The Black Panther Party
Influenced by the teachings of Malcolm X and the Black Power Movement, the BPP, originally called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, called for the restructuring of American society to achieve social, political, and economic equality, based on principles of socialism.
The party platform
consisted often points ("We want..."): 1. Freedom and Self-determination
The Black Panthers espoused the concept that Black people had a right to defend themselves against racist authorities by any necessary means, including violence. While this philosophy made them an alternative to more moderate civil rights groups of the time, it also put them constantly at odds with local police and the FBI. The Panthers initiated patrols in Black communities with the object of monitoring police activities and protecting people against police brutality. They also formed affiliations with some white activists because they believed that all revolutionary groups with similar goals of reforming American Society should unite.
The FBI launched a team called COINTELPRO to prevent Black militant groups from uniting and growing in influence. BPP local chapters were infiltrated by informants and their offices were subject to frequent raids. Panthers and police confronted each other in several shoot-outs in California, New York and Chicago.
Panthers Fred Hampton (Illinois State Leader) and Mark Clark were killed by police during a raid, and in 1967 Minister of Defense Huey Newton was sent to prison for manslaughter after a shootout in Oakland that left a policeman dead. His incarceration spurred a "Free Huey" movement and in 1971 a California Court of Appeals reversed his conviction.
There were also incidents of violence, which occurred between BPP members and suspected informants and other revolutionary groups. By the end of the 1960's, over 20 Panthers had been killed and others were in prison. A few, including Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver, who had put together the party newspaper and had run for President of the U.S. in 1968, fled the United States to avoid arrest.
After Newton's release he attempted to steer the Black Panthers away from confrontations with police and toward community programs to build support for the party. Among the most well known of the Panthers' social programs was the program which provided free breakfasts to children. In addition, the Panthers put programs in place to establish free medical clinics, give away free clothing and food, establish more community control of schools and police, organize rent strikes for tenants, and organize campaigns against drug abuse and crime. In 1973 Bobby Seale ran for the office of Mayor of Oakland. He did not win, but received about 40% of the vote.
By the mid- 1970's
the party had declined as a political force. It had been weakened by various
internal divisions as well as legal difficulties and constant efforts
to fend off external attacks. Most of the founding members were gone,
expelled from the party or had left voluntarily due to ideological differences
or problems with law enforcement. Still, the Black Panther Party holds
a unique place in history; their revolutionary methods and fervent in
promoting their ideals have come to symbolize the turbulent 1960's, a
time when American society had its eyes opened to many things.