Black Panther Party
The Black Panther Party (BPP), originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, was a Black Power political organization founded by college students Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton in October 1966 in Oakland, California. The party was active in the United States between 1966-1982, with chapters in numerous major cities, and international chapters in Britain and Algeria. Upon its inception the Black Panther Party's core practice was its open carry armed citizens' patrols ("copwatching") to monitor the behavior of officers of the Oakland Police Department and challenge police brutality in the city.
In 1969, a variety of community social programs became a core activity. The Party instituted the Free Breakfast for Children Programs to address food injustice, and community health clinics for education and treatment of diseases including sickle cell anemia, tuberculosis, and later HIV/AIDS. It advocated for class struggle, with the party representing the proletarian vanguard.
- Politics is the art of making the people believe that they are in power, when in fact, they have none
- Mumia Abu-Jamal, "Is Obama's Victory Ours?" 06-05-08
- The colonization of the Southern economy by capitalists from the North gave lynching its most vigorous impulse. If Black people, by means of terror and violence, could remain the most brutally exploited group within the swelling ranks of the working class, the capitalists could enjoy a double advantage. Extra profits would result from the superexploitation of Black labor, and white workers’ hostilities toward their employers would be defused. White workers who assented to lynching necessarily assumed a posture of racial solidarity with the white men who were really their oppressors. This was a critical moment in the popularization of racist ideology.
- Angela Davis, Women, Race and Class (1983)
- So we say—we always say in the Black Panther Party that they can do anything they want to to us. We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary. And you’re going to have to keep on saying that. You’re going to have to say that I am a proletariat, I am the people. I am not the pigs. You’ve got to make a distinction. And the people are going to have to attack the pigs. The people are going to have to stand up against the pigs. That’s what the Panthers are doing here. That’s what the Panthers are doing all over the world.
- You state that the Bureau ... should not attack programs of community interest such as the [Black Panther Party] "Breakfast for Children." … You have obviously missed the point.… This program was formed by the BPP for obvious reasons, including their efforts to create an image of civility, assume community control of Negroes, and to fill adolescent children with their insidious poison.
- J. Edgar Hoover, "Racial Intelligence: Black Panther Party (BPP)" (27 May 1969).
- Revolutionary change means the seizure of all that is held by the 1 percent, and the transference of these holdings into the hands of the remaining 99 percent. If the 1 percent are simply replaced by another 1 percent, revolutionary change has not taken place.
- George L. Jackson, Blood in My Eye (1971) p. 9
- Prestige stands between the masses and a revolt against their class enemy. The aura of magic, glamour, luster and splendid permanence covers the fascists like a protective layer of fat. The slimy scales of majesty shield and conceal the dilapidation of the old bourgeois reign of terror.
- George L. Jackson, Blood in My Eye (1971), p. 47
- This is a huge nation dominated by the most reactionary and violent ruling class in the history of the world, where the majority of the people just simply cannot understand that they are existing on the misery and discomfort of the world.
- George L. Jackson, Blood in My Eye (1971), p. 72
- We are quite obviously faced with a need to organize some small defenses to the more flagrant abuses of the system now. ... While we await the precise moment when all of capitalism's victims will indignantly rise to destroy the system, we are being devoured. ... Some of us are going to have to take our courage in hand and build a hard revolutionary cadre for selective retaliatory violence.
- Jonathan P. Jackson, Blood in My Eye (1971), pp. 11-12
- Comrade, Repression exposes. By drawing violence from the beast, the vanguard party is demonstrating for the world to examine just exactly what terms their rule is predicated on—their power to organize violence, our acquiescence.
