Featured image: Black Panther Party…. founders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton standing in the street, armed with a Colt .45 and a shotgun.
The Black Panther Party or the BPP(originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) was a revolutionary black nationalist and socialist organization founded by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in October 1966. The party was active in the United States from 1966 until 1982, with international chapters operating in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s, and in Algeria from 1969 until 1972.
Newsreel in which Kathleen Cleaver spoke at Hutton Memorial Park in Alameda County, California. The footage also shows a student protest demonstration at Alameda County Courthouse, Oakland, California. Black Panther Party leaders Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and Bobby Seale spoke on a 10-point program they wanted from the administration which was to include full employment, decent housing and education, an end to police brutality, and blacks to be exempt from the military. Black Panther Party members are shown as they marched in uniform. Students at rally marched, sang, clapped hands, and carried protest signs. Police in riot gear controlled marchers.
The sweeping migration of black families out of the South during World War II transformed Oakland and cities throughout the West and the North. A new generation of young blacks growing up in these cities faced new conditions, new forms of poverty and racism unfamiliar to their parents, and they sought to develop new forms of politics to address them. Black Panther Party membership “consisted of recent migrants whose families traveled north and west to escape the southern racial regime, only to be confronted with new forms of segregation and repression”.In the early 1960s, the insurgent Civil Rights Movement had dismantled the Jim Crow system of racial caste subordination using the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience, and demanding full citizenship rights for black people. But not much changed in the cities of the North and West. As the wartime jobs which drew much of the black migration “fled to the suburbs along with white residents”, the black population was concentrated in poor “urban ghettos” with high unemployment, and substandard housing, mostly excluded from political representation, top universities, and the middle class. Police departments were almost all white. In 1966, only 16 of Oakland’s 661 police officers were African American.
Insurgent civil rights practices proved incapable of redressing these conditions, and the organizations that had “led much of the nonviolent civil disobedience” such as SNCC and COREwent into decline. By 1966 a “Black Power ferment” emerged, consisting largely of young urban blacks, posing a question the Civil Rights Movement could not answer: “how would black people in America win not only formal citizenship rights, but actual economic and political power?” Young black people in Oakland and other cities developed a rich ferment of study groups and political organizations, and it is out of this ferment that the Black Panther Party emerged.
In late October 1966, Huey P. Newtonand Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party (originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense). In formulating a new politics, they drew on their experiences working with a variety of Black Power organizations.Newton and Seale first met in 1962 when they were both students at Merritt College. They joined Donald Warden’s Afro-American Association, where they read widely, debated, and organized in an emergent black nationalist tradition inspired by Malcolm X and others.Eventually dissatisfied with Warden’s accommodation-ism, they developed a revolutionary anti-imperialist perspective working with more active and militant groups like the Soul Students Advisory Council and the Revolutionary Action Movement. While bringing in a paycheck, jobs running youth service programs at the North Oakland Neighborhood Anti-Poverty Center allowed them to develop a revolutionary nationalist approach to community service, later a key element in the Black Panther Party’s “community survival programs.”
Dissatisfied with the failure of these organizations to directly challenge police brutality and appeal to the “brothers on the block”, Huey and Bobby sought to take matters into their own hands. After the police killed Matthew Johnson, an unarmed young black man in San Francisco, Newton observed the violent rebellion that followed. He had an epiphany that would distinguish the Black Panther Party from the multitude of organizations seeking to build Black Power. Newton saw the explosive rebellious anger of the ghetto as a force, and believed that if he could stand up to the police, he could organize that force into political power. Inspired by Robert F. Williams‘ armed resistance to the KKK (and Williams’ book Negroes with Guns), Newton studied California gun law until he knew it better than many police officers. Like the Community Alert Patrol in Los Angeles after the Watts Rebellion, he decided to organize patrols to follow the police around to monitor for incidents of brutality. But with a crucial difference: his patrols would carry loaded guns. Huey and Bobby raised enough money to buy two shotguns by buying bulk quantities of the recently publicized Little Red Bookand reselling them to leftist radicals and liberal intellectuals on the Berkeley campus at three times the price. According to Bobby Seale, they would “sell the books, make the money, buy the guns, and go on the streets with the guns. We’ll protect a mother, protect a brother, and protect the community from the racist cops.”
On October 29, 1966, Stokely Carmichael – a leader of SNCC – championed the call for “Black Power” and came to Berkeley to keynote a Black Power conference. At the time, he was promoting the armed organizing efforts of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) in Alabama and their use of the Black Panther symbol. Newton and Seale decided to adopt the Black Panther logo and form their own organization called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Newton and Seale decided on a uniform of blue shirts, black pants, black leather jackets, black berets. Sixteen-year-old Bobby Hutton was their first recruit.