The Black Panther Party (originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) was an African-American revolutionary socialist organization active in the United States from 1966 until 1982. The Black Panther Party achieved national and international notoriety through its involvement in the Black Power movement and U.S. politics of the 1960s and 1970s.
Founded in Oakland, California by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale on October 15, 1966, the organization initially set forth a doctrine calling primarily for the protection of African-American neighborhoods from police brutality. The leaders of the organization espoused socialist and Marxist doctrines; however, the Party’s early black nationalist reputation attracted a diverse membership. The Black Panther Party’s objectives and philosophy expanded and evolved rapidly during the party’s existence, making ideological consensus within the party difficult to achieve, and causing some prominent members to openly disagree with the views of the leaders.
The organization’s official newspaper, The Black Panther, was first circulated in 1967. Also that year, the Black Panther Party marched on the California State Capitol in Sacramento in protest of a selective ban on weapons. By 1968, the party had expanded into many cities throughout the United States, among them, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Newark, New Orleans, New York City, Omaha, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.. Peak membership was near 10,000 by 1969, and their newspaper, under the editorial leadership of Eldridge Cleaver, had a circulation of 250,000. The group created a Ten-Point Program, a document that called for “Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace”, as well as exemption from conscription for African-American men, among other demands. With the Ten-Point program, “What We Want, What We Believe”, the Black Panther Party expressed its economic and political grievances.
Gaining national prominence, the Black Panther Party became an icon of the counterculture of the 1960s. Ultimately, the Panthers condemned black nationalism as “black racism” and became more focused on socialism without racial exclusivity. They instituted a variety of community social programs designed to alleviate poverty, improve health among inner city black communities, and soften the Party’s public image. The Black Panther Party’s most widely known programs were its armed citizens’ patrols to evaluate behavior of police officers and its Free Breakfast for Children program. However, the group’s political goals were often overshadowed by their criminality and their confrontational, militant, and violent tactics against police.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover called the party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and he supervised an extensive program (COINTELPRO) of surveillance, infiltration, perjury, police harassment, assassination, and many other tactics designed to undermine Panther leadership, incriminate party members and drain the organization of resources and manpower. Through these tactics, Hoover hoped to diminish the Party’s threat to the general power structure of the U.S., or even maintain its influence as a strong undercurrent. Angela Davis, Ward Churchill, and others have alleged that federal, state and local law enforcement officials went to great lengths to discredit and destroy the organization, including assassination. Black Panther Party membership reached a peak of 10,000 by early 1969, then suffered a series of contractions due to legal troubles, incarcerations, internal splits, expulsions and defections. Popular support for the Party declined further after reports appeared detailing the group’s involvement in activities such as drug dealing and extortion schemes directed against Oakland merchants. By 1972 most Panther activity centered around the national headquarters and a school in Oakland, where the party continued to influence local politics. Party contractions continued throughout the 1970s; by 1980 the Black Panther Party comprised just 27 members.
In 1966, Huey P. Newton was released from jail. With his friend Bobby Seale from Oakland City College, he joined a black power group called the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM). RAM had a chapter in Oakland and followed the writings of Robert F. Williams. Williams had been the president of the Monroe, North Carolina branch of the NAACP and later published a newsletter called The Crusader from Cuba, where he fled to escape kidnapping charges.
They worked at the North Oakland Neighborhood Anti-Poverty Center, where they also served on the advisory board. To combat police brutality, the advisory board obtained 5,000 signatures in support of the City Council’s setting up a police review board to review complaints. Newton was also taking classes at the City College and at San Francisco Law School. Both institutions were active in the North Oakland Center. Thus the pair had numerous connections with whom they talked about a new organization. Inspired by the success of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization and Stokely Carmichael’s calls for separate black political organizations, they wrote their initial platform statement, the Ten-Point Program. With the help of Huey’s brother Melvin, they decided on a uniform of blue shirts, black pants, black leather jackets, black berets, and openly displayed loaded shotguns. (In his studies, Newton had discovered a California law that allowed carrying a loaded rifle or shotgun in public, as long as it was publicly displayed and pointed at no one.)