- Jonathan P. Jackson, Blood in My Eye (1971), p. 23
- If the truth be told, which it rarely was except in private, most of the white Left found the Black Panthers a little bit scary. While most of the New Left whites were from the comfortable middle class, and most of the civil rights blacks such as Bob Moses and Martin Luther King were well educated, the Black Panthers were mostly street people from tough neighborhoods, often with prison records. Dressing in black with black berets and posing for photos with weapons, they intended to be scary. They preached violence and urged blacks to arm themselves for a coming violent revolution. They might have gotten little sympathy and few admirers except for two things. By 1968 it was becoming clear that the political establishment, especially in certain fiefdoms such as Mayor Richard Daley’s Chicago and Governor Ronald Reagan’s California, was prepared to use armed warfare against unarmed demonstrators. In April Daley announced that he had given his police force orders to “shoot to kill” any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail and “shoot to maim” any looters, a license to open fire on any civil disturbance. Once Reagan became governor in 1967, along with cutting the state budget for medical care and education, he initiated a policy of brutalizing demonstrators. Following an October 16, 1967, attack on antiwar demonstrators in Oakland that was so barbarous it was dubbed “bloody Tuesday,” he commended the Oakland Police Department for “their exceptional ability and great professional skill.” Young, privileged white people were starting to be treated by police the way black people had been for a long time.
- the newspaper we put out, El Grito del Norte — which we did start with Beverly’s help — that newspaper was started, I want you to know, on the same typewriter as the first Black Panther Party newspaper, the same typewriter
- Elizabeth Martinez, Oral History Interview (2006)
- The FBI was most disturbed by the Panthers' survival programs providing community service. The popular free breakfast program, in which the party provided free hot breakfasts to children in Black communities throughout the United States, was, as already noted, a particular thorn in the side of J. Edgar Hoover. Finding little to criticize about the program objectively, the Bureau decided to destroy it.
- I have no doubt that the revolution will triumph. The people of the world will prevail, seize power, seize the means of production, wipe out racism, capitalism.
- Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide (1973), p. 4
- Some see our struggle as a symbol of the trend toward suicide among Blacks. Scholars and academics, in particular, have been quick to make this accusation. They fail to perceive differences. Jumping off a bridge is not the same as moving to wipe out the overwhelming force of an oppressive army. When scholars call our actions suicidal, they should be logically consistent and describe all historical revolutionary movements in the same way. Thus the American colonialists, the French of the late eighteenth century, the Russians of 1917, the Jews of Warsaw, the Cubans, the NLF, the North Vietnamese—any people who struggle against a brutal and powerful force—are suicidal.
- Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide (1973), p. 5
- I had read a pamphlet about voter registration in Mississippi, how the people in Lowndes County had armed themselves against Establishment violence. Their political group, called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, had a black panther for its symbol. A few days later, while Bobby Seale and I were rapping, I suggested that we use the panther as our symbol.
- Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide (1973)
- When we first started, we had a police alert patrol. We would patrol the community; if we saw the police brutalizing anyone we would put an end to it. Usually, the police wouldn't brutalize anyone if we were on hand because we were armed.
- We, the Black Panther Party, see ourselves as a nation within a nation, but not for any racist reasons. We see it as a necessity for us to progress as human beings and live on the face of this earth along with other people. We do not fight racism with racism. We fight racism with solidarity. We do not fight exploitative capitalism with black capitalism. We fight capitalism with basic socialism. And we do not fight imperialism with more imperialism. We fight imperialism with proletarian internationalism.
Quotes about Black Panther Party
- While Chicanos in the Southwest sought to emulate the paramilitary style of the Black Panthers by forming groups such as the Brown Berets, it was Puerto Rican organizations like the Young Lords Party that most self-consciously modeled themselves on the Black Power movement.
- Cristina Beltrán, The trouble with unity : Latino politics and the creation of identity (2010)
- One militant black group, however, endorsed me strongly-the Black Panthers. National chairman Bobby Seale said I was the best social critic of America's injustices to run for President from whatever party," and promised that the Panthers' full membership would work for me. More than one supporter wanted me to disavow the Panthers' endorsement, but I flatly refused. "The Black Panthers are citizens of the United States and they have a right to endorse whomever they decide to endorse," I told reporters in Sacramento, where we got word of the action. "What has happened to them as an oppressed group in America has led them to the conclusion that perhaps with me there is hope." From where I stood, it was a highly hopeful sign that this group appeared to be emerging into an active participation in elective politics; they were acting according to a principle that I had always strictly maintained: that the way to change the system must be to work within the system. To disavow their support would have been arrogant and inconsistent with my strongest principles; if failing to do so cost me any votes from whites and moderate blacks, so be it. They are my brothers and sisters too, and I was pleased and proud at their action. One thing that gratified me was that the Panthers had succeeded in rising above sex prejudice, something that many blacks find difficult; they were supporting me because of my positions and my programs, without regard to my being female. This showed that in some ways they were farther along the path of political maturity than some of the moderate leaders of elements of the black community, who, I am convinced, never took me seriously as a candidate because they were not capable of taking any woman seriously as a potential leader.
