Eyes on the Prize; Interview with William O'Neal, Part 1
Okay, Phil, can you describe to me the circumstances under which you can't work in with the FF? Uh... Well, it was probably 1967. That was what a guy won a night, a friend of mine, and we were drinking beer, and we decided to go joyride, and we jumped in a car and stole it. And we were driving around the city of Chicago for about 45 minutes and decided to leave the state to go visit a relative in another state. And we had an accident out of the state. And prior to the accident, we'd walked in a pool hall, and we'd shoot in pool, and at the door you had to register your phone number and address. We wrote down our names and phone numbers, then went in and shot a game of pool, and then came out and had an accident. We fled the accident on foot, messed around in the city a while, and then caught a bus back to Chicago. And about three, four months later, I got a call from this FBI agent by the name of Roy Mitchell.
And he told me that he knew what I had done, and we talked, we went around a couple of times, and he said something like, well, you know, there's no need, and you're trying to bullshit me, I know you did it, but it's no big thing. He said, I'm sure we can work it out. And I think a few months passed before I heard from him again. And one day I got a call, and he told me that it was payback time. He said that I want you to go and see if you can join the Black Panther Party, and if you can, give me a call. Can I just sit around and start that part that joined the Panther Party? But tell me if I can't tell, won't you? Or if it's not me, but if it's the FBI agent? I think I was about 19, 18, 19 years old. And the FBI agent's name was Roy Mitchell. And he called me up on the phone, and he recanted the crime pretty much.
I tried to deny it, but he had the evidence, and he said basically it was no problem, that we could work it out, that I wasn't any serious problems that he couldn't deal with. And a few months, three months, maybe passed before he asked me to join the Black Panther Party. Now what did Mitchell ask you to do? Well, he didn't give me any specific instructions at that point. He just said, Roy said basically just go and see if you can join the Black Panther Party. I understand they're recruiting Panther members. So why don't you go down to the office and see if you can join. If you get in, give me a call back. So the next day, I got on the bus and went down to the office at the Black Panther Party, it was located on Western and Madison, and walked in the office, about three or four panthers in the office.
And I think I was about the fifth member in the Chicago chapter to join. I had this big office building on this. And upon the second floor, they had about five or six offices, and very little personnel around things. So positions, it was easy to get a position. So they appointed me as a security captain. I was the first time I met Fred Hampton, and he was the chairman, a spokesman for the party, and Bobby Rush was the minister of defense. He was a Huey P. Newton's deputy, which was a top man in the state of Illinois at that time. What did you think about the Panthers at that time? What framework did you understand of it? What did you sort about the civil rights movement? Your understanding of politics? I grew up in a middle class neighborhood, and I had a very little idea of, I was a political.
The Panthers I had heard of only from a recent article I think that had occurred in the paper, Huey P. Newton had just been in a shootout with the Oakland Police Department, and one of them had died. And there was a lot of press about that. But prior to the articles I had read about Huey P. Newton, I knew nothing of the Black Panther Party. In fact, the day I joined, I was pretty sure it was just another gang. Unlike not unlike the Black Stone Rangers or other cobers or something. I had no idea of anything about their politics. What did you begin to learn as you did join? And what kind of information were you able to give back to the Panthers? Well, almost immediately after I joined the Panthers, probably within 10 days, I began to realize that the Black Panther Party was a little bit more sophisticated than a gang.
The orientation process, the attention they gave to the political climate around the country, had me going there for a while. And at one point, well... Yeah, okay. I think the first set of reference books I saw inside the Black Panther Party was the Selective Works of Monsetown, which I had began to associate with Communism. And it wasn't too long thereafter that I started seeing books like the Communist Manifesto, the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx, and then the Selective Works of Lennon. And every night after the office would close, the Panthers would sit down
and they would study these books. We'd go to political orientation. We would read certain paragraphs, and then Fred Hampton and Rush would explain to us a new membership, basically, what it meant, and what was happening. And they'd draw parallels to what was going on in the past revolutions in the various countries, like, for instance, China or Russia. And it was drawing parallels to what was going on in the current political scene within the United States. So they were drawing associations between the revolutions in the Communist countries, as I understood it, as to what was happening in the United States. And so I understood them to be a little bit more sophisticated than a gang. I expected that it would be weapons, and we would be out there doing turf battles with the local gang members. But they weren't about that at all. They were into the political scene, the Warren Vietnam, Richard Nixon,
and specifically, freeing Huey. That was a thing. Now, you would ask them, report this information back to Mitchell, did he have a response to me react to this? Well, initially, Agent Mitchell requested very little information for me. It was one way street for probably about six months. I think he was in every meeting that I had with him. He listened more than he asked questions. He would, the typical meeting would be, okay, what are they doing today? And then I would just tell him what was going on around the office in general conversation. He said, okay, and what are you doing? And then I tell him what I was doing. And then he'd make mental notes. And he took a short hand notes, and then we depart. He said, okay, just keep being formed.
And so we had a very loose relationship at that point, because the Panthers weren't too active militarily. They were politically organizing at that point. They were recruiting at that point. The Panthers were trying to, well, they had speaking engagements at the different colleges and so forth. So we were in an organizing process. And it was very little criminal activity as I could determine it was going on. Very little to report to the FBI in my mind, you know, because I felt like since the FBI was an investigative body, investigating federal crimes that crimes were what they were looking at. And so... Tell me a little bit about how you felt about working for the FBI. What motivated you? And what you saw... What did you saw? Well, in my community, the policemen were... I mean, it was the quickest way to gain respect. I mean, I think I grew up wanting to be a policeman,
admiring and respecting policemen. Although I always thought it was outside of my reach. My neighborhood was not unlike most people that grew up in Chicago. Most young people were very mischievous. And did a lot of juvenile type petty criminal type things. But stealing a car and all of a sudden having the FBI, having a case with the FBI, they thought having really gone to jail got my attention. And so when he asked me to join the Black Panther Party and he used terms, he never used the word informant. He always said, you're working for me. And I associated him as the FBI. So all of a sudden, I was working for the FBI, which in my mind at that point, I associated with being an FBI agent. So I felt good about it. I felt like I was working undercover for the FBI, doing something good for the finest police organization in America. And so I was pretty proud.
Yeah, great. Welcome to America.
- Eyes on the Prize
- Raw Footage
- Interview with William O'Neal, Part 1
- Producing Organization
- Blackside, Inc.
- Contributing Organization
- Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, Missouri)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- Interview with William O'Neal conducted by Blackside for "Eyes on the Prize II." O'Neal discusses being recruited to be an informant for the FBI in Chicago, joining the Black Panthers as an informant, and giving them information about the Black Panthers' activities and Fred Hampton.
- Asset type
- Raw Footage
- Media type
- Moving Image
Interviewee: O'Neal, William
Producer: Team C
Producing Organization: Blackside, Inc.
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Film & Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis
Identifier: cpbaacip1513775t3gc7b__fma269536int20130410_.h264.mp4 (AAPB Filename)
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- Chicago: “Eyes on the Prize; Interview with William O'Neal, Part 1,” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-x34mk66290.
- MLA: “Eyes on the Prize; Interview with William O'Neal, Part 1.” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 28, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-x34mk66290>.
- APA: Eyes on the Prize; Interview with William O'Neal, Part 1. Boston, MA: Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-x34mk66290