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Black Panther Party Essay, Research Paper

The original vision of the Black Panther Party (BPP) was to serve the needs of the oppressed people in their communities and defend them against their oppressors. When the Party was initiated these aims hoped to raise the consciousness of the people and encourage them to fight for their freedom. The Black Panther Party wrote the Ten-Point Program as a guideline to freedom. They summarized their demands in the final point: “We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace.” They adopted the black panther symbol from an independent political party established the previous year by black residents of Alabama This movement would be the most powerful of the century.

The Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland, California, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966. “They Were Not Only Young And Angry, But Thought They Could Change The World. And In The Course Of 10 years, They Did.”(Hill) Their intent was to lead all Blacks, and all of the oppressed, to a better tomorrow. Newton became the party’s defense minister, and Seale its chairman. The BPP advocated self-defense and restructuring of American society to make social equality. To newton and Seale this was a necessity because,

“this vision of “natural order” of society, rationalize by those who have a vested interest in its maintenance, has kept Americans of different classes and races either directly engaged in social warfare, or forever poised in a position of battle.” (Newton 7)

Both Newton and Seale were influenced by Malcolm X, who called on black people to defend themselves. They also supported the Black Power Movement. The BPP established patrols in black communities in order to monitor police activities and protect the residence from police brutality. The BPP affirmed the right of blacks to use violence to defend themselves. Their militancy attracted the support of many black residents of Oakland. Newton, objected when police engaged in brutality, conducted illegal searches, and otherwise violated the civil rights of black citizens.

Since the beginning of this party it has been scrutinized by many government organizations and officers. These action were blatantly intended to destroy the party. On September 8, 1968, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover announced that the Black Panther Party was the greatest threat to internal security of the nation. From that point on the government was dedicated to ending it. The actions taken by the FBI and several other government bureaus show just how far they would go to end this dissent group.

The method used by the FBI to destroy the BPP, in it’s own words, are as follows expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise reform the BPP. They collected over 8,000 pages of “intelligence” information that was just recently released.

The war against dissident groups did not start with the Panthers. Repression, due to race religion and radicalism was part of this country’s history since it’s conception, so the tactics used by the government against the BPP were not new.

The BPP combined elements of socialism and black nationalism, insisting if blacks didn’t get full employment, the community should take over the means of production. It boosted the development of black-controlled institutions, calling for blacks to work together to protect their rights and to improve their economic and social conditions. The BPP also emphasized class unity, criticizing the black middle class for not helping the lower class Blacks. The BPP Took sides with white radical groups believing that if they want to unite the country they must be able to break racial lines. Eldridge cleaver said “We recognize that it doesn’t make sense to let any tool that we can use lie ideal.”(Marine 115) This was different from other black power groups that would not let whites participate.

The BPP first gained media attention when they protested a bill to outlaw they carrying of loaded weapons in public. The BPP marched on the California state capital with loaded weapons. Where Seale gave his address to a large crowd, he and thirty others were arrested.” The image of Blacks armed for self-defense against police brutality catapulted the party nationally into the public consciousness and gave an erroneous impression that advocated armed confrontation.”(Newton 32) This incident helped recruit many Panthers in and outside of the Bay Area. The party grew all through the sixties and had sects all over the country.

Among the people arrested that day was Eldridge Cleaver a black convict who had recently published “Soul on Ice” (1967) He became an integral part of the BPP when Huey P. Newton was arrested and charged with killing a cop. Cleaver and Seale kept Newton out of prison for life. He was charged with manslaughter with a 2-15 year sentence but due to a procedure error he was let out immediately after the trial.

As racial tension increased around the country, the FBI blamed the Black Panthers for riots and other incidents of violence. The FBI launched a program called COINTELPRO (short for counterintelligence program) to disrupt efforts to unify black militant groups. FBI agents sent anonymous threatening letters to Panthers, infiltrated the group with informers, and worked with local police to weaken the party. In December 1969 two Chicago leaders of the party, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, were killed in a police raid. At this time the BPP chief of staff David Hilliard was awaiting trial on charges of threatening the life of President Richard Nixon. Eldridge wisely, left the United States for exile in Cuba to avoid returning to prison for parole violations.

After Newton’s conviction was reversed, he sought to revive the party and reestablish his control by discouraging further police confrontations. Instead, he called for developing survival programs in black communities to build support for the BPP. These programs provided free breakfasts for children, established free medical clinics, helped the homeless find housing and gave away free clothing and food.

“For one of the first times since the organized slave rebellions before the civil war, Blacks were responding to an organization that tried to build community institutions and did so under the banner of a political ideology that directly challenged democratic capitalism”(Newton 34)

In 1973 Seale tried to build popular support for the party by running for Mayor of Oakland. He was defeated but received over 40 percent of the vote.

This attempt to shift the direction of the party did not prevent further external attacks and internal conflicts, and the party continued to decline as a political force. Newton and Seale broke with Cleaver, who continued to support black revolution instead of community programs. Newton became debilitated by his increasing use of cocaine and other drugs, and in 1974 he fled to Cuba to avoid new criminal charges of drug use. The same year, Seale resigned from the party.

After the departure of Newton and Seale, the party’s new leader, Elaine Brown, continued to emphasize community service programs. These programs were frequently organized and run by black women, who were a majority in the party by the mid-1970s. By then most of the party’s original leaders had left or had been expelled from the group. By the end of the 1970s, weakened by external attacks, legal problems, and internal divisions, the BPP was no longer a political force.

The philosopher George Santayana quotes “Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It is critical that people in the present understand the political movements of the past. So that we have starting point with contemporary issues. Also so we don’t make the same mistakes when dealing with radical political movements.

“For four hundred yearsBlack people have been wanting to do what Huey Newton did, that is, to stand up in front of the most deadly tentacle of the white racist power structure and to defy that deadly tentacle and to tell that tentacle that he will not accept aggression and brutality and that if he is moved against he will retaliate in kind.” (Marine 12)

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