- Shirley Chisholm The Good Fight (1973)
- The civil rights movement tended to be focused on integration, but there were those who said, "We don't want to assimilate into a sinking ship, so let's change the ship altogether." The emergence of the Black Panther Party marked a moment of rupture, and we are still in that moment. The party had two different kinds of activism: grass-roots activism that helped to create institutions that are still working-for example, the Agriculture Department now runs free breakfast programs. On the other hand, the posture of self-defense and monitoring the police. If one looks at the party ten-point program, every single point is as relevant or more relevant fifty years later. The tenth point includes community control of technology. That was very prescient. It's about using technologies rather than allowing them to use us.
- 2014 interview in Conversations with Angela Davis Edited by Sharon Lynette Jones (2021)
- In Berkeley and Oakland, "Free Huey" was the call. I found the militancy and relevance of the Panthers' program irresistible. The Black Panther Party's "10-Point Program" called for black freedom and the power to determine the destiny of the black community. The program demanded jobs, housing, education, an end to white exploitation of the black community, an end to police brutality, instigation of trials by peer juries, and freedom for incarcerated blacks. Most interesting of all, the Panthers revived a demand enunciated by Malcolm X just before his death-a U.N.-sponsored plebiscite to determine whether blacks wanted to be part of the United States, or form a separate nation. The Panthers began calling their program "intercommunalism."
- Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Outlaw Woman (2001)
- In the 1960s I was part of a number of Black revolutionary movements, including the Black Panther Party, which I feel partially failed because of the authoritarian leadership style of Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale and others on the Central Committee. This is not a recrimination against those individuals, but many errors were made because the national leadership was too divorced from the chapters in cities all over the country, and therefore engaged in “commandism” or forced work dictated by leaders. But many contradictions were also set up because of the structure of the organization as a Marxist-Leninist group. There was not a lot of inner-party democracy, and when contradictions came up, it was the leaders who decided on their resolution, not the members. Purges became commonplace, and many good people were expelled from the group simply because they disagreed with the leadership. Because of the over-importance of central leadership, the national organization was ultimately liquidated entirely, packed up and shipped back to Oakland, California. Of course, many errors were made because the BPP was a young organization and was under intense attack by the state. I do not want to imply that the internal errors were the primary contradictions that destroyed the BPP. The police attacks on it did that, but, if it were better and more democratically organized, it may have weathered the storm. So this is no mindless criticism or backstabbing attack. I loved the party. And, anyway, not myself or anyone else who critique the party with hindsight, will ever take away from the tremendous role that the BPP played in the Black Liberation movement of the 1960s. But we must look at a full picture of out organizations from that period, so that we do not repeat the same errors.
- I admired the personal courage and commitment of individual Black Panthers I got to know, but I was not a fan of their politics. With the Panthers you found this curious mixture of selfless dedication and some of the worst aspects of street culture. They maintained discipline in their party "with a stick," as their own phrase had it. In Los Angeles they would run classes every Saturday in "political education" in which their members had to memorize sections of Mao's little red book. If they failed to memorize their assignment, they were beaten up. The same thing would happen if they failed to sell their weekly quota of their party newspaper. The Panthers picked up the Maoist slogan "All power grows out of the barrel of a gun" and made an ideological fetish out of it. That phrase has to be one of the stupidest things Mao ever said, because what power really grows out of is the organized consciousness of millions of people. At some point guns may become important tactically in the revolutionary process in some countries, but that isn't where power comes from-and a good thing, too, because revolutionaries are always going to be outgunned by the forces defending the old order.
