An unidentified man raises his fist in defiance at a protests against the incarceration of members of the Black Panthers, New York, New York, November 17, 1969. The protesters were demanding the release of 21 Black Panther members suspected of plotting various bombing incidents around the city. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)
The Black Panther Party was a militant self-defense organization for minority groups founded in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Its goal, according to marxist.org, was to “establish revolutionary socialism through mass organizing and community based programs.” The Black Panthers existed outside of the Civil Rights social movement of the 60s because the followers were socialists who used tactics comparable to guerilla warfare. The philosophy was that there was a social war happening in America at that time, and the only way to be heard and recognized was to fight and help your own.
The teachings of Malcolm X were firmly rooted in the founding of The Black Panther Party, for he was a man who spoke about “fighting with dignity” while also reminding angry activists to help other minorities through social programs. Though the mainstream media has often perceived the group to be senseless and violent, it is known that they commonly united with other white and minority revolutionary groups in order to create a unified front. Overall, it was representative of a peaceful society where the relationship between people could transcend racial and gender boundaries, but they were not ignorant to the force they would have to use in order to achieve this dream.
In the beginning of the group’s campaign, a war between the police force and the black community was raging in Oakland, CA (and throughout the rest of the country). 17-year-old Bobby Hutton was shot in the back 10 times and died. This was just days before the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, who was known at the time to be one of the very few white politicians who was “sympathetic” of the Civil Rights and black liberation movements.
President Hoover is quoted calling the Panthers “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” The President’s antagonization of the Party made the rest of white society suspicious and afraid of their philosophies, further alienating their goals. Anyone can find a copy of the Black Panthers’ “Ten-Points Program” document online, which states a variety of demands and goals the Party had including: “we want full employment for our people,” “we want an end to the bobbery by the capitalists of our black community,” and “we want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.”
The history of the Panthers is reminiscent of the current political climate. In the past few years, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has been associated with violence, radicalism, inhumane treatment of police officers, and considered an overall danger to American society “as we know it.” According to the movement’s website, blacklivesmatter.com, they are a “chapter-based national organization working for the validity of Black life. We are working to (re)build the Black liberation movement.” It was created in 2012 after Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman, who was acquitted for his crime. It is haunting how history is repeating itself again in a time some of us view as a more “free” period in American history and politics. The new administration is threatening the rise of another war between the races and political parties, due to their lack of understanding in regards to the goals of another black liberation movement. Though the future cannot really be predicted, a trend in the past shows that activists may feel compelled to adopt similar guerilla and community-based tactics that the Black Panther Party used to combat against very similar oppressions.