"The first lesson a revolutionary must learn is that he is a doomed man. Unless he understands this, he does not grasp the essential meaning of his life." - Huey P. Newton

Rights pioneer Hulett dies

By Alvin Benn
Montgomery Advertiser

MOSSES -- John Hulett, a civil rights pioneer who helped found the organization that became the Black Panther Party, died Monday after years of declining health. He was 78.

Hulett was at his home here, surrounded by his family. He and his wife of 46 years, Eddie Mae, had 11 children.

"John Hulett did more for race relations than any man I know of in this state," said Ted Bozeman, a former Lowndes County district judge who is white. "He was well liked and respected in both the white and black communities."

Unafraid of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups, Hulett helped blacks not only gain the right to vote but to win public office. Hulett himself was elected sheriff and probate judge, the first black to hold either of those positions in
Lowndes County.

Hulett gained a national reputation in 1966 when he and other black leaders, including Stokeley Carmichel, created the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. Hulett and Carmichael chose a black panther as the group's emblem because of its ferocious independence.

On a trip to California in May 1966, the men told crowds about Lowndes County and a new political symbol.

In the civil rights volume "At Canaan's Edge," Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch describes how Hulett won over the crowds.

"There was something in Alabama a few months ago they called fear," said Hulett, who described the black panther as an animal known to retreat "backwards, backwards into his corner and then he comes out to destroy everything that's before him."

Radical activists Huey Newton and Bobby Seale eventually took Hulett's symbol and formed the Black Panther Party, which in its early days relied on violence to settle conflicts. Later, the party became much more of a conventional political player.

Alabama historian Richard Bailey said, "there is no doubt the Black Panthers owed a huge debt to Lowndes County for helping them to establish what they had in California."

"The people of Lowndes County also are very proud that their Panther emblem was used by the organization out there," he said.

Hulett returned home to become one of Alabama's leading black politicians and a top Democrat in the Black Belt region.

In 1970, he was elected Lowndes County sheriff -- a position he held for more than 20 years before being elected probate judge. One of his sons currently serves as probate judge.

"John Hulett was a very humble person and you could mistake that humbleness for weakness," said state Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma. "He didn't act like he was in charge, but he was always in charge. He didn't act like he was smart, but he was as smart as they come."

As sheriff, Hulett helped in several capacities because his staff was so small. Besides supervising inmates at the county jail, he cooked for them and helped them turn around their lives.

After he retired, Hulett led Lowndes County's clean-up program and picked up empty soft drink cans and beer bottles from ditches and roads.

"He was always doing something to help other people," said his wife, Eddie Mae.

The most difficult time for her was in 1983 when the sheriff went into rural Lowndes County to serve a warrant for child support deliquency.

Clarence Timmons struggled with Hulett, grabbed the sheriff's gun and it discharged, striking Hulett in the stomach. Doctors had to remove one of Hulett's kidneys.

Timmons served 13 years in prison. One of the first things he did after being released was to meet Hulett and apologize for what had happened.

"A lot of people change when they are incarcerated," Hulett said at the time. "I think it's important that we all acknowledge our wrongs and forgive each other. Jesus taught us that."

A service for Hulett is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Central High School in Mosses, which is about 10 miles from the Lowndes County seat of Hayneville.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link