What became standard Black Panther discourse emerged from a long history of urban activism, social criticism and political struggle by African Americans. There is considerable debate about the impact that the Black Panther Party had on the greater society, or even their local environment. Author Jama Lazerow writes “As inheritors of the discipline, pride, and calm self-assurance preached by Malcolm X, the Panthers became national heroes in African American communities by infusing abstract nationalism with street toughness—by joining the rhythms of black working-class youth culture to the interracial élan and effervescence of Bay Area New Left politics…In 1966, the Panthers defined Oakland’s ghetto as a territory, the police as interlopers, and the Panther mission as the defense of community. The Panthers’ famous “policing the police” drew attention to the spatial remove that White Americans enjoyed from the state violence that had come to characterize life in black urban communities.” In his book Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America journalist Hugh Pearson takes a more jaundiced view, linking Panther criminality and violence to worsening conditions in America’s black ghettos as their influence spread nationwide. Similarly, journalist Kate Coleman writes regarding a 2003 Panther conference at Boston’s Wheelock College, “If the Wheelock conference wanted to examine the real legacy of the Panthers, its participants should have pored over the cold statistics showing a spike in drive-by shooting deaths and gang warfare that took place in Oakland in the decade following the Panthers’ demise. The Black Panther Party had so fetishized the gun as part of its mystique that young men in the ghetto felt incomplete without one.…The Panther fetish of the gun, worshiped by impressionable young black males, maimed hundreds of black citizens in Oakland more surely than any bully cops.”
Inspired by Mao Zedong’s advice to revolutionaries in The Little Red Book, Newton called on the Panthers to “serve the people” and to make “survival programs” a priority within its branches. The most famous of their programs was the Free Breakfast for Children Program, initially run out of an Oakland church.
Other survival programs were free services such as clothing distribution, classes on politics and economics, free medical clinics, lessons on self-defense and first aid, transportation to upstate prisons for family members of inmates, an emergency-response ambulance program, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and testing for sickle-cell disease.
The BPP also founded the “Intercommunal Youth Institute” in January 1971, with the intent of demonstrating how black youth ought to be educated. Ericka Huggins was the director of the school and Regina Davis was an administrator. The school was unique in that it didn’t have grade levels but instead had different skill levels so an 11 year old could be in second-level English and fifth-level science. Elaine Brown taught reading and writing to a group of 10 to 11 year olds deemed “uneducable” by the system. As the school children were given free busing; breakfast, lunch, and dinner; books and school supplies; children were taken to have medical checkups; and many children were given free clothes.
The Party briefly merged with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, headed by Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture). 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 after the Panthers had begun exercising that right. 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. They were a big influence on the White Panther Party, that was tied to the Detroit/Ann Arbor band MC5 and their manager John Sinclair, author of the book Guitar Army that also promulgated a ten-point program.
Conflict with law enforcement
One of the central aims of the BPP was to stop abuse by local police departments. When the party was founded in 1966, only 16 of Oakland’s 661 police officers were African American. Accordingly, many members questioned the Department’s objectivity and impartiality. This situation was not unique to Oakland, as most police departments in major cities did not have proportional membership by African Americans. Throughout the 1960s, race riots and civil unrest broke out in impoverished African-American communities subject to policing by disproportionately white police departments. The work and writings of Robert F. Williams, Monroe, North Carolina NAACP chapter president and author of Negroes with Guns, also influenced the BPP’s tactics.
The BPP sought to oppose police brutality through neighborhood patrols (an approach since adopted by groups such as Copwatch). Police officers were often followed by armed Black Panthers who sought at times to aid African-Americans who were victims of police brutality and racial prejudice. Both Panthers and police died as a result of violent confrontations. By 1970, 34 Panthers had died as a result of police raids, shoot-outs and internal conflict. Various police organizations claim the Black Panthers were responsible for the deaths of at least 15 law enforcement officers and the injuries of dozens more. During those years, juries found several BPP members guilty of violent crimes.
On October 17, 1967, Oakland police officer John Frey was shot to death in an altercation with Huey P. Newton during a traffic stop. In the stop, Newton and backup officer Herbert Heanes also suffered gunshot wounds. Newton was arrested and charged with murder, which sparked a “free Huey” campaign, organized by Eldridge Cleaver to help Newton’s legal defense. Newton was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, though after three years in prison he was released when his conviction was reversed on appeal. During later years Newton would boast to friend and sociobiologist Robert Trivers (one of the few whites who became a Party member during its waning years) that he had in fact murdered officer John Frey and never regretted it.
In April 1968, the party was involved in a gun battle, in which Panther Bobby Hutton was killed. Cleaver, who was wounded, later said that he had led the Panther group on a deliberate ambush of the police officers, thus provoking the shoot-out. In Chicago, on 4 Dec 1969, two Panthers were killed when the Chicago Police raided the home of Panther leader Fred Hampton. The raid had been orchestrated by the police in conjunction with the FBI; during this era the FBI was complicit in many local police actions. Hampton was shot and killed, as was Panther guard Mark Clark. Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan, his assistant and eight Chicago police officers were indicted by a federal grand jury over the raid, but the charges were later dismissed.
Prominent Black Panther member H. Rap Brown is serving life imprisonment for the 2000 murder of Ricky Leon Kinchen, a Fulton County, Georgia sheriff’s deputy, and the wounding of another officer in a gunbattle. Both officers were black.
From 1966 to 1972, when the party was most active, several departments hired significantly more African-American police officers. During this time period, many African American police officers started to form organizations of their own to become more protective of the African American citizenry and to increase black representation on police forces.