- Dorothy Ray Healey California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party (1993)
- One of the problems the Panthers faced was that their founding leaders, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, were either on trial or in prison for most of the late 1960s and early 1970s. That left control of the party pretty much in the hands of Eldridge Cleaver, an unstable character who led it close to the brink of destruction. After Huey and Bobby got out of prison and broke with Cleaver, they shifted their emphasis from "self-defense" to "survival programs." The place where they did most to implement the new strategy was in Oakland, the only city where they were able to build any kind of a base. There they functioned as a kind of free-lance social welfare agency, providing free food, clothes, and health care services to the community. We obviously didn't have anything against people receiving those kinds of services, but our idea had always been that the role of radicals was to organize people to demand that such benefits be provided by the government. Radicals shouldn't be in the position of competing with the churches as dispensers of charity. At the height of the Panthers' "serve the people" phase, Bobby Seale came down to Los Angeles to speak at a fundraising event in some wealthy white supporter's house. He was standing up at one end of the room explaining why this free-groceries strategy was the key to political success, and the rest of us were literally sitting at his feet. I think I was one of the few skeptics in the room, and I asked him, "How is the Black Panther Party different from any church running a soup kitchen?" He didn't know who I was, and when he turned to me he said, "I'm afraid I can't explain it to you because you don't understand dialectical materialism." That got a big laugh. The problem with the Panthers' approach to politics, in both its early and later stages, was that they were always substituting themselves for someone. When their emphasis was on military confrontation, they were substituting themselves for mass revolutionary activity, and when their emphasis was on free handouts, they were substituting themselves for the welfare department.
- Dorothy Ray Healey California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party (1993)
- we became involved in the Black Panther Defense Committee. My parents were doing various kinds of support activities for the Panthers. They lent them the car for the breakfast program and various things. My dad was teaching history class to the Young Lords…the Panthers themselves were very young. They were teenagers. I’m trying to remember — Bobby Rush — Fred Hampton was 21 when he was killed. You know, they were all very young and so they were kind of, you know, these strutting, macho boys who were coming into a kind of political power that they had not had access to before. So there were all kinds of dynamics that were icky about it, but you know, I don’t remember the details of what we did with them, as it wasn’t for that long of a period.
- We're gonna make our own revolution because we're sick of revolutionary posters which depict straight he-man types and earth mothers, with guns and babies. We're sick of the Panthers lumping us together with the capitalists in their term of universal contempt-"faggot."
- Martha Shelley, "Gay Is Good" anthologized in The Stonewall Reader (2019)
- I think the most probably visible historical example of mutual aid in the U.S. that people talk about a lot is, of course, the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast programs and health programs, which were a vital part of the party’s work. And it’s a good example of how social movements often, pretty much always, centrally organize mutual aid, because people come into social movements to get immediate needs met, and they also desperately want to help others facing what they’re facing. And when they’re there, they can build a shared analysis: Hey, why don’t we have food? Why don’t we have shelter? What systems are in place that we all actually want to get to the root causes of?
- The Black Panther, the official publication of the BPP, criticized the legalization of abortion in New York in 1970, and equally scathing essays continued to appear throughout the early 1970s.
- Mary Ziegler, “Roes Race: The Supreme Court, Population Control, and Reproductive Justice”, Yale Journal of Law and Feminism Volume 25, Issue 1, 2013, p.27
- By 1975, moreover, the Black Panthers had endorsed abortion rights. The organization first reversed positions when protesting the conviction of Dr. Kenneth Edelin, an African American obstetrician-gynecologist convicted for manslaughter in the death of a fetus during a late term abortion. In 1977, the Panthers ran a series of articles criticizing the Hyde Amendment and calling for access to abortion as part of a broader program of welfare rights.
- Mary Ziegler, “Roes Race: The Supreme Court, Population Control, and Reproductive Justice”, Yale Journal of Law and Feminism Volume 25, Issue 1, 2013, pp.39-40
- War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America, Huey Newton's doctoral dissertation (June 1980)
- Huey P. Newton
- Bobby Seale
- Other members of the Black Panther Party