Day 13 – Too Black, Too Strong and Most Often, Misunderstood – The Black Panther Party

What comes to mind when you hear about the Black Panthers?

Do you envision Afros, all black, leather jackets and berets, gangsters, intimidation, black power, radicalism, rifle toting men and women, violence, extremist, OR or do you think about what the intended mission was for this revolutionary party and consider why the government was determined to destroy it?

The Black Panther Party was certainly one of the most controversial and complex groups of our times and its mission of bringing awareness to and fighting police misconduct and abuse was often lost in translation.  It was part paramilitary, part social work and health advocate.

We believe that the government must provide, free of charge, for the people, health facilities which will not only treat our illnesses, most of which have come about as a result of our oppression, but which will also develop preventive medical programs to guarantee our future survival.

Founded in 1966 in Oakland California by Huey Newton and Bobby Seal, the party’s original purpose was to protect the disadvantaged blacks from police brutality as well as creating a revolutionary cause to achieve the racial equality and justice the nonviolent civil rights movement fell short of achieving.   At a time where leaders were trying to advance civil rights such as Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent vision, both of who ended up being assassinated, the party became more focused on helping to educate black people while encouraging pride and appreciation in their heritage.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were both gunned down. There was a changing of the guard of sorts, from nonviolent protest for equality to the long, hot summer of riots in black communities all over the country…

With chapters in several major cities, the party amassed over 2,000 members and while many of the stories about the violent run-ins and shootouts with the police,  radicalized behavior and inner group conflicts seem to do nothing but mar the image and mission, what gets lost in their story are the many successful initiatives created to help black people.

Did you know the Black Panther Party created The Free Breakfast for School Children program, which was one of the first organized school breakfast programs in the country?

Or that over 10,000 Black people were helped by health and education initiatives created or fostered by the party?  Does history say much about the 49 clinics that were open across America by 1969?  How often do you hear about the national screening program set up for Sickle Cell illness bringing this illness to the forefront of the government?

As the party began gaining momentum with good deeds it ended up on the hit list of FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover who stated the following in a memo issued in May 1969:

The BCP (Breakfast for Children Program) promotes at least tacit support for the Black Panther Party among naive individuals and, what is more distressing, it provides the BPP with a ready audience composed of highly impressionable youths. Consequently, the BCP represents the best and most influential activity going for the BPP and, as such, is potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for.

The Black Panther Party wanted to protect blacks from racism and police brutality.  It wanted to bring help socioeconomically disadvantaged blacks by providing food, health resources, education, and instilling a sense of pride yet the government wanted and needed to shut it down and swiftly.

Does anyone wonder why?


SOURCES:  WitnessLA  Britannica

PHOTO CREDIT: Huffington Post

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Interested in reading more about the Black Panther Party?  Grab your copy of Power to the People here!



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