The Black Panther Party (BPP), an African-American cultural pride and activist group, was founded in Oakland, California in 1966. The organization had citizen patrols in various U.S. cities to combat white oppression and to guard against state-sanctioned violence perpetrated by police. They wore a black uniform which included leather
jackets and berets.
The founders, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, adopted Marxist tenets and collaborated with groups like Third World, Chicanos, and white allies in charting the course of the party.
Reasons for Establishing the BPP and Early Activities
• The assassination of Malcolm X and the killing of an unarmed teen (Mathew Johnson) at the hands of police contributed to the inception of the BPP.
• The founders protested their colleges’ recognition of California’s pioneers in the 1800s that excluded and disregarded the African American role and many contributions. They also advocated for classes in Black history.
• The party membership increased by recruiting African Americans from the surrounding university community who are targeted and subjected to police brutality. The group affirmation of black beauty promoted a new perception of self-expression, self-love, and cultural pride, which attracted new members particularly among younger demographics.
• The founders’ aim was to champion African American rights against police brutality.
• The organization initiated social programs and participated in political activities.
• Community service work and organized armed patrols were among theirprograms.
• Many chapters of the organization were established in major cities around the country from Chicago, New York, Illinois, and Los Angeles.
• As part of their social welfare programs, schoolchildren in poorer neighborhoods were included in their breakfast program.
• Women were involved in the group’s leadership. Consequently, they helped to power the movement. Some of these women leaders included Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, and Kathleen Cleaver.
• The Black Panther newspaper was pivotal in the survival of the group. It contained the party’s 10-point plan and reached many other people.
• Eldridge Cleaver fled the country after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and killing of Bobby Hutton. He went to Algeria, helped to forge relationships with some other countries and expanded the organization’s reach.
• Following numerous arrests, killings and the resultant dwindling of numbers of active members in part due to infiltration with the intent to dismantle by governmental authorities, the organization closed several chapters. Later the organization split due to differing ideologies and continued governmental pressure and began to disintegrate.
Due to the organization’s popularity, J. Edgar Hoover then FBI director, began to counter Black Panther operations through a counter-intelligence program known as (COINTELPRO) in 1967. COINTELPRO’s mission was to curb black power groups. This led to a precipitous decline of the Black Panther Party’s strength, worsened by Huey
Newton’s decision to purge leaders he perceived to be disloyal. This purge ultimately led to the party’s division in 1971.
What They Are Doing Today
• Long-lasting legacies of those involved are still evident. Bobby Seale, now 79, and many other living Black Panthers still carry on the party’s legacy.
• Several former Black Panthers such as Charles Barron, Bobby Rush, and Nelson Malloy won positions in elected offices in the United States. Most of them provide positive assessment and cite the contributions of the movement in Black liberation.
• BPP held a reunion in Oakland in 2006.
• Several movements and groups have been named based on the Black Panthers; for example, Black Panthers (in Israel), Assata’s Daughters, The Pink Panthers, and Polynesian Panthers.
PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.