Shelf Life Community Story Project
Amplifying community voices, learning from neighborhood stories, and interrupting narratives of erasure in Seattle's Central District.

Little Red Hen and Black Panthers

Photo by Jill Freidberg

Photo by Jill Freidberg

Mark Cook was born, in Seattle, in 1936. He lived with his seven siblings at 16th and Fir, and later at 22nd and Jefferson. Cook founded the Black Panther Party inside the Washington State Penitentiary; worked on the underground prison newspaper, The Bomb; and later joined the George Jackson Brigade. 

Mark Cook

Well, there were books that my mother wouldn’t allow us to read, and sometimes they’d read them in school. And she’d go straight to the school and tell them they couldn’t, like Tom Sawyer, and stuff like that. Says, “If they ever read those books, my children can get up and walk out of the class. They don’t have to stay there.” Because most of the schools at that time were predominantly white, or Italian, of European descent. I remember 23rd and Yesler, the library there? I think it was every Saturday, all the kids in the neighborhood would go there, and this woman would read stories to us. We’d sit in the children’s corner. One of them that they read to me, I carried over to my Panther days and taught Panthers politics from it. It’s called Little Red Hen. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that story. It’s about a hen who found some corn seeds and she planted them. She said, “Who will help me plant the corn?” And she talked to the other animals, and the pig said, “Not me!” And the duck said “Not me!” And the rabbit said, “Not me!” And her little chicks said, “We’ll help you mom!” And they planted the corn, and so it goes on until finally the corn is ready. “Who wants to help me harvest the corn?” And again, “Not me, not me!” And the little chicks said, “We’ll help you mom!” And then she made some cornbread and said, “Who will help me eat this cornbread?” And they said, “Me, me, me!” And she said, “No, no, no. Only me and the chicks get to eat this cornbread.” But anyways, it’s kind of a socialist idea. I taught - this was in Walla Walla, when I was teaching Panthers, new Panthers politics - I started from that, because some of them were barely literate. Well anyways, that was in prison, but that was later.