The Black Panther Party (BPP) was first known as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The party was a rebel group formed to protect the African American community against police brutality. Law enforcement had heightened racial profiling, discrimination, and brutality towards African Americans. Initially, Black Panther Party aimed to guard the African American population against police violence, harassment, and brutality. However, the group later changed into a Marxist party that championed freeing all African Americans from prison and arming all African Americans. They also wanted the federal government to compensate them for the exploitation they had gone through during slavery. The Black Panthers believed that violence was the only way African Americans could be liberated and gain power and control over their lives. They derived their motivation from revolutionary leaders such as Malcolm X, authors, and communist parties. This essay discusses the origin of the BPP, the circumstances that led to its formation, and the party leaders’ roles in meeting the party’s goals and objectives.
Origin of the Party
The BPP was founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, and was active in the US until 1982. The party’s founders were Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, students at Merritt College in Oakland (Carbone 98). The party was a revolutionary group whose ideas were based on armed self-defense, Black Nationalism, and socialism. Their symbol was the Black Panther which they adopted from the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, an African American political group in Alabama (Manchanda and Rossdale 475). Other prominent BPP members included Elaine Brown, Fred Hampton, Barbara Easley, Kathleen Cleaver, Eldridge Cleaver, and Ericka Huggins (Carbone 100). The party’s self-defense practices were influenced by Robert Williams, an American activist who supported and advocated for it in one of his books, Negroes with Guns (Carbone 101). They were also influenced by Malcolm X’s speeches of the Nation of Islam and the teachings of Mao Tse-Tsung of the Communist Party of China. The party founders walked through African American neighborhoods asking residents the challenges they were facing. They assembled these responses and established the Ten-Point Platform and Program that became the cornerstone of the BPP (Carbone 105). The Ten-Point Platform advocated for the immediate end of police brutality, justice, housing, land, and employment for all African Americans.
BPP’s mode of operations was the open carry armed citizens’ patrols that patrolled neighborhoods to observe and keep track of the Oakland Police Department. The patrols were dressed in black berets and leather jackets, and their role was to protect African Americans (Leighton 860). However, from 1969, the party established various community social programs such as health facilities to treat tuberculosis and sickle cell anemia, free breakfast for children, and health education (Frierson 1520). The Federal Bureau of investigations (FBI) declared the BPP a communist group and a threat and enemy to the federal government due to the social services they offered the African American population.
The FBI was determined to shut BPP’s operations. They devoted their resources to the counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) to sabotage the party (Zadravec 93). The FBI used the COINTELPRO program to discredit organizations, parties, and groups considered a threat to the country’s political stability. They used excessive force, sabotage, misinformation, and agent provocateurs to eviscerate the BPP. These activities increased struggles in the party, and some of its members turned against one another. Alex Rackley, a Black Panther Party member, was tortured and killed by other members because they thought he was a law enforcement informant (Zadravec 99). The party was also suspected of killing Betty Van Patter, another BPP member who was tortured and murdered (Carbone 111). Some of the party’s leaders were killed, exiled, or imprisoned. The party’s activities had ceased by 1982 due to the COINTELPRO and the party’s leadership dissolution.
Party Reflection of the Time it was formed
The BPP was formed when the African American population faced profiling, violence, and brutality from the Oakland Police Department. Malcolm X, a black nationalist, had just been assassinated, and the police had shot and murdered an unarmed African American teen known as Matthew Johnson (Farnia, 173). The party’s founders viewed the African American population as defenseless before the police and created the party to promote self-defense. The BPP members challenged the police and politicians and protected African American citizens from brutality and excessive force.
The Black Panthers were successors of the Civil Rights Movement. The founders of the BPP believed that the Civil Rights Movement had let the African American population down. They felt that boycotts, peaceful negotiations, non-violent protests, and breaking unjust laws that Martin Luther King advocated for was outdated in the struggle for African American liberation (Farnia 177). They instead supported armed patrols known as cop watching, the development of social programs in the community, and encouraged self-defense and racial pride.
