Black Panther Party Is Organized Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Originally formed to protect the African American community from police brutality, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense evolved into a communist group advocating the use of violence to achieve social change.

Summary of Event

The Black Panther movement was born out of frustration. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, poor urban African Americans led a treadmill existence in the United States. Without adequate education, they found it almost impossible to secure employment. Because the primary concern of many was surviving from one day to the next, most were not motivated or not able to get an education. Many became disillusioned with the reforms of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, because few of the benefits filtered down to their level. In the mid-1960’s, the black protest movement became fragmented because of the leaders’ conflicting ideologies. Many poor urban African Americans believed they were being denied the advantages of being Americans. Black Panther Party for Self-Defense[Black Panther Party for Self Defense] Civil Rights movement;organizations African Americans;Black Power movement Black Power movement [kw]Black Panther Party Is Organized (Oct. 15, 1966) Black Panther Party for Self-Defense[Black Panther Party for Self Defense] Civil Rights movement;organizations African Americans;Black Power movement Black Power movement [g]North America;Oct. 15, 1966: Black Panther Party Is Organized[08980] [g]United States;Oct. 15, 1966: Black Panther Party Is Organized[08980] [c]Organizations and institutions;Oct. 15, 1966: Black Panther Party Is Organized[08980] [c]Social issues and reform;Oct. 15, 1966: Black Panther Party Is Organized[08980] Carmichael, Stokely Malcolm X Newton, Huey Seale, Bobby

The seething discontent that was fostered in the ghettos made retaliatory violence appear to be the only option. This course of action was first espoused in the 1930’s by the Black Muslims, who encouraged African Americans to end white domination by opposing the “slavemasters.” In the early 1960’s, small groups of Marxist nationalists began to appear, the most notorious of which was the Revolutionary Action Movement Revolutionary Action Movement (United States) (RAM) founded by Robert F. Williams Williams, Robert F. . Even though these groups existed primarily on the fringes of the black protest movement, their philosophy was increasingly embraced by the more radical members of nonviolent organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

The revolutionary dogma of radical leaders such as Rap Brown Brown, Rap and Stokely Carmichael received considerable media coverage and appealed to the underprivileged sectors of society. Even though the riots of 1964 and 1965 cannot be linked directly to the influence of these individuals and groups, it became clear that more and more African Americans were angered by the disparity that existed between the expectations that had been raised by the Civil Rights movement and the day-to-day reality of being poor and black in the United States.

The growth of the Black Power movement and the decline of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and SNCC also spurred the emergence of the Black Panther Party. Black power, which was always more of a mood than a program, was precipitated by the shooting of James Meredith Meredith, James , a civil rights leader who had earlier been the first black student at the University of Mississippi, during the June, 1966, Freedom March through Mississippi. Stokely Carmichael resumed the march and electrified the crowd with his cries of “Black Power.” He told the crowd that the only way for African Americans to become truly free was to take over. In the subsequent months, the Black Power movement not only stressed racial unity but also promoted militant violence, including the justification of guerrilla warfare, armed rebellion, and looting and arson in ghetto riots.

The Black Power movement was given a boost by the failure of CORE and SNCC to make fundamental changes in the life of the masses. Instead of urging integration, as these weakened organizations had done, the proponents of black power favored black nationalism, a separatist philosophy that was eventually adopted by such Marxist-oriented revolutionary movements as the Black Panthers.

The leaders of the Black Panthers, like most revolutionaries, were poor. Both Huey Newton and Bobby Seale attended Merritt College on the fringes of the Oakland ghetto. At the time, Merritt was an incubator of black nationalism, and Newton and Seale often went to coffeehouses to talk about black revolution. While they were at Merritt, they joined the Afro-American Association but dropped out because they believed that it offered only cultural nationalism. After leaving Merritt, Newton considered becoming a Black Muslim but was put off by Malcolm X’s religious beliefs. Newton’s political beliefs solidified after he was sentenced to the county jail for one year on an assault with a deadly weapon conviction. The prison experience made Newton more militant toward the white world.

