educated elementary-age students about [their history] and their place in their great place in the world.” she says. “We led with love.”
As a human rights activist and educator, Huggins has always used that approach in her work. She was one of thousands who attended March on Washington, and even then, at the age of 15, she was profoundly affected. That moment inspired her to “serve people for the rest of [her] life.” Huggins later joined the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1968 with her husband, John. Soon after, tragedy struck the family. In 1969, three weeks after the birth of their daughter, John was shot and killed. Four months later, Huggins and Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale were arrested and charged with conspiracy in New Haven, Connecticut, where they started a Party chapter. “Free Bobby, Free Ericka” became a rallying cry across the United States. They were acquitted, though Huggins served two years in prison while awaiting trial.
After her release, Huggins became a writer and editor for the Black Panther Intercommunal News Service before leading the Oakland Community School. Later, she developed programs to support LGBTQ+ youth and adults living with HIV/AIDS in the Bay Area.
Huggins spoke to ZORA about Black Lives Matter, sexism and sisterhood in the Black Panther Party, and the time Maya Angelou and James Baldwin visited the Oakland Community School.