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Bernie Morris, 73 speaks with â€œ41st & Central The Untold Story of L.A. Black Panthersâ€ filmmaker Gregory Everett about the 1969 murder of his brother apprentice â€œBunchyâ€ Carter, former leader of the Southern California Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
On Friday, Mar. 26, 41st & Central: The Untold Story of the L.A. Black Panthers will open for a limited engagement as part of the Pan African Film & Arts Festivalâ€™s Encore Program at the Culver Plaza Theatres in Los Angeles. Bernie Morris, 76, the oldest of ten siblings that included Alprentice â€œBunchyâ€ Carter, former leader of Southern California Chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense who was murdered at U.C.L.A.â€™s Campbell Hall in 1969, recently viewed the film at a private screening for the first time. A retired engineer, Mr. Morris, who now lives in Carson, Calif., is the first member of the Carter family to watch the film that features first hand accounts as told by the original surviving Black Panther members of Bunchy Carter and John Hugginsâ€™ murders.
â€œPowerful, dynamicâ€”the film rekindled a lot of old emotions,â€ explains Mr. Morris. â€œI remember by brother sitting me down and explaining to me who this group called the Black Panthers were. After our mother and our stepfather split up and with me being the oldest brother, my mother looked to me for support in guiding my younger brothers. I was expected to lead by example. I remember thinking that the Panthers were just another gang that he was involved in and worried about the effect it was going to have on our mother.â€
Prior to joining the Black Panthers, Buchy Carter, a graduate of Freemont High School was the leader of the Slauson Renegades, a local Los Angeles gang. After graduating high school, Bunchy began working for an upscale department store in downtown Los Angeles on Wilshire.
Laughing he recalls, I remember my first introduction to the Nation of Islam was when Bunchy, and our brothers John and Glen came into the house one day and declared â€˜no more pork!â€™ It drove my mother insane. Here she was trying to feed a family of ten on a limited budget where there was no room to be selective about what was for dinner. It was utter chaos.â€
â€œBunchy was a party goer, a ladies manâ€”what young people now call a player,â€ remembers Mr. Morris. â€œIn 1961, Bunchy wanted a car and so one day he came to me and asked me if I would co-sign on a car for him. We looked for a car for a couple weeks and finally settled on a 1956 red and black MGB. At the time, he was just enjoying living life. When he got that car, you couldnâ€™t touch Bunchy with a ten foot pole,â€ he chuckles.
â€œSometime after that, Bunchy was sent to Soledad Prison for attempting to rob a Security Pacific Bank and was there for four years. He came out two years after the Watts Riots ended and there were all these programs being started. Our mother was involved with a program call N.A.P. and they had these teen posts. She got Bunchy involved in one of the teen posts on Central and Nadeau. Thatâ€™s where Bunchy met Caffee Greene and Nate Holden because they were also involved with those programs at the time working with Supervisor Hahn.â€
â€œFrom that all of a sudden all I know is heâ€™s in this organization called the Black Panthers and traveling back and forth up north. He had formed a kinship with Bobby [Seal], David [Hilliard], and Eldridge [Cleaver]. Initially, I thought it was just another gang.â€
Mr. Morris explains that their mother, Nola Carter, now 93, was feeling anguish and worried about Bunchyâ€™s well being and that being the older brother, it was up to Mr. Carter to find out exactly what was going on and what this group called the Panthers was all about.
â€œBunchy sat me down and explained his reasons for joining the Black Panthers,â€ he continues. â€œHe said he was tired of being oppressed.â€
â€œYou have to understand that Bunchy, he didnâ€™t have the same fear that I had. He was a very proud strong young man, and by this time, he had been arrested and incarceratedâ€”whereas a person like me who had not been involved in any of that kind of stuff was scared. There were certain values that our mother instilled in me as the oldest brother. Like Bunchy, I had a role to play in our family and he had his. The bottom line was that I knew something bad was going to happen because I knew my brother felt strongly about the injustices that were happening to black people at the time. But it was his destiny to fulfill and I was concerned with making sure it had as small an impact as possible on our mother.â€
In March of 1968, Arthur (Glen) Morris, brother of Bernie Morris, Bunchy Carter and Bunchyâ€™s first bodyguard, was shot and killed on 111th between Normandie and Vermont Avenues. He was the first member of the Black Panther Party to be killed.
â€œWhen Glen died things really started to changed,â€ Mr. Morris explains. â€œAlmost a year after Glenâ€™s death Bunchy and John [Huggins] were murdered at U.C.L.A.â€ A murder that is still unsolved today.
Mr. Morris says that he had heard about the documentary film being done about his brotherâ€™s death, a film that took six years to bring to completion. After repeated attempts to get him to see the film by his friend J. Daniel â€œSkipâ€ Johnson ?who was standing a few steps away from Huggins and Carter when they were gunned down, he casually and unannounced showed up to a press screening for the film. Johnson, who was a 21-year-old U.C.L.A. senior majoring in political science in 1969, and had chaired the meeting where the murders occurred, had been interviewed for the documentary 41st & Central: The Untold Story of the L.A. Black Panthers and wanted his friend Bernie to see it. In a theatre full of journalists who had no idea until that time that a member of the Carter family was in the room, stood up, moved to tears and praised the filmmaker Gregory Everett.
He says now on the eve of the filmâ€™s Los Angeles limited engagement at the Culver Plaza Theatre Fri., Mar. 26 through Thu., Apr. 1, that while he praises the film for its accuracy in telling his brotherâ€™s story, heâ€™s not sure that at 93, his mother could handle revisiting the lost memory of not only one but two sons during the Black Panther Movement but encourages the community to come out and see the film.
Throughout the filmâ€™s engagement at the Culver Plaza Theatre members of the Carter family are expected to attend but as to whether or not Nola Carter will, Mr. Morris is still unsure.
Being presented by the Pan African Film Festival in a limited engagement at the Culver Plaza Theatres March 26 through April 1, 41st & Central: The Untold Story of the L.A. Black Panthers features new and exclusive interviews from Black Panther party leaders Geronimo Ji Jagga, Elaine Brown, and Kathleen Cleaver, Los Angeles City Councilmember and former L.A.P.D. police chief Bernard Parks. The film is the first part in a documentary series that follows the Southern California Chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense from its glorious Black Power beginnings through to its tragic demise and explores the Black Panther ethos, its conflict with the L.A.P.D. and the US Organization, as well as the events that shaped the complicated and often contradictory legacy of the L.A. chapter. Using exclusive interviews with former Black Panther Party members along with archival footage detailing the history of racism in Los Angeles, including the Wattâ€™s Uprising. 41st & Central: The Untold Story of the L.A. Black Panthers is being called the most in-depth study ever of the L.A. Chapter founder Alprentice â€œBunchy Carter.â€ The film features first hand accounts of the Partyâ€™s formation as told by the original surviving members and gives the viewer an eyewitness account of Bunchy Carter and John Huggins murders at U.C.L.A. in 1969.
Also featured in the film are former Black Panther members Ericka Huggins, Roland & Ronald Freeman, Wayne Pharr, Jeffrey Everett, Long John Washington, US Organization member Wesley Kabaila, U.C.L.A. Professor Scot Brown, and many others.
Produced and directed by Gregory Everett, son of L.A. Black Panther Jeffrey Everett, and co-produced by L.A. Black Panther Roland Freeman, 41st & Central: The Untold Story of the L.A. Black Panthers will open on March 26 with four screenings a day for one week through April 1 at the Culver Plaza Theatres located at 9919 Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. Tickets are $10 and are on sale now at www.paff.org and www.41central.com.