NCSU Professor tells of his Radical Past

Nacoste-Speaks-at-the-Wake-Up-RallyAmanda McKnight | Staff Writer

Dr. Rupert Nacoste is a former member of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPP).

A tenured professor who has been at N.C. State for more than 25 years, Nacoste joined the BPP, which was co-founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966, during his teenage years. These years in Nacsote’s life coincided with a time when the nation was in a tailspin with race issues, war, and class struggle. As he likes to tells his student’s, “It was a hell of a time.”

According to the FBI, the Black Panther Party (BPP) “is a black extremist organization” but obviously, to those who lived the movement, it was not viewed that way.

“People think the Black Panthers were some sort of group that was all about hate but it wasn’t, it was about self-defense,” said Nacoste. “Most [BBP members] believed in Dr. King’s message and what he fought for, [but] they did not believe in the same strategy or tactic. It was if you come in my neighborhood I’m not going to turn the other cheek, we will defend ourselves.”

According to Nacoste, the BPP was created in response to all of the tragedy happening in America and abroad. “At the time everything was going on,” said Nacoste. “The Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act [1965] and James Brown saying ‘I’m Black and I’m proud.’”

Nacoste was reared in Opelousas, Louisiana the heart of the Jim Crow Deep South. Opelousas is also where he first joined the BPP. When Nacoste joined the Party, for him “it was all about getting connected, being apart [of the Party] and having the information.”

After turning in his membership dues, Nacoste began receiving The Black Panther, the official newspaper of the party. During its peak The Black Panther had a circulation of 250,000 copies.

Like many of the Party’s members, Nacoste said, “I may have been a bit of a radical.” Perhaps a testament to his radical youth, Nacsote recalls questioning his teachers on their teaching style, after reading a book given to him by his brother.

“My brother who was in the Navy brought me back a book by Eldridge Cleaver, member of the Black Panthers, called Soul on Ice,” said Nacoste. “My friend remembers me challenging the nuns in school and asking why they weren’t teaching the history the way it was.”

Nacoste, who attended Catholic school, was the first person at his school to sport an afro. “The nuns were not happy,” said Nacoste, “and these were black nuns.”

As with any sort of political movement, many young people involved with the BPP had to deal with their parent’s often dissenting opinions about their involvement with the Party. Nacoste on the other hand faced no opposition from his family.

Nacoste said his parents said, “Hmm…okay,” when at age 15 or 16 he used the money he earned from his own job to join the BPP. “My father had already been part of the Civil Rights Movement in many ways,” said Nacoste.

Nacoste’s father was a local politician and had filed to be on the ballot the day after the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The BBP dissolved in the early 1980s as a result of internal disagreements. While a major focus of the BPP was to promote self defense among blacks, Nacoste has concentrated his efforts on promoting neo-diversity, something he has done with the release of his book, Howl of the Wolf.

A self-published collection of papers from Nacoste’s “Interpersonal Race and Relations” class offered every semester, the stories are weaved together and speak to the experiences that students have had dealing with race, gender, ethnicity, etc. on N.C. State’s campus.

Nacoste’s book will be featured at this year’s Spring Diversity Dialogue on Wed. Feb. 27, from 3 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. in Talley Balllroom.