.. hers engaged young people who had given up society that they could make a difference and stop the daily brutality of police, which haunted many cities ( Acoli 1) . Hugh Pearson argues that the Panthers ‘in your face’ action has shaped the way police officers act in neighborhoods today. The party’s message spread across the country like wildfire, engaging young Blacks in Northern Black communities. Branches of the Party in New York, Chicago and Oakland worked with gangs, trying to turn them away from violence and into community organizing ( Acoli 2).
Vincent Harding historian of the civil rights movement said: The Panthers offered the young urban black male a purpose in their life. They were saying to these folks, ‘you are not simply society’s problems. You have the potential to enter the struggle to reorganize society. Huey insisted that BPP address the immediate needs of urban African Americans, helping them maintain their current situations until they had the chance to rise above their financial and social hardships. Beginning in Oakland in 1969 the survival programs included breakfast programs for schoolchildren, clothing and food giveaways, escort services for the elderly and health care services, which offered sickle-cell anemia testing and research (Burroughs and Vassell 2).
Due to its success, survival programs spread to all of the Panther chapters across the country. In addition, Huey created the Black Panther Community News Service, a weekly community newspaper that several branches distributed to inform member of Party activism, events and philosophies. By 1970 the paper has a distribution of 125,000 copies. Sold for 25 cents per issue, the paper provided the major source of revenue for the Panthers. Panther chapters also had been involved in local community struggles for decent housing, welfare rights, citizens’ police review panel, Black history classes, and traffic lights on dangerous intersections in Black neighborhoods.
The Black Panther Party’s creation of survival programs allowed Blacks to unite and take responsibility for their community. The community service activities of the Black Panther Party contributed to the public safety and welfare of Black urban individuals arguing that the Panthers’ s breakfast program was the originator for free public school breakfasts and lunches. The survival programs also granted poorer Black citizens with security, food, clothing, political influence and an education (Acoli 2). While Huey primarily focused on improving Black People’s self-esteem and quality of life, he also advocated the commitment for the respect and dignity of all individuals of all races, genders and sexual orientations. The media and white people assumed that since the Black Panther Party was a Black Nationalist Organization, they hated white people. Unlike other organizations within the Black Liberation Movement, the Black Panthers had several biracial alliances (Acoli 2).
The first alliance created in 1967 with the Peace and Freedom Party (PFP). Huey approved the BPPs working with the Peace and Freedom Party to collect signatures for getting PFP candidates on the California ballot. Moreover, The Black Panthers were early advocates of homosexual rights during the very early stages of the gay rights movement. Placing of gay rights on the 1970 agenda of the BPP distinguishes the role the Panthers play in American history. This role definitely contradicts the media’s image of the BPP.
Huey P. Newton made a historic statement encouraging members of Black community to refrain from language that would turn our friends (referring to gays) off. Newton also said we must relate to the homosexual movement, because it is the real thing. Newton also believed that gays could very well be the most oppressed group of people in America (Newton 53). Alycee Lane and William B. Kelley, two prominent gays activists, praised the Panthers for becoming the first non-gay Black organization and radical group to compare the struggle of gays and Blacks and request that they work together to bring about change. As a result of Newton’s stand on gay rights and racial justice, many grassroots organizations were created.
Some of these organizations were based on the Panther philosophy such as the Brown Berets, a Chicago-based Puerto Rican civil rights group. While the Black Panthers restored hope among many Blacks and strived to improve the conditions of other marginalized groups, the Black Panther Party also frightened people. The Panthers represented many aspects of what some people feared in the Black struggle for Civil Rights. The Panthers symbolized what ex-panther and political prisoner; Sundiata Acoli calls the United States racial nightmare. This nightmare had this country so polarized by racism that Blacks would take up guns against whites in armed rebellion.
J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI denied that Black Panther Party’s stated purpose was to protect the community. Police Officers were in fact terrified of the Panthers. Carrying law books and equipped with tape recorders Panthers would follow the police around during their beats. Huey implemented Panther’s monitoring police’s behavior by pointing out legal violations to them and documenting unjust police action. As the BPP rapidly grew across the nation, the Panthers threatened police from local, state and federal branches of government.
COINTELPRO’s intervention called for a quick collapse of the BPP. The increasing success of the Black Panther Party prompted the FBI to believe the BPP was the most likely to become a catalyst for a mass united Black violent uprising. On September 8, 1968, J. Edgar Hoover let it be known in the pages of the New York Times that he considered the Panthers the single greatest threat to the internal security of the country. Therefore FBI launched a counter-intelligence program over the Black Panthers, which sought to disrupt and neutralize the number of what he called Black Nationalist Hate Groups. COINTELPRO was responsible for the murders and beating of hundreds of Panthers.
In 1969, practically every branch and chapter of the Black Panther Party throughout the United States was attacked not less than once and as much as many as five times. COINTELPRO called for federal, state and local police to eliminate the Party (Acoli 3). The FBI sent agent William O’Neal to act as a spy and become a BPP member of the Chicago chapter. Eventually O’Neal became a BPP bodyguard to charismatic chairman of Chicago branch, Fred Hampton. O’Neal’s murder of Hampton earned him a $300.00 bonus from the FBI. COINTELPRO also attempted several assassination attempts on to Huey.
The murder of several branch leaders as well as the destruction of BPP headquarters and survival programs led to the Parties demise by 1973 (Churchill and Vanderwall 58). Black Panther historians have conducted little research investigating the specific reasons for the destruction of the Black Panthers and Huey P. Newton in American history. However, it is likely that the FBI’s opinion and brutal destruction of the Party along with the negative coverage by the media of the BPP, has instilled Americans with a negative attitude towards the Black Panther Party causing them to feel that the Party is deeply rooted in violence and crime. But before their ending, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was able to make a huge impact on America, both physically and inspirationally. Huey’s ability to think critically while analyzing the needs of people acts as a ray of hope for others committed to social change.
The Black Panthers brought attention to the problems of the African-American community in America, and the issue of police brutality, at the time of the large urban riots of 1968, and Martin Luther King’s assassination. Their free breakfast program provided meals to 200,000 children daily. Most amazingly they proved that grassroots movements could make a difference, even when the United States government denies it. Huey P. Newton’s legacy of the Black Panther Party lives on in preachings and teachings of this countries civil rights activist today.
Bibliography Albert, Peter and Hoffman, Ronald. We Shall Overcome. New York: Pantheon Books, 1990. Brooks, Thomas. Walls Come Tumbling Down.
New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1974. Churchill, Ward and Vanderwall, James. Agents of Repression: The FBIs Secret Wars Against The Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. New York: South End Press, 1988. Hayes, Floyd and Kiene, Francis. All Power to the People. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1998.
Newton, Huey P. Revolutionary Suicide. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1979. Newton, Huey P. To Die for the People.
New York: Writers and Readers Pub., 1973. Pearson, Hugh. The Shadow of the Panther. Massachusetts: Addison Wesley, 1994. Seale, Bobby. Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1994.
A Brief History of the Black Panther Party. Sundiata Acoli Home Page. 2000 Online. Internet. http://www.cs.oberlin.edu/students/pjaques/etext/a coli-hist-bpp.html 29 Oct. 2000 History of the Black Panther Party. Black Panther Party.
2000 Online. Internet. Available http://www.afroam.org/history/Panthers/Newton/Newt on.html 29 Oct. 2000 .