Once he was released from jail, Newton immediately reconciled himself with Seale and discussed with him the need for a revolutionary black party that would represent the ghetto youth who had no voice in the other civil rights groups. Newton and Seale viewed African Americans as a colonial people and believed that they needed to arm themselves to free themselves from the colonial power that was oppressing them. They also wanted weapons, because the enforcers of the laws of white society, the police, were armed.

Newton and Seale were shocked into action by San Francisco’s Hunters Point riot in the summer of 1966. Dismayed by the disorganized attempts of black youths to fight the police, Newton and Seale arrived at the conclusion that a new strategy was needed. They began talking to black youths after the riots to hear suggestions regarding what was needed. The best way to fight the police, they decided, was to revive the Black Panthers, an abortive party that had been sponsored by SNCC in Lowndes County, Alabama, in an effort to give control of the central cities to African Americans.

On October 15, 1966, Seale met with Newton at a poverty center in North Oakland to write the platform for the Black Panthers. The ten-point program that came out of the meeting was articulated by Newton with the help of Seale, who made suggestions. The program, couched in class-conscious revolutionary rhetoric, included the following points. The program asked for freedom and the power to determine the destiny of the black community; full employment for black people; an end to the “robbery by the capitalists” of the black community; decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings; education for black people that would expose the true nature of “decadent American society” and teach a true history of African Americans and their role in present-day society; exemption of African Americans from military service; an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people; freedom for all black men held in federal, state, county, and city prisons and jails; trials of black people accused of crimes by juries of their peer group or people from their black communities; amid land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace.

As part of the final points, the program asked for a United Nations-supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the “black colony” in which only “black colonial subjects” would be allowed to participate, for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national destiny. To enforce their platform, Newton and Seale encouraged the use of guns, for both self-defense and retaliation. They believed that the greatest weapon that the police had was fear, and this fear could be removed if African Americans had guns.

Newton and Seale then set about building their movement upon the grim reality of police brutality. They began recruiting members by forming “defense patrols.” When a police car ventured into a ghetto, a car containing four Panthers armed with shotguns would fellow close behind. The Panthers would observe the police if a black person was questioned and would try to raise bail if the person was arrested. After members were recruited, they were instructed in those points of law concerning search and seizure, the right to bear arms, and arrest procedure. Recruits were also introduced to the works of Malcolm X, Frantz Fanon, W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and Mao Zedong. This indoctrination was geared to remind the recruits that their organization had a larger goal beyond that of confronting the police with equal force. The ultimate goal of the Black Panthers in 1966 was to change society by uniting African Americans against their white oppressors.

Significance

The Black Panthers’ belief in arming the people in the ghettos inevitably led to highly publicized confrontations with police. In early May, 1967, a group of eighteen armed Black Panthers descended on Sacramento, read a statement of protest in the state capitol, and left. After leaving the capitol, they were arrested at a gas station for disrupting the state legislature and for conspiracy to disrupt the legislature. In a more violent episode in Chicago, a fourteen-man police detail, armed with sidearms, shotguns, and a machine gun, knocked on the door of the apartment of Fred Hampton Hampton, Fred , the Black Panther chief in Illinois, in the early morning hours of December 4, 1969. A few minutes later, Fred Hampton and another Black Panther, Mark Clark Clark, Mark , were dead, and four more Panthers were taken to the hospital with multiple gunshot wounds. By the end of the year, the Black Panthers claimed that twenty-eight of their members had been killed by police in New York and Chicago.

The trials that resulted from some of these confrontations demonstrated that the American legal system did not really know how to deal with this new breed of black revolutionaries. For example, the trial of thirteen Black Panthers in New York City in 1971 on bombing and conspiracy charges, the longest trial in the history of the state’s criminal courts, resulted in the acquittal of all defendants in May, 1971, because the prosecution did not have a sound case. In a separate trial in New Haven, Connecticut, a month later, Bobby Seale and Panther organizer Ericka Huggins Huggins, Ericka were released because the jury could not reach a verdict. Both these trials revealed how difficult it was to convict a person on conspiracy charges. To prove conspiracy, prosecutors had to rely on the testimony of infiltrators and turncoats, evidence that most juries believed was unreliable. In addition, the cost of prosecuting the Panthers eventually proved to be prohibitive. The New Haven trial, for example, cost $1.5 million. Almost the only thing that trials such as these accomplished was to raise doubts about the viability of the judicial system as a social arbiter.

