Sam Napier was not a member of the April 3rd Movement but several members worked with him, distributing The Black Panther News.
He is worth remembering and honoring—not just by the A3M, but by everyone connected to the movement he helped lead.
He was the head of the Black Panther National Distribution Office on Fillmore in San Francisco. His title was
Circulation Manager, and he was, as a practical matter, the publisher and executive editor of the Black Panther newspaper. Sam was the fellow who got hundreds of thousands of copies of each issue of the Panther paper printed and distributed nationwide without fail and despite the best efforts of the U.S. government to put it out of business.
I had the good fortune to work for him for nearly half a year in the Fillmore office, helping his staff rebuild and operate printing presses. [Glenda Jones received papers from Sam for distribution in EPA and at Kepler’s.] He became both a friend and a mentor, and I miss him more than any other revolutionary I have ever met. There were times when Sam somehow arranged to have an issue of the paper printed simultaneously at as many as a dozen small printing companies across the United States, to make up for the fact that one large printer had suddenly and without warning refused to print the next issue.
Sam was murdered in April, 1971, at an office of the New York Black Panther Party—tied to a chair and shot in the back of his head. He had gone to New York to negotiate the purchase of a Goss press to print the newspaper. Sam was killed by operatives of Cointelpro, some of whom may have infiltrated the New York Panthers.
He was survived by a wife and child.
A 12‐year‐old girl testified in State Supreme Court in Queens yesterday that a mart admitted her and her 13‐year‐old friend to Black. Panther party headquarters in Corona last April 17 and held them there while a member of the Panther party, Sam Napier, was killed.
The girl, Tammy Johnson of 101–04 34th Avenue, Corona, Queens, said that she and her friend, Desiree Brown, had gone to the headquarters to help distribute the Panther newspaper. After they were inside, she said, a man put a gun to her head and told the two to go downstairs. There, she said, they saw Mr. Napier, tied and gagged on a cot, humming, while on a nearby bed Miss Gwen Dolores Morton lay tied and humming.
The two children also were tied and told to hum.
Then, the 12‐year‐old witness testified,
I heard one shot, and I didn't hear Sam any more.
After the shot, she continued softly, almost inaudibly,
we were told to go into the backyard. I fell outside, then started smelling smoke. The fire got real hot. She added that four or five men were in the basement.
Her testimony came on the fourth day of the arson‐murder trial of 17‐year‐old Mark Holder, one of five Black Panther party members indicted by a grand jury. The trials of the other four are pending. It was the first day on which the press and the public were admitted to the courtroom.
In the middle of the trial of Bobby Seale, Erica Huggins, and the New Haven Panthers, in 1970, I received a very upsetting call from National Headquarters. The caller instructed me to go to New York and claim Sam Napier’s body and bring him home to California. This nearly floored me because they gave me no information about Sam’s death or any details about the circumstances surrounding it.
Sam Napier was in charge of our newspaper’s distribution nationwide, as well as worldwide. Sam and I worked together in the early days of the Panther newspaper’s development. A very devoted Party member, Sam was a natural-born distribution and traffic manager. At any given time, he could tell you how many Panther newspapers were shipped to each city and chapter, when they were due to arrive, and by what means. He loved the Party and he loved his work in the Party.
His death revealed to me the so-called split in the Party between the East Coast and the West Coast Panthers. A few months prior to Sam’s murder, a Panther by the name of Robert Webb was murdered on the streets of New York. Webb was originally from the west coast, but had been assigned to work in the New York Chapters. What happened after Webb’s murder was that the FBI, CIA, and the police fed false information via provocateur agents, to the New York Chapter of the BPP, telling them that West Coast Panthers had murdered Robert Webb. To me, it was obvious that Cointelpro had seized on the opportunity to drive a wedge in the Party, and kill a Panther Party member at the same time.
I met up with Sam’s wife, Pauline Napier, who had flown in from the west coast to get her husband Sam’s body, and take him home. She had been to the medical examiner’s office and claimed him. Pauline then told us how Sam looked. I told her what Panthers had related to me about Sam’s death. They said that he had been held hostage in the Newspaper office, tortured, then shot, and the building had been set on fire.
During the days of the Panthers, because one had so little time, you got to know a person pretty fast, mostly by their attitude, and by their talents and work. Sam was also a great teacher and he built very strong cadres, mostly by his example. I never saw Sam down, he was always cheerful in his work, steady, dependable, and dedicated to the idea of putting theory into practice. He would only get irritated when the Chapters didn’t send in their receipts and always had a ready smile, and the words: “Circulate to Educate!” Sam was the main reason that the paper soon had a 200,000 plus copies per week distribution.
Sam and I met when I was Editor of the BPP newspaper, and although I soon went on to other responsibilities, we continued to see each other frequently and I was always amazed at his organization, discipline, and consistency. We met during the course of great struggles in our lives. I have often wondered where this great person came from. Where did he attend school? Did he have sisters and brothers?
Sam was my friend as well as my comrade in arms. I still miss him after 40- odd years. But then, I like to think that we will meet again and have all the time we need to talk of such things.
Long live the memory of Sam Napier! All Power to the People!
“The Black Panther: newspaper of the Black Panther Party.” Link
Girl, 12, Describes Killing of a Black Panther Here, by Max H. Seigel, The New York Times, March 25, 1972; posted online in The New York Times Archives, 1972. Link