Colston Westbrook

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Colston Westbrook
Colston Richard Westbrook

September 14, 1937
DiedAugust 3, 1989 (aged 51)
Alma materContra Costa College

Colston Richard Westbrook (1937–1989) was a teacher and linguist who worked in the fields of minority education and literacy.

Early life[edit]

Westbrook was born on September 14, 1937 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.[1] He also grew up in this area. His father was Sgt. Edward Cody Westbrook, who died in Germany, while serving in World War II. His mother, Virginia Ruth Colston, was a housewife, who held various jobs to raise their five children.

Westbrook attended Chambersburg Primary and High schools, graduating with Honors in 1955. After graduation he and his elder brother, Cody, travelled from Pennsylvania to Richmond, California to live with their maternal grandmother. Colston attended Contra Costa College, in San Pablo, California where he excelled, particularly at languages, and was an honors student.[2] He was selected to travel to Rome, Italy to represent Contra Costa College, based on President Eisenhower's People to People Student Ambassador Program.

Military career, Korea and Vietnam[edit]

Westbrook taught English at the International Christian University in Tokyo.[2]

He joined the Army/Air Force. After an assignment in Korea, he was assigned to Travis Air Force Base in California in 1960.[3] He was deployed to Vietnam and honorably discharged in 1967.

After this, he worked as a civilian with Pacific Architects and Engineers.

When a journalist later asked why he went to Vietnam, Westbrook answered, "Money, why else? I was told by the American Embassy in Tokyo I could make $10,000 working in Vietnam. They said it pays to be black in Nam".[4]


In 1968, Westbrook returned to the United States. He enrolled in the Linguistics department at the University of California, Berkeley in September 1970.[3] By this time, he had mastered several foreign languages — Korean, Japanese, Italian, German, and French. He also studied Swahili at Berkeley with Bwana Kaaya, from Tanzania. He understood and had a working knowledge of Bakweri[citation needed].

He worked in the fields of minority education and literacy.[2] He traveled to Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the Sorbonne while a student at Berkeley. In 1975, he completed his master's thesis on the dual linguistic heritage of African-Americans,[2] or "Black English dialectology,"[4] focusing on the need of many African-American students to code-switch between the General American dialect and their own dialect of English, which has some roots in West African languages.[2] He told a journalist, "It's a brand new field, my own field. I made it up".[4]

Student activism and prison visits[edit]

Westbrook was President of the Pan African Student Union in Berkeley, for two consecutive terms. He was involved in student politics on campus.[5] His views on equity and justice often created controversy.

As a graduate student in the early 1970s, he and a group of black students started a project to teach black prisoners a wide range of classes in the California prison system. He was alarmed at the disproportionate number of black men in the prison system in the United States.

As a teaching assistant,[3] Westbrook taught African-American Linguistics in Berkeley's Department of Afro-American Studies.[5] Through this class, a small group of students, including Willie Wolfe, Russ Little and Mary Alice Siem, began to visit local prisons. One of the main prisons visited was Vacaville prison. On Friday nights there were cultural meetings, which several hundred outsiders attended.[4] They opened with a pan African flag, black power salutes, speeches, poetry readings, plays and debates.[4]

A group known as the Black Cultural Association was formed, for which Westbrook became "outside coordinator". It was reported that he was asked to work with this group (but unclear who asked)[4] Westbrook is credited with bringing prisoner Donald DeFreeze (Cinque) into the group.

In 1972, DeFreeze invited Wolfe and Russ Little, to join his separate study group, Unisight. A former Black Panther, an inmate by the name of Thero Wheeler, was also in the clique.[6] This was to be the beginnings of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Symbionese Liberation Army[edit]

After the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the SLA placed Westbrook on their death list, claiming he was a CIA agent,[7] and had worked as a "torturer" for the CIA in Vietnam,[4] marked as "an enemy to be shot on sight". They also claimed he was an FBI informer.[8] Westbrook soon went into hiding, in fear of his life.[8]

Not long after this, two of the families of SLA members, including Willie Wolfe's father, contracted top notch private investigator Lake Headley in an attempt to shed some more light on the matter.[9] On May 4, 1974, Headley, along with freelance writer Donald Freed, held a press conference in San Francisco. They presented 400 pages of documentation of their findings, some of which included:

  • A year before the kidnapping Patty Hearst had visited black convict, Donald DeFreeze, who later became the SLA's figurehead.[9]
  • DeFreeze's arrest records
  • The work of Westbrook with Los Angeles Police Department's CCS (Criminal Conspiracy Section) and the State of California's Sacramento-based CII (Criminal Identification and Investigation) unit.;[10] and
  • Evidence of links of the CIA to Police Departments.[11][12]

On May 17, 1974, The New York Times ran the story of DeFreeze and the Los Angeles Police Department.[7] However, the story was largely overlooked due to this being the day of the shoot out and conflagration that killed DeFreeze and five other members of the SLA. In another interview with the same paper a year later, he denied having ever been a torturer or have any affiliation with the CIA.[4]

Minority Consultants[edit]

Westbrook established his own company, Minority Consultants, located on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, to assist African immigrants and African Americans with resources, to educated mainstream society about how African Americans learn, and to assist immigrants on how to adjust to American society.

Personal life[edit]

Westbrook married Eposi Mary Ngomba, whom he met on a visit to Cameroon. They had four children and lived in California.

Later life[edit]

Westrook was Dean of Students at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, California from 1978 until 1989.[2]


Westbrook died of cancer at Kaiser Oakland Medical Center on August 3, 1989. He was 51.[2]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g
  3. ^ a b c Ross, Colin A. The CIA Doctors: Human Rights Violations by American Psychiatrists, Manitou Communications, 2006
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Davidson, Sara, Notes from the Land of the Cobra, The New York Times, June 2, 1974
  5. ^ a b Youtube video of Westbrook hosting a talk by James Baldwin, UC Berkeley, 1979. Westbrook is seated on the left (Baldwin's right).
  6. ^ McLellan, Vin, The Man and the Mystery Behind the Sla Terror, People, April 29, 1974
  7. ^ a b Kifner, John, Cinque: A Dropout Who Has Been in Constant Trouble; School Dropout On Welfare Wanted to Sell Bombs Recommendation Ignored Cooperation Indicated Charges Dropped The New York Times, 17 May 1974
  8. ^ a b SLA targets three for death,The Bakersfield Californian, April 5, 1974
  9. ^ a b Langley, W, Patty Hearst - urban guerrilla brought to heel, The Telegraph, 17 Feb, 2008
  10. ^ Churchill, Ward & Vander Wall, Jim, Agents of Repression: The FBI's secret wars against the Black Panther Party, 2002
  11. ^ Brussell, Mae
  12. ^ Russell, Dick, Who Ran the Sla?, Argosy, Ann Arbor Sun, January 22, 1976,