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Date:1966 – c. 1980…(Show more)Areas Of Involvement:African Americans…(Show more)Related People:Fred HamptonBobby SealeHuey P. NewtonMumia Abu-JamalEldridge Cleaver…
The Black Panther Party was an African American revolutionary organization that was formed in 1966 and reached its heyday a few years later. Its initial purpose was to patrol Black neighborhoods to protect residents from police brutality. It later evolved into a Marxist group that called for, among other things, the arming of all African Americans, the release of all Black prisoners, and the payment of compensation to African Americans for centuries of exploitation. It was also notable for its various social programs, such as free breakfasts for children, and medical clinics.
Students Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland, California, in 1966; the group later shortened its name to the Black Panther Party. The two men adopted Malcolm X’s slogan “Freedom by any means necessary.” The Black Panthers also drew inspiration from Stokely Carmichael, a Black nationalist leader. He coined the phrase “Black Power,” which became the group’s rallying cry, and in 1965 he founded a political party that had a black panther as its emblem. The Black Panthers later adopted that image.
The Black Panthers’ campaign for African American equality had a lasting impact on Black empowerment, and its influence continues to be felt in such current social movements as Black Lives Matter. In addition, the group inspired other minority groups worldwide to pursue their own causes.
In addition to the founders, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, notable Black Panthers included Eldridge Cleaver, who favored a more militant approach, and Elaine Brown, the party’s first and only female chairman. Angela Davis, a philosophy lecturer, was closely associated with the group, and she became a cause célèbre for the radical left after being accused of abetting a failed prisoner escape. Also notable was Fred Hampton, whose death during a police raid brought increased scrutiny to the FBI’s efforts to end the party. Learn more.
The FBI viewed the Black Panther Party as an enemy of the U.S. government and sought to dismantle the party. To this end, its counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) used agent provocateurs, sabotage, misinformation, and lethal force. The FBI’s escalating campaign against the Black Panthers culminated in December 1969. That month a police raid in Chicago resulted in the deaths of local Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and a fellow Panther, Mark Clark. Several days later there was a five-hour police shoot-out at the party’s Southern California headquarters. The measures employed by the FBI were so extreme that the director of the agency later publicly apologized for “wrongful uses of power.”
Black Panther Party, original name Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, African American revolutionary party, founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. The party’s original purpose was to patrol African American neighbourhoods to protect residents from acts of police brutality. The Panthers eventually developed into a Marxist revolutionary group that called for the arming of all African Americans, the exemption of African Americans from the draft and from all sanctions of so-called white America, the release of all African Americans from jail, and the payment of compensation to African Americans for centuries of exploitation by white Americans. At its peak in the late 1960s, Panther membership exceeded 2,000, and the organization operated chapters in several major American cities.
Origin and political program
Despite passage of the 1960s civil rights legislation that followed the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), African Americans living in cities throughout North America continued to suffer economic and social inequality. Poverty and reduced public services characterized these urban centres, where residents were subject to poor living conditions, joblessness, chronic health problems, violence, and limited means to change their circumstances. Such conditions contributed to urban uprisings in the 1960s (such as those in the Watts district of Los Angeles in 1965, among others) and to the increased use of police violence as a measure to impose order on cities throughout North America.
The Black Panther Party displaying a banner on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., during the Revolutionary People”s Constitutional Convention in 1970.
Prints and Photographs Division/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (digital file no. LC-USZ62-128087)
It was in this context, and in the wake of the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, that Merritt Junior College students Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense on October 15, 1966, in West Oakland (officially “Western Oakland,” a district of the city of Oakland), California. Shortening its name to the Black Panther Party, the organization immediately sought to set itself apart from African American cultural nationalist organizations, such as the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the Nation of Islam, to which it was commonly compared. Although the groups shared certain philosophical positions and tactical features, the Black Panther Party and cultural nationalists differed on a number of basic points. For instance, whereas African American cultural nationalists generally regarded all white people as oppressors, the Black Panther Party distinguished between racist and nonracist whites and allied themselves with progressive members of the latter group. Also, whereas cultural nationalists generally viewed all African Americans as oppressed, the Black Panther Party believed that African American capitalists and elites could and typically did exploit and oppress others, particularly the African American working class. Perhaps most importantly, whereas cultural nationalists placed considerable emphasis on symbolic systems, such as language and imagery, as the means to liberate African Americans, the Black Panther Party believed that such systems, though important, are ineffective in bringing about liberation. It considered symbols as woefully inadequate to ameliorate the unjust material conditions, such as joblessness, created by capitalism.