The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was formed right here in Oakland, California in October, 1966. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale were the original founders. Later the name of the party was changed to Black Panther Party (BPP).
The party was formed when there was blatant racism prevailing in the United States and most African Americans could not make much progress. The Vietnam war created anti-war sentiments. Many young black men and women went to war against their wishes. All protesters were marked by the local police and Federal Agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The BPP was not spared in these times of hostility. People of color, African Americans in general but especially the members of the BPP were targets and their movements closely watched by Law Enforcement (LE).
In the summer of 1968 the David Brothers established the BBP branch in Brooklyn, New York. A few months later a branch was established in Harlem by Lumumba Shaker. Subsequently, many more branches of the BPP were formed all over the country, mostly in poor African American neighborhoods. The BPP movement began on the West Coast, in Oakland. It moved to the East coast and found fertile ground in Chicago, New York, Harlem, in those locations where there was a concentration of poor African Americans but also African Americans who were waiting to fight for their rights as first class citizens.
BPP members chose to take a stand against those authorities that kept them down. They all were very well versed with self-defense tactics and many of them were fully armed. Law Enforcement (LE) agencies were quick to put down any resistance and many shoot outs took place in those neighborhoods where the BPP had offices and large membership. This was a difficult time for the leaders of the BPP and many of them fled the United States. They took their revolution and the philosophy of the BPP to many a African country, to the Caribbean, and elsewhere.
The main purpose of the BPP was to empower African Americans during a period of time when most African Americans could not make much progress. In many poor neighborhoods many young African Americans were looking for leadership and the BPP filled this void.
Self defense was taught to discipline its members so that some sense of organization could be put in place. Membership was restricted to African Americans and most of the ideology was based on Socialist principles. Armed with the 10 step program the BPP had a clear vision, goals and objectives that endeared many young men and women who became staunch members of the BPP. There was no lack of leadership and even today most everyone agrees that the BPP attained most its goals and objectives with great distinction.
The 10 step program was the Bible of the BPP. It stated that all African Americans should be free and determine their destiny. That there should be full employment and an end to Capitalism that preys on the African American community. It called for decent housing and sound education. It stated that its members be exempt from military service and that all police brutality should stop. It called for the release of all African Americans held in jails and demanded justice by having juries who were African Americans. The BPP demanded land, housing, education, food, clothing, peace and justice. The BPP demanded that they have their own jurisdiction within the U.S. so that they could empower themselves and determine their destiny.
Never before, in recent history had African Americans organized so well , with a determination to attain goals and objectives laid down in the 10 step program.
The BPP based most of its organization and training using standard practices used in the Army. Geronimo ji -Jaga (Pratt) for example was highly trained in the U.S. Army and assumed the role of Minister of Defense for the BPP. Other leaders like Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Lumumba, had the ability to address the members and hold them spell bound. The BPP realized very early on that in order to keep the organization growing they had to organize the people among whom they lived and worked. Hence huge rallies gathered the masses, mostly in poor neighborhoods and explained to them certain projects linked to education, tenant rights, business operations, self determination, and so on.
Hundreds of BPP leaders were trained, they in turn began teaching and training those who lived in the poor neighborhoods self defense tactics. Free school lunches were provided for needy and poor students. Free clinics where children and adults could get free medical care. Those that needed tutoring were provided with teachers and peers who spent hundreds of man hours helping one another.
It was recognized early on that land rights, home ownership, tenant organization, and taking control of ones destiny were important. The BPP leaders and members clearly understood that their neighborhoods had to project self pride. Towards this end African American neighborhoods were well maintained, kept clean, and the streets well organized. People all over the U.S. watched the BPP and many admired the quick change in those neighborhoods that were once an eye sore to the public. The BPP demanded freedom for all African Americans. The demanded that they rule their destiny and wanted to see progress in all African American communities.
Other minorities followed the progress of the BPP and looked forward to enjoying the rights fought by the BPP leaders and members all over the U.S. The 10 step program stated that the racist government had robbed African Americans bringing them to this country as slaves and treating them as second class citizens. Decades ago the U.S. government had promised all African Americans linked to slavery forty acres of land and two mules. This was made the cry of the day. It was stated that over 50 million African Americans had died from the early days of slavery to the times of the hey day of the BPP. The modest claim of 40 acres and two mules was deemed right. Many statements and comparisons were made linking the issue of the Jews and Hitler during World War II to the U.S. government and the treatment of African Americans.
The BPP demanded full employment and guaranteed income. It held the Federal government responsible to attain this goal and improve the standard of living in all African American communities, most of which were very poor.
