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The Black Panther Party

My survey paper for Assignment 4 is on the Black Panther Party. I will discuss the rise and the fall of the Black Panther Party and how Huey Newton and Bobby Seale met. I will also discuss some of the goals of the Black Panther Party, the good the party did for the black and poor communities. I will also discuss what they hoped to achieve from their movement. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party (BPP) in Oakland, California in 1966. The original name of the Black Panther Party was the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Huey Newton was illiterate when he graduated from high school.

Newton taught himself how to read. Seale had served in the Air Force. Newton and Seale met while both were attending Merritt Junior College in 1965. After Newton attended Merritt Junior College he studied law at the San Francisco School of Law. At Merritt Junior College they organized a Soul Student’s Advisory Council. This Council was the first group to demand that African-American studies be included in the college curriculum. The two men split with the council when Newton and Seale wanted to bring a squad of Black youths on campus to perform drills in commemoration of Malcolm X’s birthday the year after his death.

This is when they formed the Black Panther Party. Newton was the Party’s Defense Minister and Seale was the Chairman. The Black Panther Party symbol, the panther, was adopted from an independent political party established by residents in Lowndes County, Alabama a year earlier. The symbol was chosen because the panther is a powerful image. To achieve their goals, Newton and Seale had a ten-point platform that demanded full employment, exemption of black men from the military and an end to police brutality among other things. The last point, point number ten was a summary of all of the other points.

One of the main goals was to protect Black citizens against police brutality. Their message was self-defense. The Party originally preached violent revolution as the only means of achieving black liberation. The party called on blacks to arm themselves for the liberation struggle. Huey Newton studied law and spoke up when the police violated the civil rights of Black people. He made sure the search warrants were legal. The Black Panther Party had their own patrols to monitor the activities of the police in Black neighborhoods.

The Black Panther Party advocated the use of violence for people trying to defend themselves. Not everyone agreed with the Black Panther Party. The media distorted a lot of things. The Black Panther Party was viewed as Black militants at war with the White power structure and of hating the police. The Black Panther Party considered this view a false view. The members of the Black Panther Party did have strong feelings about the use of violence and the police. “I say violence is as necessary as cherry pie is to America”, H. Rap Brown, Justice Minister, Black Panther Party.

Bobby Seale was charged and convicted of conspiracy to violently disrupt the Democratic National Convention of 1968. The conviction was later overturned. Seale was also a codefendant in a Connecticut case charging murder of an alleged informer on the party. Seale was acquitted in 1971. Another major trial was of 13 Panthers in New York City accused of conspiring to bomb public places. They were also acquitted in 1971. Huey Newton was jailed for manslaughter after Officer John Frey died in a shootout with the Black Panther Party in 1968. This kicked off the “Free Huey” campaign.

Later the charges were dropped. After this campaign, the Black Panther Party went National. The Black Panther Party expanded with chapters in 48 states. Black Panther Party coalition and support groups popped up in Japan, China, France, England, Germany, Sweden, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uruguay and including Israel. The results of the trials caused many to believe that the Black Panthers were being subjected to extreme police harassment. Another incident that sparked this view was a raid by the Chicago police of Illinois party leader Fred Hampton and another Panther in 1969.

After reviewing the facts of the raid, it was found that the two Panthers had been shot in their beds without provocation. Regardless of the entire negative press the Black Panther Party received they had many programs which benefited the Black communities. The social programs provided services to Black and poor people, promoting a model for an alternative, ore humane scheme. There were more than 35 programs referred to as Survival Program. The party members ran these programs under the slogan “Survival Pending Civil Rights Survey Paper Page 2 Revolution” or SPR.

The first program was the Free Breakfast for Children Program. This program fed 200,000 children per day. They printed newspapers, had free clinics and grocery giveaways. They opened anti-poverty centers, manufactured and distributed free shoes; they also developed school and educational programs. The Free Breakfast program became a model for the Federal government and was soon implemented in public schools. The Black Panther Party did not get the credit they deserved. The FBI accused them as being communists and that the Free Breakfast Program was a propaganda tool used to carry out its communist agenda.

The FBI believed the Black Panther Party wanted to overthrow the United States Government. The government did everything they could think of to destroy the programs. The police raided churches where children were being fed and the free clinics were raided and all of the supplies were destroyed. The police were brutal and every effort to move ahead by the Black Panther Party was resisted. The FBI kept pages and pages on all Black Panther Party chapters and all of the Black Panther Party members. There are some negative things about the Black Panther Party.

I don’t agree with the violence, but I spent many mornings as a child with my mother feeding the children breakfast who would not have otherwise been able to eat. I have also spent a couple of holidays as a child giving out food. The Black Panther Party collapsed in the late 1970s brought down by deaths and defections. There were also many internal disputes that help break apart the party. A major split came about. Newton and Seale announced in 1972 their intention to abandon violent methods. Eldridge Cleaver, formerly the publicist for the party, continued to preach violent revolution.

In 1974 both Seale and Newton left the party. Seale resigned and Newton fled to Cuba to avoid drug and murder charges. Newton returned to the United States three years after he left. The two trials ended with hung juries. Newton earned a PhD in social philosophy from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1980. Eldridge Cleaver had spent much of 1954-1966 in prison for various crimes including rape. He wrote a book Soul on Ice in 1968. After a shootout with police in Oakland, Cleaver began a period of exile in Cuba and Algeria.

He returned to the United States in 1975. A young drug dealer shot Huey Newton to death in 1989. The Black Panther Party made an impact on history and on America. Attention was brought to the plight of African-Americans. The party gradually lost most of its influence, ceasing to be an important force in the black communities. The formation of the Black Panther Party came at a time when tensions were high in the African-American communities against whites. Great African-American leaders were being assassinated. Racial violence was widespread.

The Civil Rights Act had just been signed in 1964. Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem, February 21, 1965. The Watts riot occurred in Los Angeles the same year of Malcolm X’s assassination August 11-16. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. His assassination caused an uproar in more than 100 cities. In 1969 Edwin Pratt, Executive Director of the Seattle Urban League and a respected African-American leader was shot to death while standing in the doorway of his home. The murder has never been solved.

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