The Black Panther Party
The Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland, California by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale on October 15, 1966. Originally called the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, it was an African-American organization established to promote “black power” and aggressive self defense through acts of social agitation and through a movement called the Black Power Movement. The original Black Panther party remained active until the 1970’s. The New Black Panther party is still active today.
Huey P. Newton
Huey P. Newton, one of the original founders, was born in Louisiana and moved to Oakland, California when he was three years old. Upon graduating from high school, Huey still could not read. Disappointed with himself, he set out on a road to self improvement and set a lofty goal – he vowed to read Plato’s Republic in its entirety. It took Huey a total of five readings before he could truly understand the books contents. Huey stated publicly that this single success is what sparked him to become a leader.
The Black Panther’s other founding father, Robert George “Bobby” Seale was born October 22, 1936, in Dallas, Texas. Seale was one of the three children born to his mother a homemaker, and his father, a carpenter, in the segregated South of Dallas, Texas. His family moved to Oakland, California when Seale was in Junior High. Seale attended Oakland High School but dropped out and joined the U.S. Air Force when he was 17 years old. Seale spent three years in the Air Force before being kicked out for disobeying orders given to him by a colonel in South Dakota at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Upon his arrival back in Oakland, Seale began working at different aerospace plants as a sheet metal mechanic and attending night school to earn his high school diploma.
Seale’s Troubles Begin
Bobby Seale was one of the original “Chicago Eight” defendants charged with conspiracy and inciting to riot, in the wake of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, in Chicago. Judge Julius Hoffman sentenced him to four years of imprisonment for contempt because of his outbursts, and eventually ordered Seale severed from the case. During the trial, one of Seale’s many outbursts led the judge to have him bound and gagged, as commemorated in the song “Chicago” written by Graham Nash.
Seale’s Troubles Contine
Seale was put on trial again in 1970 in the New Haven Black Panther trials. Several officers of the Panther organization had “executed” a fellow Panther, Alex Rackley, because they believed he was informing for the FBI. The leader of the murder plan, George Sams, Jr., turned state’s evidence and testified that he had been ordered to kill Rackley by Seale himself, who had visited New Haven only hours before the murder. The jury was unable to reach a verdict in Seale’s trial, and the charges were eventually dropped.
Huey P. Newton meets Bobby Seale
In 1962, at the age of 25, Seale began attending Oakland City College, located on Grove Street, near the Berkeley city limits. While attending Oakland City College, Seale joined the Afro-American Association (AAA) and as a result meet Huey Newton. Both Seale and Newton became increasingly disillusioned with AAA and felt that they were too much talk without any action to back up their words.
The Black Panther Agenda
Originally, the Black Panther intentions were noble with an objective calling for the protection of African American neighborhoods from police brutality (remember, we’re talking about the LA area in the 60’s). They held marches in protest of discrimination (including the infamous 1967 march on the California State Capitol in protest of a ban on weapons).
By 1967, the party had an official newspaper – The Black Panther and by 1968, the party had expanded into many cities throughout the United States, including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Newark, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. That same year, membership reached 5,000, and their newspaper had grown to a circulation of 250,000.
The Black Panther Ten Point Program
The group created their infamous Ten-Point Program, a document that called for “Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace”, as well as exemption from military service for African-American men, among other demands. With the Ten-Point program, “What we Want, What We Believe”, the Black Panther Party captured in uncompromising language the collective economic and political grievances articulated by black radical and many black liberals since the 1930s. This Program was a decree to a nation, that this party felt lack respect for their racial group.
The Black Panthers ultimately condemned black nationalism as “black racism”. They became more focused on socialism without racial exclusivity. They instituted a variety of community programs to alleviate poverty and improve health among communities deemed most needful of aid. While the party retained its all-black membership, it recognized that different minority communities (those it deemed oppressed by the American government) needed to organize around their own set of issues and encouraged alliances with such organizations.
The group’s political goals were often overshadowed by their confrontational and militant tactics, and by their suspicions of law enforcement agents. J. Edgar Hoover called the Party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and he supervised an extensive program against them that included surveillance and eavesdropping, infiltration, harassment, false testimony, and a laundry list of other tactics designed to jail Party members and drain the organization of resources.
Huey P. Newton Troubles Begin
On October 28, 1967, Huey was stopped by Oakland police officer John Frey. The story of how Frey came to be shot has never been fully resolved. Frey claimed that three officers on the scene shot each other. The Officers countered that Huey had wrestled the gun away from Frey and shot him. Frey was hit four times and died shortly thereafter. Huey himself was shot in the stomach. Huey was charged with muder and convicted of voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to 2-15 years in prison. Three years later, the California Appellate Court reversed the decision and ordered a new trial. After two subsequent mistrials, the State of California dropped the case and Huey was set free.
Decline in Black Panther Membership
While Huey was imprisoned, his party’s membership declined significantly in several cities. In addition to Huey’s troubles impacting the party’s membership, the FBI began an active campaign to eliminate the Black Panther’s community outreach programs such as free breakfast for children, sickle cell disease tests, and other community initiatives that the Black Panthers started. The FBI’s assault was began for a good reason – a large portion of the funding for these programs was raised through drug dealing and prostitution ring profits, primarily by Black Panther members “shaking down” these illicit community members. Black Panther’s countered this claim by pointing out that some funding came from celebrities such as Marlon Brando, Richard Prior, James Brown, and Jimi Hendrix.
