Alprentice Bunchy Carter is one of those unsung and undermentioned thinkers and strategic organizers of US Black history. His thinking with regards to division of talents and purpose vis-a-vis urban US Black socio-political materialist struggle is often overlooked. It is necessary to review Bunchy Carter’s framework for organizing applied in conditions where class antagonisms have worked to deflect overall Black socio-political advancements. It can be difficult for me to address this because I realize that readers will be polarized into divergent camps based on class-based identity. Not that OWL is in any way against being polarizing, it does strike me as wasteful for this particular discussion.
Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter, according to Akinyele Omowale Umoja, was responsible for organizing a clandestine operation adjacent to Black Panther Party’s aboveground demonstrations and community centered activities. Umoja writes of Bunchy Carter’s initial foray into urban surreptitious movements in “Repression Breeds Resistance” stating:
The Southern California Chapter of the BPP had an underground almost from its inception. Former Los Angeles gang leader Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter virtually brought a military force into the BPP when he joined in 1967. Carter was the leader of the Renegades, the hardcore of the Slausons. In the early 1960s, Carter joined the Nation of Islam, and was deeply influenced by former prisoner turned revolutionary Malcolm X. In Soledad state prison in California, Carter met the radical intellectual inmate Eldridge Cleaver, who taught Soledad’s African American History and Culture class. His associations and the changing political and cultural climate motivated Carter to adopt a revolutionary nationalist organization, including an underground military wing. Upon leaving prison, Bunchy Carter worked to transform loyal members of his street organizations, ex-inmates, and other Los Angeles street gangs from the gangster mentality to revolutionary consciousness. In late 1967, when Carter joined the BPP, he was also able to contribute in autonomous collective of radicalized street forces organized after leaving incarceration.
In his role as Southern California Minister of Defense, Carter made it his responsibility to organize an underground Panther cadre. Carter’s most trusted comrades formed the Southern California Panther underground, often referred to as the “Wolves.” The true identities and activities of the Wolves were not revealed to aboveground rank-and-file Panthers. Carter’s Wolves carried out secret operations to support the work of the BPP in Los Angeles.
Probably the most significant recruit Bunchy Carter made to the BPP underground was geronimo ji Jaga (then known as geronimo Pratt). Ji Jaga, an ex-US military special forces commando and Vietnam war veteran, was sent to Los Angeles to work with Bunchy Carter by a relative who had become acquainted with Carter’s effort to build a Black freedom organization in Los Angeles. While not becoming an official BPP member, ji Jaga’s military skills became a valuable asset in assisting Carter in developing the LA BPP underground. After Carter was murdered in an FBI-provoked clash between the BPP and the US organization on the campus of UCLA in 1969, ji Jaga assumed Carter’s position as Southern California Minister of Defense.
“Bunchy” also wrote poetry when not directing Los Angeles’s radical underground. His poem, “Black Mother”, is a must read. Black Media Trust is a framework dealing with critical thought applied to possible propaganda. One of its pillars is a notion that racial obligations and fictive kinship are often manipulated. J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counter-Intelligence Program took advantage of these racial obligations inherent fictive kinship allowed them to create situations that would lead to “Bunchy’s” murder and much of downfall of Black Panther Party.
Pratt served almost three years in the Army, earning a number of accolades. He completed paratrooper training in Georgia, received a Purple Heart and Silver Star during his two tours of duty in Vietnam, participated in more than sixty combat jumps, and was eventually honorably discharged in 1967. When he returned to Morgan City after his military service concluded, Pratt again sought the elders’ advice on what to do next. The elders arranged a meeting between Pratt and Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter, the founder of the Southern California Chapter of the BPP for Self-Defense.
In a discussion about Geronimo Pratt’s legal proceedings and unjust violation of rights while incarcerated, Christopher Michaels explains that Bunchy Carter may have organized Southern California’s chapter of Black Panther Party into three silos of focused activity. According to Michaels:
Carter founded the Southern California chapter of the Panthers a year before Pratt arrived in Los Angeles. It is commonly thought that there were three different sides to Carter’s organization—the three sides were:
He goes on further to explain his assessment by quoting Jack Olsen’s “Last Man Standing: The Tragedy And Triumph Of Geronimo Pratt”:
…political, military and ‘underground.’ The political tried to win the hearts and minds of the people; the military gathered a wide variety of weaponry and made fortifications for the ‘revolution’ and battle against the police and rival black organizations; and the underground consisted of criminal armed robberies against businesses and banks to ‘liberate’ money for personal and organizational use.
“Last Man Standing: The Tragedy And Triumph Of Geronimo Pratt” || Jack Olsen
Apparently, by Michaels’s telling, Bunchy Carter was highly selective. Given Ji Jaga’s talents, training, and technical know-how, Bunchy chose to align former Army paratrooper and Vietnam Veteran Geronimo Pratt with his Southern California branch’s military styled wing. While utilizing Geronimo’s expertise groomed on battlefields of South Asia, this choice also works to exhibit Bunchy Carter’s purposes for his underground arm referred to above by Umoja as “the Wolves”. Quoting Christopher Michaels once more:
Carter quickly realized that Pratt would be a perfect fit for the military arm of the Panther party, and the two became fast friends. Pratt enrolled in a Black Studies program at the University of California at Los Angeles, a program in which Carter was also enrolled, and began teaching party members the basics of weaponry and fortification.