Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Gregory Harrison ’68
I actually never graduated from Tech. I was detained on a Friday and kicked out of school the following Monday. I am probably the only student ever expelled by the State Superintendent of School. The local one was too afraid to sign my letter of expulsion.
Why were you expelled?
On that Friday, the police, in cooperation with the school, raided the restaurants across the street where kids often ate lunch. They knew it would cause trouble. So I dismissed the school. I went from class to class and told everyone to leave. Everyone followed me outside.
Were you already well known? Why did they listen to you?
In my junior year, in 1967, I formed the very first BSU (Black Student Union) for a high school in the country. I was also part of the development of the Black Panther Party. I started as a bodyguard for pretty high profile people like Stokely Carmichael. Later I became a spokesman, which I was still in high school, for the International Chapter of Black Student Unions. We had conferences in the Bay Area and people came from around the world. I was a spokesman for that and for the Black Panther Party the following year. After my expulsion from Tech, I ran the Black Panther headquarters which was located in Berkeley. I took my GED and went on to Merritt College (when it was on Grove St.).
I left the Black Panthers in 1969 when it got crazy. People got injured and that shouldn’t have happened. I was on the Central Committee of the Black Panthers when I quit in 1969. It was going in the direction of violence that had no meaning to it and people were getting hurt.
Why was this happening?
Because of COINTELPRO (an acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram) all the infiltration and surveillance. I had 3 FBI agents assigned to me all the time.
How did you know that?
They told me. They talked to me and told me that. People on my side back then didn’t expect to live. And a lot didn’t make it. They were shot and killed.
Do you know how many Black Panthers were killed?
I don’t know the number, but I’d say dozens. I quit not in fear of my life– at that age, you don’t have that fear. I was more afraid of being injured. I didn’t worry so much about being killed. Most Black Panthers were dedicated to what they were trying to do. The Black Panthers created a lot of programs. The government took them over or stopped the programs. They were threatened by what we were doing. Within our own communities, we were creating businesses that actually helped the community. We created the first free health clinic in the whole country right here in Oakland. The first doctor is married to Marty Price’s sister. He is still practicing.
Did you grow up right here in Oakland?
I was raised in a military family. My dad was in the Air Force and had been in the army before that. I lived in Spain as a kid and we moved quite a bit.
How did your parents feel about your involvement in the Black Panthers?
They had their fears, of course. There was a lot for parents to be afraid of. I found out years later that they had started the first NAACP chapter in California in the 50’s. They didn’t tell us about that back then. There is a photo of them at one of the early NAACP meetings with Shirley Temple holding my older brother on her lap. My uncle was the first black professor at SF State University. And my youngest brother’s godmother in the 50’s was the first black school counselor for a junior college. That was in Vallejo. We also have professional athletes in our family and one of my uncles was a Red Tail. He is one of the only 3 Tuskegee Airmen still alive. He was honored at the White House a few years ago and even went on a tour promoting the film Red Tails made about them.
There were a lot of connections between Tech and the Black Panthers. Huey Newton of course and the 6th member of the BP’s was Oleander Harrison, my older brother. He would have graduated in ’67. The Pointer Sisters were members too. There were quite a few. I have another brother who was class of ’69, Larry Harrison. And Joan Lewis was the first female member. She was in the class of ’67 I think. We are still friends, mostly on Facebook. She is an artist and violinist and teaches workshops. She is still here.
I retired from Channel 2 where I worked for 37years at the technical director. Tech didn’t predict that. They said I should be a cook or a janitor. Those were the career paths they recommended for me even though I was really good in math. Math was my best subject. I am also a professional dancer. I’m still dancing and competing. I have 16 grandkids and one great grandchild on the way.
Tech led the nation. It even led most of the colleges. We created programs that others followed and copied. SF State had the first BSU. Then we started it at Tech and the combination of what they had done and what we did with that at Tech was then used by every BSU. I was the international head of the BSU for colleges.
Oakland hired police at that time that had been fired in the south for police brutality. That’s who the Oakland police wanted on their force.