Black Panther Party

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The Black Panther Party (originally called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) was a revolutionary, Black nationalist organization in the United States that formed in October 1966, and grew to national prominence before falling apart due to a combination of internal problems and suppression by state actors, especially the Federal Bureau of Investigation (whose methods included arrests, stirring-up of factional rivalries via infiltration and, allegedly, assassination).

The organization was founded by Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and Richard Aoki in 1966, in the city of Oakland, California. The party was created to further the revolutionary movement for black liberation, which had been growing steadily throughout the sixties thanks to the prominent civil rights movement, and the work of people like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.. The party rejected the integrationist stance of King, and made it clear from the beginning that it sought no compromise with the "white power structure". The party similarly rejected King's 'nonviolent' creed, and specifically chose to organize around a platform of self-defense (which became part of the party's original name, "Black Panther Party for Self-Defense"). The party received funding and training in arms and explosives from Fidel Castro.

As a Marxist-Leninist party, the Black Panthers focused their rhetoric on revolutionary class struggle. Although the party was characterized by varying degrees of black nationalism, Newton and Seale rejected cultural nationalists as "black racists".[1] Contrary to popular perception, the BPP was not a separatist organization, and worked closely with many white activists (for example, California's Peace and Freedom Party, and the paramilitary Irish Republican Army). Indicative of this was the BPP's use of the slogan "All Power to the People!", which represents a more internationalist (and Marxist) perspective than the famous slogan, "Black Power!". [2]


Origin of the name

SNCC (The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) workers, including Stokely Carmichael were working to register voters in Lowndes county, Alabama. Following the success of the Mississippi Freedom Party, the organizers worked to create the Lowndes County Freedom Organization as an independent party. Alabama law required that all parties have a visual emblem for illiterate voters. Courtland Cox contacted a designer in Atlanta for a design. The designer originally came back with a dove, but the SNCC organizers in Lowndes thought it was too gentle, so the designer suggested the white panther, the mascot of Clark College in Atlanta. The Lowndes County Freedom Organization became the Black Panther party, and soon there were Black Panther parties coming up around the nation. Many were unconnected with the SNCC, and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was not officially connected to any of the other parties or to SNCC.

Ten point plan

The party was founded on a ten point program, listed below and available here in full with the party's explanatory comments for each of the points. The Ten Point Plan was one of the party's central documents, and distributing it was a major method of propaganda, education and recruitment.

Police Brutality

A key reason for founding the party was to stop the rampant and racist brutality at the hands of several police departments. When the party was founded in Oakland in 1966, only 16 of the 661 Oakland Police Department officers assigned to black neighborhoods were African American. This situation was not unique to Oakland, California, for the 1965 Watts Riot occurred due to an overtly brutal and white dominated Los Angeles Police Department, and several southern cities such as Birmingham, Alabama had displayed police forces which worked hand in hand with the Ku Klux Klan. In every city in which a race riot broke out in the 1960's, an impoverished African American community was subject to police brutality at the hands of a virtually all-white police department.

Police brutality was counteracted mainly by neighborhood patrols set up by the Black Panther Party. On these patrols, white police officers were followed by armed Panthers members and confronted whenever an African American was brutalized. Several Panthers were jailed and murdered but the police did not go through unscarred. By 1970, the Black Panther Party had killed 11 white police officers and in some cases such as Huey Newton, some members managed to serve a reduced prison sentence for doing so. The police departments, furious with this, had started destroying several of the Panthers' headquarters as a 'revenge tactic', and was growing frustrated with being unable to destroy several of the party chapters.

Integration in several police departments worked against the BPP as well. Clearly the party's aim was to stop white police from brutalizing the black community. However, from 1966-1972 when the party was most active, several departments hired more African American police officers and used these officers to murder several of the Panthers. In Chicago in 1969 for example, Panthers Mark Clark and Fred Hampton were both murdered in bed by Sergeant James Davis, an African American police officer in the Chicago Police Department. In cities such as New York, black police were sent undercover to set up ambushes of their meetings. By 1972 when the original party was disbanded, most every major police department was fully integrated, so their cause of stopping an excessively brutal and overtly white police force was becoming less and less valid.

Community work

The Party began a variety of pioneering community programs, initially in the Oakland area, including free clinics and food distributions. By far the most famous and successful of their programs, however, was their Free Breakfast for Children Program, initially run out of a San Francisco church, which fed thousands of children throughout the party's history.

