for Self Defense
Photo of BPP founders
Bobby Seale (left) and Huey P. Newton
The cry of Black Power uttered by Stokely Carmichael and the new radical Black nationalism of the 1960s put into motion by Malcolm X could not have taken greater form, than in the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. A product of the frustration at the slow movement of the Civil Rights movement and the death of Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense was founded in October, 1966, in Oakland, California by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. The name was shortened to the Black Panther Party (BPP) and it began spreading eastward through the Black urban communities across country. The small group formed by the two disillusioned poverty workers soon grew in prominence and numbers to become the vanguard of Black revolutionary struggle in the 1960s.
Starting with the theory that the police were the main oppressive force in the Black community, they began to monitor them. They took to the streets firstly armed with cameras. Facing negative reactions from the law enforcement agents, they returned with loaded guns. Their bold and defiant stance coupled with their ability to render the police powerless, threw them onto the world stage. Soon Black Panther Party chapters were set up throughout the country in major cities. Everywhere could be seen men and women dressed in
Black declaring ideologies of self-defense and self-determination. In their ten point program they called for the following: freedom, full employment, an end to capitalism, decent housing, true education, military exemption, an end to police brutality, release from prison of Blacks, fair trials for Blacks, and land, bread,
housing, clothing, justice and peace. Their motto was, "We are advocates of the abolition of war; but war can only be abolished through war; and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to pick up the gun."
But the Black Panther Party was not all guns and rhetoric. They established numerous programs including free breakfasts for children, free day care, free health care, and free political education classes.
They also established programs to provide community control of schools, tenant control of slum housing, and campaigns to oust drug dealers. With such revolutionary actions, the Black Panther Party soon became public enemy number one first to the police and most especially the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. The FBI
counter intelligence program, COINTELPRO, waged a successful war against the Black Panther Party and other revolutionaries. Moving westward, under COINTELPRO police departments in each city made military raids on BPP offices or homes in Philadelphia, Chicago, Newark, Omaha, Denver, New Haven, San Diego, Los Angeles, and other cities, murdering some Panthers and arresting others.Black Panther Bobby Hutton, only 17, was shot and killed by policemen. Fred Hampton, chairman of the Panthers in Illinois, was shot and killed along with Mark Clark in a police raid. Numerous armed clashes between Panthers and the police, as the infamous New Jersey turnpike incident of Assata Shakur, resulted in even more deaths. Soon Huey P. Newton was in jail, Bobby Seale was on probation, and Eldridge Cleaver was forced into exile. Twenty-one Panthers were charged with a bomb conspiracy, among them Angela Davis, while allies such as Stokely Carmicheal and H. Rap
Brown were harassed repeatedly.
Through COINTELPRO, problems with other Black organizations were escalated and soon Panthers were involved even in shootouts with other revolutionaries. Through informants, false documents, false information and playing on human weaknesses, COINTELPRO was able to destroy the Black Panther Party from within and without. Huey P. Newton was shot to death in August of 1989, his long struggles against a seemingly invincible enemy resulting in
a later life of cocaine addiction and other troubles. His greater life's work would always be remembered however. The young man who defied police and electrified the Black masses would forever live on in the name of the Black Panther Party. (Photo and Information courtesy of A Brief History of the Black Panther Party: Its Place in the Black Liberation Movement by Sundiata Acoli and Seize the Time by Bobby Seale.)