Ironically, the Black Panthers’ goal of uniting the black community was achieved, if only to a small extent, through their persecution by police and the resulting trials. The shooting of Fred Hampton, for example, resulted in the creation of a twenty-five-member independent commission composed of members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League, the Conference of Black Elected Officials, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the American Civil Liberties Union. For the first time in years, the entire black public in Chicago was aroused and united because of its outrage at the shooting. A similar phenomenon had occurred a year earlier in Oakland after the conviction of Huey Newton on murder charges. In the end, the “David and Goliath” image that the Black Panthers’ confrontations created in the minds of the public gave them a larger boost than any of their self-serving strategies. Black Panther Party for Self-Defense[Black Panther Party for Self Defense] Civil Rights movement;organizations African Americans;Black Power movement Black Power movement

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abu-Jamal, Mumia. We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party. Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, 2004. Recollections and critique of the Black Panther Party by one of its most controversial members, a Death Row inmate convicted of killing a police officer and often referred to by his supporters as a “political prisoner.” The insiders’ account of the formation and struggles of the party is interspersed with Abu-Jamal’s narrative of his own teenage years. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baruch, Ruth-Marion, and Pirkle Jones. The Vanguard: A Photograph Essay on the Black Panthers. Boston: Beacon Press, 1970. This biased history of the first four years of the Black Panther Party is useful primarily because of the illustrations, which reveal the human side behind the Panthers’ grim exterior. Although the listing of the high points of the growth of the movement is sketchy, the author does include the rules of the party as well as its ten-point platform.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chevigny, Paul. Cops and Rebels: A Study of Provocation. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972. Chevigny recounts the evolution of four young men—Alfred Cain, Jr., Ricardo de Leon, Wilbert Thomas, and Jerome West—into Black Panthers. Written by the lawyer who defended them in court, this book illustrates how politics and justice were often confused during the turbulent 1960’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Churchill, Ward, and Jim Vander Wall. Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. Boston: South End Press. 1988. The first one hundred pages of Ward and Wall’s book is a revealing look at the attempts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to infiltrate and destroy the Black Panthers through its counterintelligence programs. The authors, however, tend to place too much blame on the FBI for the disintegration of the Black Panthers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meier, August, and Elliott Rudwick, eds. Black Protest in the Sixties. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970. Most of the articles included in this volume create a sense of immediacy because they were written during the 1960’s. Meier’s introduction explains the complex social setting that produced the Black Panthers. The book also contains Sol Stern’s excellent “The Call of the Black Panthers,” which originally appeared in The New York Times Magazine.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ogbar, Jeffrey O. G. Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. History of the major radical black power organizations, especially the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Seale, Bobby. Seize the Time. New York: Random House, 1970. Seale’s book, written from his San Francisco County Jail cell, is a fascinating firsthand account of the growth of the Black Panthers. The book suffers, though, from Seale’s dated slang and his tendency to pontificate.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shakur, Assata. Assata: An Autobiography. Westport, Conn.: Lawrence Hill, 1987. Shakur’s book-length effort to explain why she joined the Black Panthers is a vivid account of the racism that permeated America in the first half of the twentieth century. The book is less convincing in its claim that Shakur’s persecution and shooting by the police in 1973 is typical of the way the U.S. government has responded historically to individuals that it sees as political threats.

Congress of Racial Equality Forms

Race Riots Erupt in Detroit and Harlem

Montgomery Bus Boycott

SCLC Forms to Link Civil Rights Groups

Eisenhower Sends Troops to Little Rock, Arkansas

Greensboro Sit-Ins

Assassination of Malcolm X

Watts Riot

Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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