Dubian Ade

Brief Histories: The Black Panther Party for Self Defence

Dubian Ade
Brief Histories: The Black Panther Party for Self Defence

Centuries of Black liberation struggle in the colonial United Snakes seemed to have come to a head in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. But while the movement was able to achieve some victories such as the Civil Rights Bill, it ultimately failed to eliminate white supremacy, poverty, and racial violence.

Many previous Civil Rights activists as well as the younger Black generation started to become disillusioned with the movement's insistence on non-violent direct action and its respectability politics.

large numbers of Blacks had migrated to the cites after WWII, mostly for industrial jobs. With their influx came a steady emigration of whites out of the urban centers that only accelerated after the Civil Rights movement. As whites fled to the green suburbs most of the jobs went with them, a phenomenon known as "white flight" . Black innercity neighborhoods were left to rot in a starving poverty and police departments were deployed to contain them.

The Black Panther Party For Self-Defense was formed on October 15, 1966 in Oakland, California and came as a direct response to police brutality in the Black community.

Bobby Seal and Huey P. Newton co-founded the Party and together came up with the Ten-Point Platform and Program, a document which outlined the direction of the organization. The Ten-Point Platform and Program included calls for the immediate end to police brutality, an end to economic exploitation, decent housing, education, and full employment of Black people. Influenced by Malcolm X, Frantz Fanon, and Mao Zedong, the Black Panther Party became one of the fist Black organizations to make such demands and championed themselves as the revolutionary vanguard of Black poor and working-class people.

One of the very first programs the Party developed was an armed police watch group: The Panther Patrol. The Panther Patrol would follow and observe police activities within the Black community while remaining within their constitutional rights to do so. Their boldness in the face of the pigs and their astute knowledge of the law impressed local residence and terrified police officers. Very often Panthers would have stare-downs with the police that attracted on-lookers, many of whom had never seen an armed group of Black people successfully challenge police authority.


The spectacle was used as an opportunity to recruit members of the Party and conduct political education. California was an open-carry state at the time, and the Panthers took every opportunity to utilize that fact. Members would walk the streets of Oakland in broad day-light with guns by their side. It seemed every time the Panthers made a local appearance they carried their weapons so that they were visible. Very quickly the Panthers began making a name for themselves in the community. At one point the Party even acted a security escort for Betty Shabazz.

When the move was made to eliminate California's open-carry status, the Black Panther Party marched onto the state capitol fully armed. On May 2, 1967 a group of thirty Panthers led by Bobby Seal crashed the state Assembly as the legislator was scheduled to vote on the Mulford Act which would strike down open-carry. Panthers entered the capitol and Seal read aloud a formal statement before he and the group were arrested. The incident gained national headlines and inspired the formation of chapters across the country.

The Party would soon multiply their message through the formation of their own newspaper The Black Panther. First released in April 1967, the newspaper became the national voice of the Party and generated much needed revenue. Used as an engine for broadcasting its revolutionary ideas, the newspaper helped the Panthers gain national popularity and by 1970 there were BPP chapters in over 68 cities.

One of the most important programs to have come out of The Black Panther Party was the BPP survival programs. The Free Breakfast For Children program in particular provided food to at least 10,000 children a day. Through the program the Panthers were able to sustain community support, conduct political education, and expose the failure of social programs initiated by the government. The Free Breakfast Program allowed the Party to have a foothold in the Black community where they could organize the people on a effective level.

As early as 1967 the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was conducting COINTELPRO operations to eliminate the Party. The brutal assignations of Bobby Hutton and Fred Hampton were crushing blows to the Party and proved the lengths to which the FBI would go in order to destroy to Party. These tactics also included jailing BBP leaders on fabricated charges. Huey P. Newton was jailed for an extended period of time for a murder he did not commit. Bobby Seal was jailed on trumped up charges and gaged during his court hearing. Assata Shakur was charged and thrown in jail for a murder she did not commit. The FBI would fabricate charges, manipulated witness, manufacture evidence, anything to lock away members of the Party.

All of the money involved in the judicial process became a huge burden for the Party financially. BPP hired lawyers and raised bail money for members. But the attacks were so frequent that it was beyond the Party's capacity. A substantial part of BPP's energies were focused on getting its members out of jail and this took away from the work it was able to do on the ground.

COINTELPRO had informants infiltrate all levels of Panther leadership. The FBI would often follow and physiologically harass members of the Party, tap their phones, and bug their homes. Many members were force to stop their involvement with the Party and go underground. The FBI used its surveillance technologies to aggravate and escalate conflicts between BPP leadership.

The fateful split between Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver marked the beginning of the end for the Party. The egoism greatly divided the membership to the point of no recovery. With Cleaver exiled to Algeria, and most of the leadership dead or in prison, the Party eventually declined. A number of revolutionary figures came out of the Party including Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver, Elaine Brown, George Jackson, and Fred Hampton. For a brief time Stokley Carmichael was also affiliated with the Party. The contribution it has made to the Black liberation movement is unparalleled.