Conflict with COINTELPRO
In August 1967, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) instructed its program “COINTELPRO” to “neutralize” what the FBI called “black nationalist hate groups” and other dissident groups. In September 1968, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover described the Black Panthers as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” By 1969, the Black Panthers and their allies had become primary COINTELPRO targets, singled out in 233 of the 295 authorized “Black Nationalist” COINTELPRO actions. The goals of the program were to prevent the unification of militant black nationalist groups and to weaken the power of their leaders, as well as to discredit the groups to reduce their support and growth. The initial targets included the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Revolutionary Action Movement and the Nation of Islam. Leaders who were targeted included the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Maxwell Stanford and Elijah Muhammad.
Part of the FBI COINTELPRO actions were directed at creating and exploiting existing rivalries between black nationalist factions. One such attempt was to “intensify the degree of animosity” between the Black Panthers and the Blackstone Rangers, a Chicago street gang. They sent an anonymous letter to the Ranger’s gang leader claiming that the Panthers were threatening his life, a letter whose intent was to induce “reprisals” against Panther leadership. In Southern California similar actions were taken to exacerbate a “gang war” between the Black Panther Party and a group called the US Organization. It was alleged that the FBI had sent a provocative letter to the US Organization in an attempt to increase existing antagonism between US and the Panthers.
- ^ , Curtis. Life of A Party. Crisis ; Sep/Oct2006, Vol. 113 Issue 5, p30-37, 8p
- ^ “Black Panther Party”. Encyclopædia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9015498/Black-Panther-Party. Retrieved March 27, 2008.
- ^ Jessica Christina Harris. Revolutionary Black Nationalism: The Black Panther Party.” Journal of Negro History, Vol. 85, No. 3 (Summer, 2000), pp. 162–174
- ^ a b Asante, Molefi K. (2005). Encyclopedia of Black Studies. Sage Publications Inc.. pp. 135–137. ISBN 0-7619-2762-X.
- ^ Newton, Huey (October 15, 1966). “The Ten-Point Program”. War Against the Panthers. Marxist.org. http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/workers/black-panthers/1966/10/15.htm. Retrieved June 5, 2006.
- ^ Lazerow, Jama; Yohuru R. Williams (2006). In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement. Duke University: Duke University Press.pg. 46
- ^ [|Da Costa, Francisco]. “The Black Panther Party”. http://www.franciscodacosta.com/articles/BPP.html. Retrieved June 5, 2006.
- ^ Seale, Bobby (September 1997). Seize the Time (Reprint ed.). Black Classic Press. pp. 23, 256, 383.
- ^ a b c Pearson, Hugh (1994). In the Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America. Perseus Books. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-201-48341-3.
- ^ Westneat, Danny (June 1, 2005). “Reunion of Black Panthers stirs memories of aggression, activism”. The Seattle Times. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2002270461_danny11.html. Retrieved June 5, 2006.
- ^ “Hoover and the F.B.I.”. Luna Ray Films, LLC. PBS.org. http://www.pbs.org/hueypnewton/people/people_hoover.html. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
- ^ a b Lazerow, Jama; Yohuru R. Williams (2006). In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement. Duke University: Duke University Press.
- ^ The Angela Y. Davis Reader, p.11, “[P]olice, assisted by federal agents, had killed or assassinated over twenty black revolutionaries in the Black Panther Party.” She cites on page 23 (citation # 26) Joanne Grant, Ward Churchill and Jim Van der Wall (see below), and Clayborne Carson. (Davis, Angela Y. The Angela Y. Davis Reader Blackwell Publishers (1998))
- ^ Ellis, Catherine; Smith, Stephen Drury, eds. (2010). Say It Loud!: Great Speeches on Civil Rights and African American Identity. New York: The New Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-59558-113-6. “FBI director J. Edgar Hoover ordered a wide-ranging counterintelligence program designed to ‘expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize’ the Black Panther Party and other black liberation groups. Enlisting local law enforcement agencies nationwide, the FBI ‘declared war on the Panthers.'”
- ^ Pearson, Hugh (1994). In the Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America. Perseus Books. pp. 180–181. ISBN 978-0-201-48341-3.
- ^ Phillip Forner. The Black Panthers speak. 2002
- ^ Up Against the Wall, Curtis Austin, University of Arkansas Press, Fayettevill, 2006, p. 331
- ^ Barksdale, M. C. (1984). “Robert F. Williams and the Indigenous Civil Rights Movement in Monroe, North Carolina, 1961”. The Journal of Negro History 69 (2): 73–89. doi:10.2307/2717599. JSTOR 2717599.
- ^ Lowndes County Freedom Organization | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed
- ^ For more on this, see Pearson 1994, page 109. The Mulford Act later revoked the right to openly bear arms.
