Black Panther Party

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The Black Panther Party was a militant African-American organization that "advocated guerrilla warfare as taught by Mao Tsetung and Che Guevara for achieving revolution in the United States.”[1] On April 25th, 1967, the first issue of The Black Panther, the party's official news organ, goes into distribution. In the following month, the party marches on the California state capital fully armed, in protest of the state's attempt to outlaw carrying loaded weapons in public. Bobby Seale reads a statement of protest; while the police respond by immediately arresting him and all 30 armed Panthers. This early act kindles the fires to the burning resistance movement in the United States; soon initiating minority workers to take up arms and form new Panther chapters outside the state.[2]

Formation

The Black Panther Party (BPP) was founded in October 1966 by Elbert Howard (also Known as Elbert "Big Man" Howard"); Huey Newton(also known as Huey P. Newton) (Defense Minister), Sherman Forte, Bobby Seale (Chairman), Reggie Forte and Little Bobby Hutton (Treasurer). According to the Encyclopedia of the American Left, “Newton was already a black militant activist in 1961 when he met Seale, a fellow student at Oakland's Merritt College. Both joined the Afro-American Association, a black cultural organization led by Donald Warden, but they became dissatisfied with Warden's procapitalist form of black nationalism.”[3]

According to author John Diggins, the BPP was “Inspired by third-world illuminati like Franz Fanon, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao Tse-tung,” and “adopted a "Marxist-Leninist" amalgam that succeeded in combining nationalism with socialism, preaching self-determination along with class struggle.”[4] Newton and Seale raised funds to buy guns and ammunition in early 1967 by selling copies of Mao’s “little red book” to students at UC Berkley.[5]

Original six Black Panthers (November, 1966) Top left to right: Elbert "Big Man" Howard; Huey P. Newton (Defense Minister), Sherman Forte, Bobby Seale (Chairman). Bottom: Reggie Forte and Little Bobby Hutton (Treasurer).
Original six Black Panthers (November, 1966) Top left to right: Elbert "Big Man" Howard; Huey P. Newton (Defense Minister), Sherman Forte, Bobby Seale (Chairman). Bottom: Reggie Forte and Little Bobby Hutton (Treasurer).

Easily recognizable for their quasi-military black berets and leather jackets, the Panthers quickly gained national attention in 1967 when some 20 BPP members walked into the California state capitol building brandishing loaded firearms, to protest a bill forbidding such weapons in Oakland, where the BPP was based.[6]

Author David Farber noted that, “In a Ten-Point Program, Newton and Seale articulated a set of radical demands that included the release of all black prison inmates and a massive redistribution of property and wealth from whites to blacks.”[7]

The Ten-Point Program

We Want Freedom. We Want Power To Determine The Destiny Of Our Black Community.
We believe that Black people will not be free until we are able to determine our destiny.
We Want Full Employment For Our People.
We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the White American businessmen will not give full employment, then the means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.
We Want An End To The Robbery By The Capitalists Of Our Black Community.
We believe that this racist government has robbed us, and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules.
Forty acres and two mules were promised 100 years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities. The Germans are now aiding the Jews in Israel for the genocide of the Jewish people. The Germans murdered six million Jews. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of over fifty million Black people; therefore, we feel that this is a modest demand that we make.
We Want Decent Housing Fit For The Shelter Of Human Beings.
We believe that if the White Landlords will not give decent housing to our Black community, then the housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that our community, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for its people.
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 The Present-Day Society.
We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.
We Want All Black Men To Be Exempt From Military Service.
We believe that Black people should not be forced to fight in the military service to defend a racist government that does not protect us. We will not fight and kill other people of color in the world who, like Black people, are being victimized by the White racist government of America. We will protect ourselves from the force and violence of the racist police and the racist military, by whatever means necessary.
We Want An Immediate End To Police Brutality And Murder Of Black People.
We believe we can end police brutality in our Black community by organizing Black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our Black community from racist police oppression and brutality. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States gives a right to bear arms. We therefore believe that all Black people should arm themselves for self- defense.
We Want Freedom For All Black Men Held In Federal, State, County And City Prisons And Jails.
We believe that all Black people should be released from the many jails and prisons because they have not received a fair and impartial trial.
We Want All Black People When Brought To Trial To Be Tried In Court By A Jury Of Their Peer Group Or People From Their Black Communities, As Defined By The Constitution Of The United States.
We believe that the courts should follow the United States Constitution so that Black people will receive fair trials. The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives a man a right to be tried by his peer group. A peer is a person from a similar economic, social, religious, geographical, environmental, historical and racial background. To do this the court will be forced to select a jury from the Black community from which the Black defendant came. We have been, and are being, tried by all-White juries that have no understanding of the "average reasoning man" of the Black community.
We Want Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice And Peace.
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitle them, a decent respect of the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. [8]

The BPP was credited with coining one of the most offensive slogans of the era: “Off the pig,”[9] which was a crude invitation to kill police officers. Another BPP slogan was “The Revolution has come, it's time to pick up the gun!”[10] It was out of this culture of militant violence, especially towards the police, that radicals like Eldrige Cleaver gained influence and that the Black Liberation Army eventually grew.

