An Introduction to the History and Programs of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense
For 10 years, from 1966 to 1976, the Black Panther Party (BPP) protected Black communities from police brutality with armed community patrols, ran popular community service programs such as Free Breakfast for Children, operated consumer health programs, community education programs, and stood as an example to African Americans of the time the power of political activism. The Black Panther Party was the offspring of Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association, Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), and the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM). The Panthers served as the prototype for many movements alive today, and remain a legendary part of Black History.
African American men and women – and Black people worldwide – can learn form the effective political strategies used by the Black Panther Party, the social programs (known as ‘survival programs’) they leveraged to ease poverty, and just how far the United States will go to suppress real activism.
History of the Black Panther Party
In order to understand how the Black Panther Party came to power, one must understand the atmosphere of the 1960s, particularly 1968. The Vietnam war was raging and the Tet Offensive had just begun. Blacks were becoming disillusioned with the results of the “end of segregation” (Brown v Board of Education in 1954 and then-President Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1968) when it became evident that Klansmen had traded their hoods for police badges. Martin Luther King, JR had been assassinated in March, Malcolm X had been assassinated only three years earlier, and racial tensions were high. A civil rights protest staged at a white-only bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina was broken up by state highway patrolmen; 3 college students are killed. College campuses became cauldrons of unrest, particularly amongst young, black students. For instance, students at Howard University in Washington, D.C., protest by staging and a 5-day sit-in, laying siege to the administration building, and shutting down the university in protest over its ROTC program and the Vietnam War, and demanding a more Afrocentric curriculum. Skirmishes and political uprisings became increasingly more commonplace.
Both Bobby Seal and Huey P. Newton were both students at Merritt College in Oakland California during this time. Both resided in the crime and poverty stricken communities where police attacks against blacks were commonplace, and only 16 of Oakland’s 661 police officers were black. News of the killings of young Black college students and innocent civilians prompted the two to organize the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
The Party’s initial objective was the protection of the community by armed men (Huey P. Newton had found a law that permitted the carry of loaded shotguns as long as the weapon was visible and not pointed at anyone). The Panthers also began to hold student rallies, political protests and demonstrations, and launched dozens of dozens of community “survival programs”. The greatest of these programs was arguably the Oakland Learning Center – an all encompassing educational and cultural center where children and adults learned culture, history, martial arts, reading, writing, and arithmetic all from and Afrocentric perspective.
Full List of Black Panther Party “Survival Programs”
|1. Alameda County Volunteer Bureau Work Site
2. Benefit Counseling
3. Black Student Alliance
4. Child Development Center
5. Consumer Education Classes
6. Community Facility Use
7. Community Health Classes
8. East Oakland CIL (Center for Independent Living) Branch
9. Community Pantry (Free Food Program)
10. Drug/Alcohol Abuse Awareness Program
11. Drama Classes
12. Disabled Persons Services/Transportation and Attendant
13. Drill Team
14. Employment Referral Service
15. Free Ambulance Program
16. Free Breakfast for Children Programs
17. Free Busing to Prisons Program
18. Free Clothing Program
19. Free Commissary for Prisoners Program
20. Free Dental Program
21. Free Employment Program
|22. Free Food Program
23. Free Film Series
24. Free Furniture Program
25. Free Health Clinics
26. Free Housing Cooperative Program
27. Food Cooperative Program
28. Free Optometry Program
29. Community Forum
30. Free Pest Control Program
31. Free Plumbing and Maintenance Program
32. Free Shoe Program
33. GED Classes
34. Geriatric Health Center
35. GYN Clinic
36. Home SAFE Visits
37. Intercommunal Youth Institute (becomes OCS by 1975)
38. Junior and High School Tutorial Program
39. Legal Aid and Education
40. Legal Clinic/Workshops
41. Laney Experimental College Extension Site
42. Legal Referral Service(s)
|43. Liberation Schools
44. Martial Arts Program
45. Nutrition Classes
46. Oakland Community Learning Center
47. Outreach Preventative Care
48. Program Development
49. Pediatric Clinic
50. police patrols
51. Seniors Against a Fearful Environment
52. SAFE Club
53. Sickle Cell Anemia Research Foundation
54. Son of Man Temple (becomes Community Forum by 1976)
56. Senior Switchboard
57. The Black Panther Newspaper
58. Teen Council
59. Teen Program
60. U.C. Berkeley Students Health Program
61. V.D. Preventative Screening & Counseling
62. Visiting Nurses Program
63. WIC (Women Infants, and Children) Program
64. Youth Diversion and Probation Site
65. Youth Training and Development
While Black Panther Party programs gained widespread popularity amongst the oppressed masses, the “policing the police” program” attracted the attention of the FBI’s COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program) began a series of covert, and often illegal, projects aimed at watching, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting the Party.