The BPP demanded standard housing for all African Americans. It believed that Whites denied decent housing to African Americans. It therefore sought the help of the Federal government and what is more held them accountable to right the wrong.
Education was always a top priority among the BPP leadership and organization. For decades the true history of African Americans and the role they played in the making of the U.S. was not taught in schools and colleges. The BPP demanded that true history and standard education be made available to all African Americans to enable them to participate as equals in society. The BPP was fully aware that education and the position of any African American in society was inter related. The BPP in its various educational program stressed the need to attain educational standards and towards this end trained its leadership to be good educationists.
The BPP left a legacy of good leaders, teachers, business people, and other professional people within the African American population all over the U.S. The Vietnam war played an important role in the philosophy of the BPP. Many young African women and men were called to serve the Armed Forces and did not want to go to war. The prevailing thought of the day was that the African men and women were contributing to the racist White community by fighting and killing people of color. The BPP did not want any of its members and the general African American population to participate in any war that encouraged racism.
On the other hand the BPP made it very clear to the local police and other law enforcement agencies that they would defend the mutual interests of all African Americans and the BPP by any means necessary. This meant if worse came to worse they would defend themselves by using force. This element of force to defend themselves was displayed again and again all over the country. For example on December 8, 1969 the Los Angles Police Departmentıs newly initiated Special Weapons and Tactics Unit (SWAT) led an assault on the Los Angeles Panther Office Central Avenue. The BPP, some 15 persons held their ground for more than 4 hours surrounded by over 300 police force. The BP Panthers suffered minor wounds and all charges were dropped against the BPP. Similar raids by the LE in Chicago and other parts of the country, rallied all members of the African American community.
Again and again the self defense training provided by the leaders of the BPP proved to hold their ground against the best LE all over the country. The second amendment guarantees all Americans to bear arms. The BPP pointed out to the Constitution as their right to bear arms, so that they could defend themselves. The BPP called upon the police to end police brutality in all black communities. As we have discussed before the BPP always maintained good standard training in self defense and as such members of the BPP could and did always hold their ground.
Thousands of black men and women were held in jails all over the country. Most of these men and women came before juries that were all White and were sent to long jail terms. The BPP demanded that juries be composed of African Americans and that those imprisoned be released because they did not receive a fair and impartial trial.
The BPP demanded that all African Americans have enough land, housing, food, clothing, justice and peace. The BPP demanded that the United Nation hold a plebiscite that should be held throughout the African American colony in which only African American colonial subjects will be allowed to participate. That this plebiscite be held to determine the will of the African American people linked to the National destiny of all African Americans.
The BPP was instrumental in affecting many changes in government and the prevailing political circles of the time. Even today many an African American politicians owe their status in many a political circle because they were influenced by the BPP. Here, in the Bay Area Congressman Ron Delums being one of them. Hundreds of young men and women attended schools and colleges all over the country and today contribute their talents as professional African Americans to the United States and the world.
The BPP was very instrumental is giving women equal rights and permitted them to play an important role at all levels. Many women today owe their success to the efforts of the BPP initiated many years ago. Angela Davis is a well known Black Panther Leader who taught at the University of California at Los Angeles. In 1969 she joined the Communist Party and the following year joined the Black Panther Party. She and other Black Panther Party leaders took a stand for human rights and fought for rights for all people of color. Today, thousands owe thanks for what they stood for and the fruits brought to so many through Affirmative Action.
The Black Panther Party means many things to many people. To most African Americans it was an organization that brought about progress, united the community, and taught African Americans to fight for their rights as United States citizens. Prior to the BPP most African Americans were treated as second class citizens.
Today, the BPP does not function. Most of its leaders were arrested and spent long years in jail. Others, fled the country never to return. Angela Davis spent many years in hiding, came out to face the authorities, and spent years fighting the court system. She won but at great expense. Geronimo Pratt spent 27 years in jail, before being acquitted. Other BPP leaders who fled the country continue to work in other African countries and all around the world.
The Black Panther Party was instrumental in paving the way for many Black Liberation Movements. The BPP helped many people of color, minority groups to unite and stand united in their fight for progress and justice. The BPP brought about a link between African Americans and the African continent. It was during this period that many African Nations were emerging as Independent Nations, casting the shackles of colonialism.
Today, in our quest for freedom and equality, even in the face of such propositions as 209 we remember the Black Panther Party and the 10 step program. The Bay Area has always taken a stand to help people of color, fight injustice and bring about equality. Many of our African American elders witnessed the rise and demise of the BPP, many of our elders and others continue to practice and imbibe the practical lessons leading to progress and self determination.
The BPP took great pride in Self Defense and many minority groups today are following that same path to stabilize their organizations and bring about discipline.