CARBONDALE- An early morning shootout in 1970 between Black Panthers in Carbondale and Illinois State Police, the Carbondale Police department and University Police created misconceptions about the purpose of the Black Panthers according to experts.
Angela Aguayo, professor of cinema and photography at Southern Illinois University Carbondale said the circumstances leading to the Nov. 1970 shootout still are not entirely clear, but the shootout lasted several hours at an off campus student housing building and resulted in nine injuries.
She said Black Panthers and student activists in Southern Illinois and across the country often faced repression during the tumultuous period.
"It wasn't unusual at this time for left activists to receive this kind of violence by the state and government," Aguayo said.
A panel discussion held Thursday at Southern Illinois University Carbondale discussed the Black Panther movement and the Carbondale shootout. The panel featured Jeffery Haas, lawyer and author of ‘The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther' and Jakobi Williams, professor at the University of Kentucky and author of the forthcoming book "From Fred Hampton to Barack Obama."
Haas was a founder of the People's Law Office, which offered its services to the Black Panthers, including those involved in the Carbondale shootout. He discussed injustices that occurred during the civil rights movement and the history of the Black Panther movement. Haas said he believes there were a lot of misconceptions about the panthers, and one reason Hampton was viewed as a threat by law enforcement was his ability draw crowds and gain momentum for the movement.
Hass said the Panther movement was a response to the rage felt over the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
"The Panthers were a moment, a moment of black response to years of the civil rights movement, which had tremendous gains in the south but hadn't changed the lives of urban blacks very much," he said.
Haas spoke about the circumstances that brought him to Carbondale to represent the Panthers involved in the shootout, who became known as the ‘Carbondale 6.' He said the members of the People's Law Office were nervous about coming to Carbondale initially, but once they arrived realized they would have support.
"We were nervous about coming to this community," he said. "What kind of response were we going to get representing Black Panthers?"
He recalled the response they received in Carbondale from the black community and student community as one of immediate action, saying the community formed a defense committee to rally support.
Williams said the Black Panthers acted within the law, legally arming themselves to patrol their communities. He said the violence that erupted in the early 70s created misconceptions about the Panthers and took attention away from the service-based programs they performed within the community.
"Because these individuals are armed, people have the misconception that this somehow the black version of the KKK," Williams said. "That these individuals had an intent to do violence against white Americans, that's not the case."