Power to the People — Remembering the Black Panther Party


Forty-seven years ago this month the Black Panther Party for  Self-Defense was formed in Oakland, California. For almost 16 years the Party  represented one of the most influential radical, progressive organizations in  the history of the U.S.

“This country is a nation of thieves. It stole everything it  has, beginning with Black people. The U.S. cannot justify its existence as the  policeman of the world any longer. . .I don’t want to be part of that system. We  must question whether or not we want this country to continue being the  wealthiest country in the world at the price of raping everybody else.”

Stokely Carmichael, Honorary Prime Minister of the BPP

It all began with two college students;  Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. They both 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 handle complaints. Seale was  taking classes at Oakland City College, while Newton attended both San Francisco  Law School and City College. Both institutions were active in the North Oakland  Center.

With their numerous connections, Newton  and Seale decided to start their own organization. “Inspired by the success of  the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, in Mississippi, and  Carmichael’s calls for separate Black political organizing, 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, as long as it was publicly displayed and pointed at no one.)

What were some of the broader  historical factors that led to the founding of the Black Panther Party in 1966?  The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) emerged  in 1960 as the organizational consolidation of the spontaneous sit-in movement  that had begun in Greensboro, North Carolina, when four Black students sat in at  a Woolworth’s lunch counter, which refused to serve them. Less than a month  after the celebrated March on Washington, in 1963, four Black  children died in a bombing at a Birmingham, Alabama church. During the ‘long  hot summer’ of 1964, there was unprecedented racial violence in the cities and  against hundreds of volunteers who had gone to Mississippi to work on voter  registration drives and other projects. On March 7, 1965 (what was to become  known as ‘Bloody Sunday“) state troopers and Dallas county  deputies beat and gassed demonstrators marching for voting rights in Selma,  Alabama.

This period sparked a reconsideration  of non-violence as a tactic in the movement. Bob Moses, a  leading SNCC activist in Mississippi, captured the essence of the ideological  struggle:

“We don’t agree with it, in a sense.  The majority of the students are not sympathetic to the idea that they have to  love the White people that they are struggling against. But there are a few who  have a very religious orientation. And there’s a constant dialogue at meetings  about non-violence and the meaning of it. For most of the members it is a  question of being able to have a method of attack rather than to be always on  the defensive.”

The Black Panther Party For  Self-Defense’s Ten-Point Program read:

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 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, 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 other Black communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United  States.

10. We want land, bread, housing,  education, clothing, justice and peace. And, as our major political objective, a  United Nations-supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the Black colony in  which only Black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate, for the  purpose of determining the will of Black people as to their national destiny. .  . (The Ten-Point Platform concludes with an excerpt from the U.S. Declaration of  Independence.)

By 1968, the BPP had grown rapidly;  transforming itself from a locally-based group to a national one. In 1969, it  had over 5,000 members in forty chapters. ‘Survival’ programs were set up to  provide immediate relief for local communities to operate in. The most  successful of these was the Free Breakfast for Children  Program, the brainchild of its chairman, Bobby Seale. “In October,  1968, the BPP newspaper advertised for volunteers to prepare and serve free  breakfasts in Berkeley, California. The program spread quickly to churches,  community centers, and auditoriums in San Francisco and Oakland. By the end of  1969, breakfasts were being served in nineteen cities under the sponsorship of  the national headquarters and twenty-three local affiliates. More than twenty  thousand children received full free breakfasts before going to school.”

Liberation, Imagination and the  Black Panther Party, Edited by George Katsiaficas and Kathleen Cleaver

“The offices were like buzzing beehives  of Black resistance. It was always busy, as people piled in, starting at 7 a.m.  opening time, and continuing ’til after nightfall. People came with every  problem imaginable and because our sworn duty was to serve the people, we took  our commitment seriously. When people had been badly treated by the cops or if  parents were demanding a traffic light on North Philly streets where their  children played, they came to our offices. In short, whatever our peoples’  problems were, they became our problems. We didn’t preach to the people. We  worked with them.”

Mumia Abu-Jamal

From August 1969 through 1970 the Black  Panther Party established an array of community programs across the country. In  addition to the breakfast program, there were: ‘liberation’ schools’,  health clinics, food, clothing and shoes distribution, busing for prison visits,  housing cooperatives, pest control, plumbing and maintenance, legal aid, renters  assistance, senior escorts, ambulance services and a Sickle Cell Anemia Research  Foundation - all free of charge, utilizing volunteers who were both  paraprofessional and professional. Many of these programs were short lived,  depending upon the strength and viability of a given chapter at a particular  time.

Official repression occurred almost  from the beginning. In 1967 Newton was incarcerated after a violent  confrontation with an Oakland police officer, which left him wounded and the  officer dead. Ultimately, after two trials – one ending in a hung jury -  Newton  was allowed to go free, having been jailed for three years. On September 8,  1968, FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, declared that the BPP was,  “the greatest threat to the internal security of the U.S.” This precipitated a  national campaign to destroy the organization.

“No aspect of the Black Panther program  was of greater concern to the FBI than the Free Breakfast for Children Program,  which fostered support for the Panthers revolutionary politics. Hoover drove  home this point in an ‘airtel’ to the special agent in charge in San Francisco,  on May 27, 1969:

You state that the Bureau should not  attack programs of community interest, such as the Breakfast for Children. You  state that this is because many prominent ‘humanitarians’, both Black and White,  are interested in the program, as well as churches, which are actively  supporting it. You have obviously missed the point . . . You must recognize that  one of our primary aims in counterintelligence, as it concerns the Party, is to  keep this group isolated from the moderate Black and White community  which may support it. This is most emphatically pointed out in their Breakfast  for Children Program, where they are actively soliciting and receiving support from uninformed Whites and moderate Blacks.”

Blacks Against Empire, Joshua  Bloom and Waldo E. Martin,Jr – Pg.134

. . . to be continued . . .

Read more:  http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/360836#ixzz2ivhMNoxC

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9 thoughts on “Power to the People — Remembering the Black Panther Party

  1. Moorbey it is always important to remember where your roots are and who you are and what’s happens in ones life good and the bad which makes us who we are. Should be proud of whom you are and your people as one nation. Never ever let anyone tell you otherwise yeah. Always be proud of all you do for your people. It is an honour and privilege to meet your and fellow Panthers, am truly humbled. Thank you. Big warm Hugs to you and fellow Panthers. Keep up the good work and the good fight for you and the people.In Solidarity. Mitakye O’yasin All My Relations AHO!! :)

    • I fight f4 tha nu-afrikan but az my elderz taught me many yearz ago that az bpp memberz, associatez, followerz that we fight 4 all oppressed people of tha world becaue most oppressed people and nationz are people of colour. So it iz my duty to speak on it and blog about injusticez being committed against people colour. Panther Love

  2. Pingback: Grits of Gratuity: The Free Breakfast Program of the Black Panther Party | occupycuisine

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  4. Pingback: From Black & Panther to Black & Poly: An Interview with Ex-Black Panther Kato Cooks | BLACK & POLY

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