The Black Panthers
2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party’s founding.
The group would become emblematic of the Black Power movement that helped shape the tumultuous years of the late 1960s and early 1970s and led to the election of Barack Obama as America’s first Black president. The Panthers electrified a generation of black youth. They remain cult heroes today, nearly 50 years after their founding.
Following the assassination of Malcolm X in 1966, two college students, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton formed the Black Panther Party. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale preached the right of black people to self-determination which included the right to self-defence and community control of the police. After Martin Luther King was gunned down in 1968, the Panthers grew rapidly into a national revolutionary party with over 5,000 members in cities across the United States.
The Black Panther Party sought to build a community through service to the people. Toward this end, the Panthers served Free Breakfast to tens of thousands of school children every day because “hungry kids can not concentrate in school.” The Panthers provided free food, clothing, shoes, set up Free Medical Clinics, and escorted seniors when they shipped so they would not be robbed. The Panthers started their own school to educate children of Panthers. Their charter school was cited as excellent by the California State Legislature. (The Panthers’ success organizing the black community also prompted FBI head J. Edgar Hoover to describe the organization’s breakfast program as the country’s greatest threat to internal security. The FBI launched COINTELPRO: a massive campaign of intimidation and assassination to wipe out this revolutionary organization.)
The Black Panther Party gave purpose to the aimless, angry youth who loitered on street corners. The Panthers melded these young people into disciplined, hard workers who served their community and showed respect for their mothers, fathers, and elders.
50 years later, some progress has been made: where in 1968 there were only a few elected African-American officials on all levels nationwide, there are now tens of thousands, including the President of the United States. Community control of police is an accepted doctrine. The Federal Government feeds millions of school children every day. On the other hand, progress is not apparent in jobs, housing, the justice system. Black male youth are still at-risk. Efforts to feed children or give everyone access to good quality medical care—are under attack.