Activities

The Political Education Kit for Black Panther Party Members, which was exhibited at hearings before the Senate Subcommittee on Government Operations on June 18, 24, and 25 of 1969 stated that the primary objective of the Black Panther Party was to “establish Revolutionary Political Power for Black People.”[11] The document further states that, “The Black Panther is an armed body for carrying out the political tasks of the revolution.” [12]

By and large, the BPP was not interested in legislative or political reform, and was more openly interested in armed revolution against the established government. In October 1967, BPP co-founder Huey Newton demonstrated that his organization fully intended to match action to rhetoric when he went to jail for killing a police officer. “In April 1968, thirteen Panthers ambushed an Oakland police car, hitting it with 157 shots and badly wounding one officer.”[13]

In his book, Covert Cadre, Steven Powell detailed a meeting of seven black militant groups, including the BPP of New York, which took place at the headquarters of the Institute For Policy Studies in December of 1966. “Later, Emory Douglas, BPP minister of culture, said, ‘The only way to make this racist U.S. government administer justice to the people it is oppressing, is... by taking up arms against this government, killing the officials, until the reactionary forces... are dead, and those that are left turn their weapons on their superiors. thereby passing revolutionary judgment against the number one enemy of all mankind, the racist U.S. government.’”[14]

The Panthers didn’t limit their violence to representatives of the government, or to those who wore a badge. The presence of the BPP meant increased violence in the neighborhoods where they lived and operated. For instance, according to one firsthand account, “in the course of conducting extortion, prostitution, and drug rackets in the Oakland ghetto the Panthers had killed more than a dozen people.”[15]


Free Huey Movement

In October of 1967, the police arrest the Defense Minister of the Panthers, Huey Newton, for killing an Oakland cop. Panther Eldridge Cleaver begins the movement to "Free Huey", a struggle the Panthers would devote a great deal of their attention to in the coming years, while the party spreads its roots further into the political spectrum, forming coalitions with various revolutionary parties. Stokely Carmichael,Stokely Carmichael in 1970 the former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and a nationally known proponent of Black Power, is recruited into the party through this struggle, and soon becomes the party's Prime Minister in February, 1968. Carmichael is adamantly against allowing whites into the black liberation movement, explaining whites cannot relate to the black experience and have an intimidating effect on blacks; a position that stirs opposition within the Panthers. Carmichael explains: "Whites who come into the black community with ideas of change seem to want to absolve the power structure of its responsibility for what it is doing, and say that change can only come through black unity, which is the worst kind of paternalism..... If we are to proceed toward true liberation, we must cut ourselves off from white people..... [otherwise] we will find ourselves entwined in the tentacles of the white power complex that controls this country.” [16]

Ideology

Black Panther Theory:

The practices of the late Malcolm X were deeply rooted in the theoretical foundations of the Black Panther Party. Malcolm X had represented both a militant revolutionary, while also being a role model. The Panthers followed Malcolm X belief of international working class unity across the spectrum of color and gender, and thus united with various minority and white revolutionary groups. From the tenets of Maoism they set the role of their Party as the vanguard of the revolution and worked to establish a united front, while from Marxism they addressed the capitalist economic system, embraced the theory of dialectical materialism, and represented the need for all workers to forcefully take over the means of production. [17]

While the BPP only flirted with the concept of fully cooperating with white radical groups in order to achieve their goals, several white radicals and leftist groups offered assistance to the BPP due to their shared anti-American worldview. For example, the eighth national convention of the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) in December 1968 met in Chicago and featured Black Panther Party speakers. The YSA fully supported armed black guerrilla warfare.[18] “Both Hillary Clinton and Bill Lanh Lee began their political careers as law students at Yale by organizing demonstrations in 1970 to shut down the university and stop the trial of seven Panther leaders accused of ordering the torture and execution of a black youth named Alex Rackley.”[19]

Eldrige Cleaver believed that the success of the struggle ultimately depended on replicating the communist revolutions that had already taken place in other parts of the world. "If you look around the world," he wrote, "you will see that the only countries which have liberated themselves and managed to withstand the tide of counter-revolution are precisely those countries that have strongly Marxist-Leninist parties."[20]

Author Paul Berman said, “The scary nature of the Panther movement was easy enough to detect. The paramilitary leather uniforms, the titles like 'Minister of Information' and 'Minister of Defense,' the jailhouse tone, the apology for rape in Cleaver's writings, the lapses into anti-Semitism, the assassination campaigns against the police-everything advertised the terror and dictatorship that were bound to spring from Panther power, if the party ever had the bad luck to acquire any.”[21]


