Frances Dixon says she can still remember her husband picking her up from her job at Group Health in 1968, and walking into her home in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood to find it completely filled with young people.
“There in the house were young people lined up upstairs, downstairs, in the kitchen, everywhere. They were everywhere,” says Dixon, now 96 years old and living in the same house.
It was the first organizational meeting of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s Seattle chapter, which two of her sons, Aaron and Elmer Dixon, helped found and then subsequently ran for years. Rather than interrupt their work, Frances Dixon walked silently straight through the sea of bodies to the kitchen, closed the doors and left them to it.
Today, after years supporting her children’s work in the party, she is known as “Black Panther Mom.”
Elmer Dixon says he remembers his mom cooking food for community dinners and opening up her home to the organization’s many members.
“When comrades were out in the field selling newspapers or working and we needed them to be over there for a couple hours, she would do that,” he says. “On some of their birthdays, she would host a birthday party.”
But it was in no way a role for the faint of heart. Her sons served time in jail, so she would write letters and visit them there. She also says she would receive calls virtually every day from people threatening her sons.
Her response? “Go ahead and try it. Try it and you’ll be sorry.”
Frances Dixon’s story was featured in a documentary first released last year called “Keepers of the Dream: Seattle Women Black Panthers.” Produced and directed by local filmmakers Tajuan LaBee and Patricia Boiko, it highlights the key role women like Dixon played in the Panther organization.
The Seattle chapter was one of the first authorized chapters outside of California, where the Black Panther Party was founded in 1966. Although many remember the party for its focus on preventing police violence as well as armed self-defense, the group was also extremely focused on helping disadvantaged members of the community.
Frances Dixon, now a retired clinical assistant, says her most vivid memory of their work was their program to feed hungry children.
“They took time to cook food for little children … They were doing it back then, when they were teenagers,” she says.
Elmer Dixon explains that he and Aaron, along with their other two siblings and the rest of the chapter, also helped provide a free medical clinic, a free clothing program, a free legal aid program and a police alert patrol program in which they would “patrol cops, and observe them to make sure that they were not going to harm or murder someone.”
During this period, Frances Dixon says she would offer her children advice, telling them to be careful of the police because “you never know when they’re going to be following you.”
But for Elmer Dixon, it wasn’t simply one individual piece of advice from his parents that helped inform his work in the organization.
“It was through their actions daily, how they lived their lives, how they treated others. That’s what in fact influenced us the most,” he says.
When asked whether she has any advice for parents of today’s racial justice activists, Frances Dixon has a very simple but sincere response.
“Just be supportive of your children, that’s all.”