UPDATE : Black Panther Party and FBI
WHAT! Didn’t they hate white people or something? Weren’t they super militant and radical? Why are you writing about them? I’m a little concerned about your influences…..
Calm down! First the answer is no (mostly). Like anything in life, I quickly learned these perceptions were based off of newspaper articles, things I read about in history books, and rhetoric I picked up from educators. Not all of which is necessarily accurate.
How do I know this? I had the privilege of going on the Black Panther Legacy Tour led by David Hilliard, Chief of Staff of the former Blank Panther Party. We spent an afternoon driving around West Oakland and visiting infamous locations of significance while listening to David’s first hand experience. I was reminded of how inaccurately history immortalizes its heroes and demonizes its villains.
For example the name, did you know they were actually called the Black Panther Party for Self Defense? Do you know why? The key word is ‘self defense’. Police brutality was rapid during the 1960s against the African American community (no one can deny that) – some civic organizations would advertise trips to travel from southern states up to Oakland, CA to help ‘police’ the community. The African American community was terrorized by these organizations and the police department offered no protection. For this reason the Black Panther Party for Self Defense was born.
Do you know what their first significant act was? Petitioning the city to install a cross walk signal next to a local school after several children had been killed in traffic. After that do you know what their next great achievement was? Creating free lunch programs in the community for school children; their model became the precedent for the current free lunch program run by the federal government.
But what about the fact they carried guns? True they did, (see my first point), but did you know they also carried a copy of the California law code everywhere they went to ensure they were abiding citizens? The iconic Hollywood image has since dropped the book but kept the guns. Also, it’s a first amendment right to bear arms, as David Hilliard pointed out.
Well then why did the FBI shut down the party? The Black Panther for Self Defense party was the most successful party at mobilizing citizen support. During the civil unrest of the 1960’s that was a threat. The FBI feared the impact of citizens mobilizing to demand equal rights to African Americans (don’t forget similar attempts to quell other leaders were being made at the same time).
Not only was the Black Panther Party for Self Defense successful nationally at organizing but they were also successful organizing globally. Chapters were popping up all over the world and this made the FBI anxious. Also, if your organizing globally this includes other races – including white; many members were Caucasian even in the United States. Being a ‘hate-group’ was an image portrayed by the media (thank goodness we know the media does not continue this practice today……)
The FBI began criminal ‘investigations’ – and that is when the more ‘notorious’ incidents of the movement began happening. A lot of the incidents were instigated by the FBI. Years later after due process, the courts found that, from the hundreds of charges and lawsuits filed against the party and its leaders, only a handful were justified.
Unfortunately, after the group dissolved founder Huey P. Newton succumbed to a life of drugs. He was gunned down in the streets by a kid who wanted to kill a respected community leader to gain notoriety in his gang. David Hilliard, who was on a similar self-destruction path, credits his belief in God for saving him and turning his life around. He has been dedicated ever since to tell the true story of the Black Panther Party and leave a legacy for others to follow in building community support. Even 40 years later, as we walked down the streets, neighbors would pass by raising a fist and in respect and shout, “Power to the People!”
I can’t capture an entire afternoon in a few paragraphs, but I can give you a few facts in hopes of inspiring you to dig further and do your own unbiased research – you may be surprised at what you find.