- ^ a b Pearson, Hugh (1994). In the Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America. Perseus Books. ISBN 978-0-201-48341-3.
- ^ “Just a Pack of Predators – Los Angeles Times”. Los Angeles Times. 2003-06-22. http://articles.latimes.com/2003/jun/22/opinion/op-coleman22. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
- ^ Kate Coleman (2003-06-15). “REVISIONISM / Guess Who’s Mything Them Now / The real Black Panthers were a bunch of thugs”. SFGate. http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/REVISIONISM-Guess-Who-s-Mything-Them-Now-The-2609696.php. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
- ^ Black Panthers: A Taut, Violent Drama St. Petersburg Times, Sunday, July 21, 1968 Special to the St. Petersburg Times from the New York Times
- ^ a b c Pearson 1994, pp. 3–4, 283–91
- ^ A year ago, James wrote… (2011-05-08). “H. Rap Brown & Stokely Carmichael in Oakland – DIVA”. Diva.sfsu.edu. https://diva.sfsu.edu/bundles/189468. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
- ^ Up Against the Wall, Curtis Austin, University of Arkansas Press, Fayettevill, 2006, p. 80
- ^ a b c Kate Coleman, 1980, “Souled Out: Eldridge Cleaver Admits He Ambushed Those Cops.” New West Magazine.
- ^ a b A discussion of the event can be found in Epstein, Edward Jay. The Black Panthers and the Police: A Pattern of Genocide? The New Yorker, (February 13, 1971) page 4 (Accessed here  June 8, 2007)
- ^ Pearson, Hugh (1994). In the Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America. Perseus Books. pp. 152–158. ISBN 978-0-201-48341-3.
- ^ Pearson 1994, page 175
- ^ Up Against the Wall, Curtis Austin, University of Arkansas Press, Fayettevill, 2006, p.170
- ^ FrontPage Magazine – Black Murder Inc
- ^ Lilia Fernandez, Latina/o Migration and Community Formation in Postwar Chicago: Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Gender and Politics, 1945-1975 (PhD Dissertation:2005)
- ^ Chuck Armsbury with the Patriot Party
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Linda Lumsden, Good Mothers With Guns: Framing Black Womanhood in the Black Panther, 1968-1980, J & MC Quartelry 86/4 (Winter 2009)
- ^ a b c d Jakobi Williams, “Don’t no woman have to do nothing she don’t want to do”: Gender, Activism, and the Illinois Black Panther Party, Black Women, Gender & Families 6/2 (Fall 2012)
- ^ a b c d e f g h Janiece L. Blackmon, I Am Because We Are: Africana Womanism as a Vehicle of Empowerment and Influence”, Blacksburg, VA, Virginia Polytechnic Institute (2008)
- ^ Regina Jennings, Africana Womanism in the Black Panthers Party: a Personal story, The Western Journal of Black Study 25/3 (2001)
- ^ Up Against the Wall, Curtis Austin, University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, 2006, p. 300-01
- ^ The Rules Of the Panthers
- ^ Rules of the Black Panther Party
- ^ Black Panther Party Platform, Program, and Rules
- ^ Up Against the Wall, Curtis Austin, University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, 2006, p. 353-55
- ^ Ten-Point Program and Platform of the Black Student Unions
- ^ Contemporary American Voices: Significant Speeches in American History: 1945 – present, by James Robertson Andrews & David Zarefsky, Longman, 1992, pg 105
- ^ Reunion of Black Panthers stirs memories of aggression, activism
- ^ Jones, Charles Earl. The Black Panther Reconsidered . Black Classic Press, 1998. Pg. 186
- ^ a b Brown, Elaine. A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story. 1st ed. New York: Pantheon Books, 1992. Pg.391
- ^ Brown, Elaine. A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story. 1st ed.. New York: Pantheon Books, 1992. Pg.392
- ^ Brown, Elaine. A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story. 1st ed.. New York: Pantheon Books, 1992. Pg.393
- ^ The Black Panthers by Jessica McElrath, published as a part of afroamhistory.about.com. Retrieved December 17, 2005.
- ^ from an interview with Kathleen Cleaver on May 7, 2002 published by the PBS program P.O.V. and being published in Introduction to Black Panther 1968: Photographs by Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones, (Greybull Press). Black Panthers 1968
- ^ The Officer Down Memorial
- ^ Michael Newton The encyclopedia of American law enforcement. 2007
- ^ End of Watch, Southern Poverty Law Center
- ^ The Anguish of Blacks in Blue
- ^ Stohl, Michael. The Politics of Terrorism CRC Press. Page 249
- ^ “Black Panther Party Pieces of History: 1966–1969”. Itsabouttimebpp.com. http://www.itsabouttimebpp.com/Chapter_History/BPP_Pieces_of_History.html. Retrieved August 27, 2010.