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Black Panther Party

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Logo of the Black Panther Party

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 the late 1960s 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 (which included outright assassination of activists as well as arrests and stirring-up of factional rivalries via infiltration). It is best known for its Free Breakfast for Children program, its use of the term "Pigs" to describe police officers and for once carrying guns on the floor of the California Assembly.

Contents

Foundation

The party was founded by classmates Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966 in the city of Oakland, California. The party was created to further the 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. The party rejected the integrationist, nonviolent stance of Martin Luther King, and made it clear from the beginning that it sought no compromise with the "white power structure". The party similarly rejected nonviolence as a 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").

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". 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). 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 Stokely Carmichael's famous slogan, "Black Power!" [1 (http://www.fsmitha.com/h2/ch28.htm)].

Origin of the name

SNCC 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 black 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 [1] (http://lists.village.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resources/Primary/Manifestos/Panther_platform.html) 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.

The Ten Points:

  1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
  2. We want full employment for our people.
  3. We want an end to the robbery by the white man of our Black Community.
  4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
  5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.
  6. We want all black men to be exempt from military service.
  7. We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.
  8. We want freedom for all black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
  9. We want all black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
  10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

Community work

The Party began a variety of pioneering community programs, initially in the Oakland area, including a sickle-cell anemia testing program, 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 anemia. 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.

Self-defense

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 activites

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, assassinations, 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.

In another incident, Panthers Bunchy Carter and John Huggins were killed at UCLA campus in 1969. Although the two were killed by a rival Black Power group called US created by Maulana Karenga, the local director of COINTELPRO took credit for the killings in internal FBI memos, claiming that a series of forged documents from his office led directly to the shootings.

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.

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 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 them. For example, the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation insists that there "is no new Black Panther Party" (http://www.blackpanther.org/newsalert.htm). 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

References

  • Seale, Bobby. (1968). Seize the time. Black Classic Press; Reprint edition (September 1997).
  • Lewis, John. (1998). Walking with the Wind. Simon and Schuster. ISBN0684810654, pg 353.de:Black Panther Party

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