Huey P. Newton’s Troubles Continue
The FBI assault greatly affected the party’s membership. By 1970, the Black Panthers had from 5,000 to 7,000 members. In 1974, charges were again filed against Huey, this time he was accused of murdering a 17-year-old prostitute, Kathleen Smith. Huey refused to appear in court and his bail was revoked. In addition, Huey was added to the FBI’s most wanted list. Huey fled to Cuba and remained in exile for three years.
The Death of Huey P. Newton
10 years later, Huey was charged with embezzling state and federal funds from the Black Panther’s community education programs, presumably to fund his growing drug problem. He was convicted in 1989. It was at that time, August 22, 1989, that Huey was fatally shot in the Acorn Projects in Oakland.
Huey had approached 24-year-old Tyrone Robinson, who went by the name Double R, and asked to purchase drugs. Tyrone refused to sell Huey cocaine. An argument ensued and Huey pulled out a gun. Robinson reacted and Huey was shot three times in the face. He died instantly. Robinson was convicted of murder and sentenced to 32 years in prison.
The New Black Panthers
By 1987, the Black Panthers had all but collapsed. In 1990, Michael McGee announced the creation of the Black Panther Militia which inspired Aaron Michaels, a community activist and radio producer, to establish the New Black Panther Party. The New Black Panther Party (NBPP), whose formal name is the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, is a U.S.-based black supremacist organization founded in Dallas, Texas in 1989. Members of the original Black Panther Party have insisted that this party is illegitimate and have vociferously objected that there “is no new Black Panther Party”. The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center identified the New Black Panthers as a hate group. The New Black Panther founder, Anthony Michaels rose to national attention for the first time when he called on blacks to use shotguns and rifles to protest against the chairman of a school board who had been taped calling black students “little niggers”.
After only a few short years, Khalid Abdul Muhammad took over as Chairman of the group. Muhammad had formerly been the National Assistant to Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. In 1998, Khalid Abdul Muhammad brought the organization into the national spotlight when he led the group to intervene in response to the 1998 murder of James Byrd in Jasper, TX (James was drug to death behind a car).
Critics of the NBPP say that the NBPP’s politics represent a dangerous departure from the original intent of black nationalism; specifically, that they are starkly anti-white, and also anti-Semitic. Panther members have referred to Jews as “bloodsucking Jews”, and Khalid Abdul Muhammad has blamed slavery and even the Holocaust on the ‘hooked-nose, bagel-eating, lox-eating, perpetrating-a-fraud, so-called Jew’.” Muhammad also once said “there are no good crackers, and if you find one, kill him before he changes.” For his statements, Muhammad was censored by the United States Senate and reprimanded by the Nation of Islam (and some claim that Muhammad was kicked out of the Nation of Islam by Farrakhan). In 2001, Muhammad died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in Atlanta, Georgia, at the age of 53. He is still widely revered by the New Black Panther Party for his outlandish views.
Modern Day New Black Panther Activism
During the 2008 election, poll watchers found a pair of New Black Panther Militia members outside of a polling place in Philadelphia. One of these two was a poll watcher, while the other was a Black Panther member who had brought a nightstick. Chris Hill stated that voters had been complaining about intimidation, while the DA’s office stated that they had not been contacted by voters. The Black Panther with the nightstick was escorted away by the police. According to Fox News, the remaining member denied all reports to reporters, and even when shown the video tape he said, “I don’t know what ya crackas talking about.”
Following the September 11 attacks in New York City and Washington, DC the party promoted the 9/11 conspiracy theory that 4,000 Israelis who worked at the World Trade Center were warned ahead of time by the State of Israel and called in sick the day of the attack — a theory made most widely known by Amiri Baraka in his poem Somebody Blew Up America.
Earlier in 2006 the New Black Panther Party regained the media spotlight by interpolating itself into the 2006 Duke University lacrosse team scandal, organizing marches outside of Duke University and made numerous media appearances where they demanded that the jury organized by District Attorney Nifong convict the accused lacrosse players. On April 12, 2007, after District Attorney Nifong’s case collapsed and the Duke Lacrosse players were exonerated, Malik Zulu Shabazz appeared on the O’Reilly Factor and declared that he would not apologize for his actions in the leadup to the Duke University lacrosse rape scandal, stating that he did not know whether or not anything happened to the young accuser. He stated his beliefs that the rich, white families of Duke had placed political pressure on the investigation and forced the charges to be dropped. When confronted by guest host Michelle Malkin with the facts of the case, he labeled her a “political prostitute” and “mouthpiece for that racist Bill O’Reilly.” In response, Malkin stated that “the only whore present is you.”
The Black Panther 10-Point Platform
Black Panther 10 Point Platform (the “we want” list).
According to their decree, the Black Panthers want the following:
3. Tax exemption
4. Decent housing
6. Exemption from military service
7. End to police harassment
8. Freedom of all black men and women from prisons
9. Trials by black juries
10. No death penalty for black people
11. And a separate black nation or liberated zone (called New Arfrica).
“History has proven that the white man is absolutely disagreeable to get along with in peace. No one has been able to get along with the white man. All the people of color have been subjected to the white man’s wrath. We believe that his very nature will not allow for true sharing, fairness, equity and justice.”