COINTELPRO tactics included discrediting targets through psychological warfare such as planting false reports in the media, smearing through forged letters, harassment, wrongful imprisonment, and extralegal violence and assassination. Covert operations under COINTELPRO took place between 1956 and 1971, however the FBI has used covert operations against domestic political groups since its inception. The FBI’s stated motivation at the time was “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order.” – Wikipedia
It is the authors opinion that the COINTEL program is what single-handedly led to the decline of the Black Panther Party.
The Decline of the Black Panther Party
COINTELPRO operations began to focus almost completely on the Black Panther Party and its members. The federal government launched an atrocious secret war that included the following illegal offenses:
- On February 8, 1968, on the campus of South Carolina State College, local police backed by the National Guard fire on a crowd of unarmed students; 33 black activists are shot, and three die.
- In March of 1968, Arthur (Glen) Morris, brother of Bunchy Carter, is shot and killed by “agents” of the U.S. government. He is the first member of the Black Panther Party to be killed. Anthony Coltrale is killed in Watts by a local police officer, and the Kansas City Black Panther Party office is raided by police and five Panthers are arrested.
- In April of 1968, an Oakland police shoot-out results in the murder of Bobby Hutton; Eldridge Cleaver is wounded. Seven other Panthers are arrested. That month, an Oakland police shoot-out results in the murder of Bobby Hutton; Eldridge Cleaver is wounded. Seven other Panthers are arrested.
- In July of 1968, The Seattle Black Panther Party office is raided by local police. Captain Aaron Dixon of the Seattle Black Panther Party and Panther Curtis Harris are arrested for grand larceny. Both are eventually found not guilty. Captain Dexter Woods of the San Francisco BPP arrested for interference with police.
- In 1969, Chicago Panther David Smith is arrested for selling the Black Panther Party newspaper – yeas, you read that right – arrested for selling a newspaper! In that same year, Panthers Joel Brown and Ron Davis are attacked, maced, and arrested by police for allegedly blocking a public walkway while selling Black Panther Party newspapers, and the San Diego and Sacramento Black Panther Party offices are raided.
These are just a few of the offenses committed against the Panthers. Hundreds of others were falsely imprisoned or flat our murdered. Because of the effectiveness of their programs and their political alignment with socialist and communist principles, the government of the United States believed it was justified in waging an atrocious black war against the organization. No other contemporary organization faced this kind of oppression.
The FBI COINTELPRO was effecting in bogging the Black Panther Party down in the criminal justice system. Dissension began to arise amongst its members over conflicting political doctrines and tactics. Raids and legal costs drained the Party of its resources, and with many of its leaders dead, imprisoned, or exiled – Huey had fled to Cuba to avoid prosecution for a crime in 1974-membership and activity began to decline.
The Party was officially dissolved in 1976.
The New Black Panther Party
The Black Panther Party has seen a revival of interest. The movie Panther (1995) introduced a new generation to the Black Panther Party , and several Panther organizations have arisen to carry on the banner of social activism and the 10 – Point Plan. These organizations include The New Black Panther Party, under the leadership of Malik Zulu Shabazz, and The National Alliance of Black Panthers under Shazza Nzingha. Although these organizations seek to claim the Panther legacy, the original party members contend that the party is dead, and that these organizations do not reflect the views or the spirits of its founders.
The author urges all readers to educate themselves on the MOVE-9 Appeal,and the other men and women who are living victims of the crooked U.S. Government and Law Enforcement policies.
Eight former Black Panthers are currently in prison in California on charges related to the 1971 killing of a San Francisco police officer. Similar charges were thrown out back in 1975 after it was determined that the evidence used to indict the men was extracted by police torture. Two of the men have been held as political prisoners the past thirty years in New York State prisons, but the other six have been living regular lives, working and raising families. A ninth man is still being sought by the police.
These men, known collectively as the San Francisco 8 are being held on $3 million bail each. This bail is considered excessive and the men, their legal team and their supporters are trying to get it reduced so that those members of the SF 8 who are not currently serving time can go home during the upcoming legal proceedings. The struggle to gain these men’s freedom is gaining but will require much more public support. In a manner similar to the campaign waged in 1971-1972 to free Angela Davis and the ongoing campaign to free Mumia Abu Jamal, this campaign must become a widespread and international campaign. – http://dissidentvoice.org
The fight continues!