The Black Panthers believed that violence was the only way African Americans could be liberated and gain power and control over their lives. Their ideologies coincided with Malcolm X’s, who was among BPP’s inspirational figures. The party founders studied Californian gun laws and discovered that they were protected by California law, allowing them to carry their firearms openly. Newton and Seale raised money and bought multiple guns (Johnson 175). The Black Panthers followed the police everywhere they went and drew their weapons at the police every time they stopped or arrested. They would observe the police throughout the African American neighborhoods to ensure no brutality occurred. BPP members provided an armed escort for Betty Shabazz, the wife of Malcolm X, in 1967 (Carbone 119). The party grew in popularity and had many supporters.
The California State Assembly Committee on Criminal Procedure wanted to ban the carrying of firearms in public spaces illegal through the Mulford Act in 1967. Such a move would paralyze the Black Panther’s operations since they believed in carrying guns as an act of self-defense. In response, the BPP sent 26 of their members to protest the meeting (Gulamali 405). Seale was among the 26 members, and this protest led to his arrest and five other members of the BPP.
The Black Panthers also suffered violence and brutality from law enforcement. The FBI declared the BPP the state’s enemy and used violent means to try and neutralize their influence. Police murdered Black Panthers such as Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in their homes in Chicago (Farnia 175). The police fired approximately 100 bullets in the apartment and later claimed a fierce gunfight between the Black Panthers and the police. Reports later revealed that only one shot had been fired from the apartment, and the rest had been fired by the police (Farnia 175). The other four Black Panthers were wounded during this gunfight. There was also a five-hour shootout between the Black Panthers and the police at the Southern California headquarters of the BPP (Farnia 176). Thus, the BPP members also experienced police brutality.
Assessment of BPP Leaders
The BPP was formed to end police brutality in 1966. They later changed and became a group that ascribed to the Marxist ideologies and principles, whose goals were to ensure that all African Americans were armed. They also wanted the exemption of African Americans from the military draft and sanctions of the white supremacy and to secure their release from prison. The BPP wanted African Americans to receive compensation for their exploitation during slavery (Potorti 90). They also launched social programs that provided social amenities such as legal aid, healthcare, and education.
BPP’s leaders, Newton and Seale, together with other prominent party members such as Elaine Brown, Fred Hampton, Barbara Easley, Kathleen Cleaver, Eldridge Cleaver, and Ericka Huggins, achieved the goals and objectives of the party before its deterioration due to the FBI’s smear campaign and interference. One vital goal of the party was to end police brutality (Carbone 110). The party’s strategy was to intimidate the police by carrying their firearms in public and patrolling neighborhoods to monitor the actions of police officers. Seale also protested the Mulford Act that sought to ban guns in public.
BPP’s leaders also established social programs such as health facilities to treat tuberculosis, free breakfast for children, and health education. The BPP leaders initiated the most successful social program known as the Free Breakfast Feeding program. BPP leaders started the Free Breakfast Program because many poor African American children could not attend school because of hunger (Lateef and Androff 3). Seale planned the Black Panthers’ program at St. Augustine’s Church in 1969 (Lateef and Androff 3). Churches and other community-based organizations donated breakfast meals such as milk and eggs, and the Black Panthers fed more than 20,000 children (Lateef and Androff 3). Therefore, the BPP leaders successfully met the party’s goal through the Free Breakfast Feeding program.
Other successful social programs were the health and education initiatives. Many African Americans received testing and treatment services from the BPP clinics. The Blank Panthers helped bring Sickle Cell anemia to the government’s agenda, and the government developed a National Sickle Cell Anemia Control Set up in 1972 (Potorti 93). Thus, the BPP party achieved equal distribution of resources and fair treatment in the African American communities.
In conclusion, the BPP is among the most prominent Black Movements in the US in the 1960s. Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton founded the party in 1966 to end police brutality. However, the party evolved into a Marxist revolutionary group whose primary goals were to ensure that all African Americans were armed, exempted from the military draft and sanctions of the white supremacy, released from prison, and compensated for the exploitation they underwent during slavery. The BPP also launched social programs that provided the community with social amenities such as legal aid, healthcare, and education. The Black Panthers suffered violence and brutality from the police and the Federal Bureau of Investigations. The police murdered some of its members, and some were arrested. They also sabotaged their operations, leading to the downfall of the BPP. However, the Black Panthers had successfully protected African Americans from police brutality and created efficient social programs.
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