Black Panther Party disavows association with New Black Panther Party

There Is No New Black Panther Party: An Open Letter From the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation
In response from numerous requests from individual's seeking information on the "New Black Panthers," the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation issues this public statement to correct the distorted record being made in the media by a small band of African Americans calling themselves the New Black Panthers. As guardian of the true history of the Black Panther Party, the Foundation, which includes former leading members of the Party, denounces this group's exploitation of the Party's name and history. Failing to find its own legitimacy in the black community, this band would graft the Party's name upon itself, which we condemn.
Firstly, the people in the New Black Panthers were never members of the Black Panther Party and have no legitimate claim on the Party's name. On the contrary, they would steal the names and pretend to walk in the footsteps of the Party's true heroes, such as Black Panther founder Huey P. Newton, George Jackson and Jonathan Jackson, Bunchy Carter, John Huggins, Fred Hampton, Mark Cark, and so many others who gave their very lives to the black liberation struggle under the Party's banner.
Secondly, they denigrate the Party's name by promoting concepts absolutely counter to the revolutionary principles on which the Party was founded. Their alleged media assault on the Ku Klux Klan serves to incite hatred rather than resolve it. The Party's fundamental principle, as best articulated by the great revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, was: "A true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." The Black Panthers were never a group of angry young militants full of fury toward the "white establishment." The Party operated on love for black people, not hatred of white people.
Furthermore, this group claims it would "teach" the black community about armed self-defense. The arrogance of this claim is overwhelmed by its reactionary nature. Blacks, especially in the South, have been armed in self-defense for a very long time; indeed, the spiritual parent of the Party itself was the Louisiana-based Deacons for Defense. However, the Party understood that the gun was not necessarily revolutionary, for the police and all other oppressive forces had guns. It was the ideology behind the gun that determined its nature.
Because the Party believed that only the masses of people would make the revolution, the Party never presumed itself to be above the people. The Party considered itself a servant of the people and taught by example. Given massive black hunger, the Party provided free breakfast for children and other free food programs. In the absence of decent medical facilities in the black community, the Party operated free medical clinics. In the face of police brutality, the Party stood up and resisted. Considering the overwhelming number of blacks facing trials and long prison terms, the Party developed free legal aids and bussing-to-prison programs.
The question the Foundation raises, then, is who are these people laying claim to the Party's history and name? Are they reactionary provocateurs, who would instigate activities counterproductive to the people's interests, causing mayhem and death? Are they entertainers, who would posture themselves before the media, and, according to numerous sources, with empty guns, to spin gold for themselves? Are they, given the history of their late-leader Khalid Muhammad, a group of anti-Semites like the very Ku Klux Klan they allegedly oppose? What is their agenda?
Conditions for blacks in America today are worse than when the Black Panther Party was formed in 1966. Blacks in the main continue to live in poverty; disproportionate percentages of blacks die from AIDS and cancer, as the black infant mortality rate continues to be double that of whites. There is a desperate need for liberation agenda. The Black Panther Party unarguably set the example, espousing principles and a history that certainly should be embraced by all those still struggling for freedom. Rather than appropriating the Party's name, however, groups that purport to represent African Americans ought to follow the Party's true historical example. In the absence of such commitment, the Foundation denounces the usurpation of the Black Panther Party name by this questionable band of self-appointed leaders.


External links

Marxists.org 1968 Panther Papers

FBI FOIA The Winston Salem (N.C.) Black Panthers (2,895 pages)

Communist infiltration of the SNCC in 1964 (2,887 pages)

Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers Communist Affiliations in 1965 (2,021 pages)

References

  1. "Communism and the New Left," US News And World Report, 1970, p. 102
  2. Marxists.org Black Panthers History accessed April 16, 2011
  3. Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas, Encyclopedia of the American Left (St. James Press, 1990) 96
  4. John Diggins, The American Left in the Twentieth Century (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1973) 174
  5. Maurice Isserman, and Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (Oxford University Press, 2000) 176-177.
  6. Martin Lee, and Bruce Shlain, Acid Dreams (Grove Weidenfeld, 1985) 209
  7. David Farber, The Age of Great Dreams (Hill and Wang, 1994) 207
  8. via Marxists.orgOctober 15, 1966 War Against the Panthers, by Huey P. Newton, 1980 (accessed on April 16, 2011)
  9. Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas, Encyclopedia of the American Left (St. James Press, 1990) 58
  10. David Farber, The Age of Great Dreams (Hill and Wang, 1994) 207
  11. "Communism and the New Left" US News And World Report, 1970, p. 197
  12. "Communism and the New Left" US News And World Report, 1970, p. 197
  13. David Farber, The Age of Great Dreams (Hill and Wang, 1994) 207
  14. Steven Powell, Covert Cadre: Inside The Institute For Policy Studies (Green Hill Publishers, 1987) 30
  15. David Horowitz, The Art of Political War: and Other Radical Pursuits (Spence, 2000) 170
  16. Stokley Carmichael: The Basis of Black Power Accessed April 16, 2011
  17. Marxists.org Black Panther party Accessed April 16, 2011
  18. "Communism and the New Left" US News And World Report, 1970, p. 24
  19. David Horowitz, The Art of Political War: and Other Radical Pursuits (Spence, 2000) 171
  20. "Communism and the New Left" US News And World Report, 1970, p. 32
  21. Paul Berman, A Tale of Two Utopias (W.W. Norton & Co., 1996) 116-117
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