As a baby of the ’70’s I have always heard whispers about the Black Panther Party. Yet I can honestly say that they have always been a whisper of a time before my existence. With the new elevating racial tension taking over America the last few years, it appears that there is a new form of the Back Panther Party popping up at different protest around the country. That is when it hit me that whenever one mentioned The Black Panther Party there tends to be an undertone of fear and racism attached to it. Which causes me to ask “What was the Black Panther Party, really?”
The Black Panther Party came about in a time in America’s history when the black population was engaging in a battle for basic civil rights as well as a harassment free-life. During their birth any given time you would hear the words of encouragement and motivation from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X or even Rev. Jesse Jackson, just to name a few.
The Black Panther Party was a black nationalist and socialist organization. The group was officially active from 1966 – 1982. They had international chapters in Algeria from 1969 – 1972.
The actual party was created by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in October 1966 within the city of Oakland, CA. They adopted the theory of Malcolm X to assist in establishing their goal to establish a revolutionary form of socialism through organizing on a massive level as well establishing community-based programs. Like the Free-Breakfast for School Children program in January 1968, which has since been incorporated into public schools across the country. Despite their good deeds for the minority community they did practiced militant self-defense of the community they served against the U.S government. There goals were to establish a united front.
The party was highly organized since it’s creation. In April 25, 1967 , the first issue of “The Black Panther” (the newsletter for the organization) went into distribution. Which showed that the organization was off to a good start. Things however took a turn in October of 1967 when on of the founders Huey Newton was arrested for killing an Oakland cop (Officer John Frey). This quickly brought on the “Free Huey” movement which was started by Eldridge Cleaver.
This was only the beginning of friction between the party and law enforcement. In 1968, The FBI under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover started the COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence program) designed and focus on discrediting and breaking up the Black Panther Party. It was rumored that in the beginning of this program that many members of the party were executed by the FBI. Yet there is no proof of this accusation. During this year a publication by Mao‘s (Red Book) became mandatory reading for every Black Panther member.
Two days after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, a 90 minute gun battle in Oakland ended with the death of an unarmed 17 year old Bobby Hutton. Which really stirred the party into action and assistance within their community. In November 24, 1968 Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver fled the U.S and ended up settling in Algeria. While in exiled he published the book “Soul on Ice” As Eldridge and his wife spent their days in exile, the Black Panther Party ended up 45 chapters and branches. Leading to a membership of over 5,000.
Within the year of 1969, there were free breakfast programs for school children across the country. By the end of the year they were feeding up to 10,000 children. As chapters popped up around the country helping the minority communities. In Chicago, Fred Hampton lead more breakfast as well as creating a free medical centers. The centers conducted door to door test for sickle cell anemia as well as establishing blood drives. In December of 1969, twenty-one year old Fred Hampton was murdered as he slept, his pregnant wife was shot as well during the assault and one other member of the party. His wife did survive the attack. Bobby Seale was indicted this year for protesting the Democratic National Convention.
Within 1969, Huey Newton was convicted of voluntary manslaughter of Officer John Frey and was sentenced to 2 to 15 years in prison. In 1970, he appealed the conviction and it was overturned. While in prison Bobby Seale published ‘Seize the Time‘ in March of 1970. The flames of revolution burned between the Black Panther Party and the U.S. Government. During that same month the FBI started a campaign of misinformation to key members of the Black Panther Party in efforts to tear the party apart from within.
On April 2, 1970, 21 members were charged with plotting to assassinate police officers and blow up buildings. It is unknown whether there was any evidence to proof this. In May 22, 1970, eight more members of the party (including Ericka Higgins) were arrested in New Haven, CT on various conspiracy charges to commit murder. In 1971, Huey Newton, lead a delegation to China and was met by thousand of Chinese supporters that held strong anti-Nixon sentiment.
After years of the party being picked apart, 1975 Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver returned back to the U.S as born again Christians. In 1979, all charges against them were dropped and they were placed on five years probation. Within 1980, the party fell completely apart. In 1989, a new evolution has been developed.