Although this was their most successful community program, the Black Panthers also offered a number of other free services. These include free clothing, free classes on politics and economics, free medical clinics, free lessons on self-defense and first aid, free transportation to upstate prisons for family members of inmates, a free emergency response ambulance program, free drug and alcohol abuse rehabilitation, and free testing for sickle-cell disease. The Panthers tested more than 500,000 African-Americans for this disease before it was recognized by medical establishments as one that affected the black community almost exclusively.

The Party also strove to end drug use in the African American community, disrupting the operations of drug dealers, distributing anti-drug propaganda, and setting up community drug rehabilitation programs.


The BPP advocated and practiced armed self-defense of black communities against what they viewed as the "foreign occupying force" of racist white police. One of the very first activities undertaken by the BPP was the citizens patrol in which they followed officers around, armed with a gun and a copy of the California Penal Code in order to 'protect' the citizens of Oakland. The Oakland Police were greatly angered by this behavior. However, because the Panthers' guns were registered and not concealed they were not in violation of any state or federal gun laws.

Political activities

The Party briefly merged with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, headed by the fiery Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Toure).

In 1967 the party organized a march on the California state capitol to protest the state's attempt to outlaw carrying loaded weapons in public. Participants in the march carried rifles.

In 1968 BPP Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver ran for Presidential office on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket with child psychologist Dr. Benjamin Spock as his running mate.

COINTELPRO & East/West split

The Party was targeted by the FBI's COINTELPRO program, which systematically attempted to disrupt their activities and dissolve the party. COINTELPRO achieved this through a combination of infiltration, public propaganda, and the exacerbation of interfactional rivalries, mostly through the mailing of anonymous or forged letters. The police tied the group up in endless prosecutions, shoot-outs, investigations, surveillance, and dirty tricks.

In one of the most notorious of such actions, the FBI and Chicago Police raided the home of talented and charismatic Panther organizer Fred Hampton on December 4, 1969. The people inside the home had been drugged by an FBI informant, William O'Neal, and were all asleep at the time of the raid. Hampton was shot and killed, as was the guard, Mark Clark. The others in the home were then dragged into the street and beaten and subsequently charged with assault. These charges were later dropped. [3]

While part of the organization was already participating in, or on the fringes of local government social services, another group was in constant run-ins with the police. The separation between political action, criminal activity, social services, access to power, and grass-roots identity became confused in bizarre and contradictory ways. As a result, the Panther's political momentum got bogged down in navigating the criminal justice system.

Support for the Panthers became widespread and was characterized by the now famous clenched-fist salute at the 1968 Olympics by two medalists during the playing of the American national anthem.

Political and Legal Representation

Among others, the Black Panthers attracted a wide variety of left-wing revolutionary social and political activists, and were represented legally by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ramparts Magazine former editor, David Horowitz, before Horowitz renounced socialism and gradually drifted to the political right. Decades later, upon the death of Huey Newton (who died in a shoot-out with rival gangsters), he would remark, "He (Newton) killed a lot of people." According to Horowitz, the Black Panthers once murdered a young, white woman activist named Betty von Patten, whom he had introduced to the Party and who was representing it. After raping her, Horowitz claims, the members beat the woman to death with baseball bats.

Decay and disintegration

The Party eventually fell apart, due to rising legal costs and disputes resulting from COINTELPRO. Several prominent members went on to join the armed group, the Black Liberation Army, while others (e.g. Eldridge Cleaver) embraced a more moderate, 'pro-peace' philosophy. Many members languished in prison for years, as a result of COINTELPRO cases.

A group calling themselves the New Black Panther Party emerged from the Nation of Islam, decades after the fall of the original Black Panthers. Members of the original Black Panther Party have been publicly and adamantly critical of the 'new' party. For example, the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation insists that there "is no new Black Panther Party". A new National Alliance of Black Panthers was formed on July 31, 2004, inspired by the grassroots activism of the original orgainization, but not otherwise related. Its chairwoman is Shazza Nzingha.

Famous Black Panther Party members

See also

External links


  1. ^  Bobby Seale, Seize the Time. Black Classic Press; Reprint edition (September, 1997) p. 23, 256, 383.
  2. ^  Frank E. Smith, The Sixties and Seventies from Berkeley to Woodstock (1998)
  3. ^  Rod Bush, We Are Not What We Seem: Black Nationalism and Class Struggle in the American Century. New York University Press (March, 2000) p. 216
  • Elaine Brown, A Taste of Power : A Black Woman's Story, Anchor Books 1993
  • Lewis, John. (1998). Walking with the Wind. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0684810654, pg 353.
  • Dooley, Brian. (1998). Black and Green: The Fight for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland and Black America. Pluto Panther Party

fr:Black Panther Party it:Pantere Nere he:הפנתרים השחורים (ארה"ב)

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