This year marks the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panthers were originally founded in October of 1966 as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.
The group was formed by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in response to police brutality and misconduct in Oakland, Calif. Deeply influenced by the revolutionary philosophy of Malcolm X and shaped by the post-WWII anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America, the Black Panther Party evolved from a community-based group in Oakland, to a national movement with offices and programs throughout urban America and elsewhere.
The traditional and status quo media often portrayed the BPP as just a bunch of gun-toting militant Blacks, ignoring the significant role the Party played in shaping collective discourse within the then waning Civil Rights Movement and the emerging Black Power and Black Liberation movements.
The BPP also allied with and influenced the emergence of other groups such as the Young Lords Party and Brown Berets. It supported the American Indian Movement as well.
Contrary to the popular stereotype and myths of today, the BPP was never an organization that was racist or anti-White. Rather, it identified itself as anti-racist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist. The BPP worked with various White-led groups in support of anti-imperialism, social justice, working-class unity, unionism and opposition to the Vietnam War.
Internationally, the Black Panther Party maintained an office in Algiers, Algeria and enjoyed recognition and relationships with China, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea, Tanzania and other countries. It also influenced and served as a role model for indigenous Panther organizations in countries such as New Zealand and Israel (Sephardim Jews).
Within the U.S., the BPP initiated and maintained a number of programs aimed at ‘serving the people’. Most notable were the Free Breakfast Program for School Children, Liberation School, the Mark Clark Free Medical Clinic (named for slain Chicago Panther leader, Mark Clark), Free Clothing Program, free food campaigns, etc. In addition, the Black Panther newspaper had one of the largest independent circulations and distributions of its day.
Labeled by FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover as the most serious threat to the internal security of the United States, the BPP was subsequently targeted by the governments COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program). BPP leadership, members, supporters and sympathizers became the target of wiretaps, infiltrators, agent provocateurs, smear (dis-information) campaigns, criminal frame-ups (e.g., Elmer ‘Geronimo’ Pratt, the N.Y. Panther 21) and government/police initiated confrontations.
For a period of time, BPP and affiliated (e.g., National Committee to Combat Fascism/NCCF, Peoples Party II of Houston) program offices were being raided by police and government forces almost monthly. Some of the most infamous were the raids on BPP offices and affiliates in Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Houston, New Orleans and the orchestrated assassination of Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago on Dec. 4, 1969.
Eventually, the weight of movement criminalization, COINTELPRO and disjointed leadership (e.g., Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver) began to take its toll on the Panthers. Some key ideological and strategic differences were developing among leadership and came to the surface shortly after the release of Huey Newton from prison in 1970. These differences were no doubt exacerbated by COINTELPRO forces, and lead to the final fragmentation and eventual demise of the Black Panther movement.
In later years, the BPP would take a more active role in independent politics, running Party members as candidates for mayor and city council while still promoting its ‘survival’ programs and schools.
Some of the most influential and inspirational revolutionaries and radicals of the 1960’s have been associated with the Black Panther Party: Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, Kathleen Cleaver, H. ‘Rap’ Brown, Stokley Carmichael, Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, George Jackson and Mumia Abu-Jamal among others.
Many former members of the BPP continue to work as educators, community activists, organizers and advocates on behalf of social justice, community empowerment and self/group determination.
So, remember the Black Panther Party when you consider ways to reach youth with a revolutionary message of personal redemption, empowerment and social responsibility. How were they able to connect with so many poor and working class Black youth: students, gang-members, petty hustlers, war vets and young professionals?
Remember the Black Panther Party the next time you ponder why we have so much mis-education and illiteracy within the Black community: police misconduct, unchecked and unaccounted for; drug addiction and its corresponding drug and gang related violence, unabated.
Remember the Black Panther Party as you reflect on Troy Davis, the Wall Street occupation, double-digit Black unemployment and the invasion of Iraq and now, Libya.
Remember the Black Panther Party the next time you hear of mass incarceration: the first such incarceration being the ‘preventive detention’ of Black Panthers, many of whom still remain in prison some 40 years later. ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE.
Justice in Our Lifetime,
(Khalid Raheem serves as president/CEO of the National Council for Urban Peace & Justice, www.ncupj.net. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.urban-activist.com.)