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The Black Panthers


The Black Panthers were formed in California in 1966 and they played a short but important part in the civil rights movement. The Black Panthers believed that the non-violent campaign of Martin Luther King had failed and any promised changes to their lifestyle via the 'traditional' civil rights movement, would take too long to be implemented or simply not introduced. 

The language of the Black Panthers was violent as was their public stance. The two founders of the Black Panther Party were Huey Percy Newton and Bobby Seale. They preached for a "revolutionary war" but though they considered themselves an African-American party, they were willing to speak out for all those who were oppressed from whatever minority group. They were willing to use violence to get what they wanted.

Huey P. Newton biography


Born in 1942, Huey P. Newton helped establish the Black Panther Party, becoming a leading figure in the black power movement of the 1960s. Along with friend Bobby Seale, the two formed the political organization, striving to create social programs for blacks in need. During the Party's existence, members clashed with the police several times. Newton died after being shot on the street in 1989.


Social activist. Born Huey Percy Newton on February 17, 1942, in Monroe, Louisiana. Newton helped establish The Black Panther Party and became a leading figure in the black power movement of the 1960s. As a teenager growing up in Oakland, California, he got in trouble with the law - as he did numerous times throughout his life.


Despite his legal run-ins, Newton began to take his education seriously. Although he graduated high school in 1959, Newton barely knew how to read. He became his own teacher, learning to read by himself. In the mid-1960s Newton decided to pursue his education at Merritt College where he met Bobby Seale. The two were briefly involved with political groups at the school before they set out to create one of their own. Founded in 1966, they called their group The Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Unlike many of the other social and political organizers of the time, they took a militant stance, advocating the ownership of guns by African Americans, and were often seen brandishing weapons. A famous photograph shows Newton - the group’s minister of defense - holding a gun in one hand and a spear in the other.


Little Bobby Hutton was the first to join the newly formed Black Panther Party for Self Defense. He was only 16 years old when he joined but already believed in the ideals that Seale and Newton had outlined in the Ten-Point Program; he was dedicated to serving his community.

On April 6, 1968, Oakland police ambushed a carload of BPP members on a side street. An hour and a half shootout ensued, resulting in the death of BPP member Bobby Hutton and the arrest of all others present on the scene. Bobby Hutton was shot more than twelve times after he had already surrendered and stripped down to his underwear to prove he was not armed. The murder of Bobby Hutton was a major event in the party's history: it incensed them against the police and inevitably made them stronger.

The Police Patrols become an integral part of BPP community policy. One of the main goals of the BPP was to free black people from the terror of police brutality. Members of the BPP would listen to police calls on a short wave radio, rush to the scene of the arrest with law books in hand and inform the person being arrested of their constitutional rights. BPP members also happened to carry loaded weapons, which were publicly displayed, but were careful to stand no closer than ten feet from the arrest so as not to interfere with the arrest.

Such confrontations with police were common in the early days of the party, as Newton, his law book in one hand and shotgun in the other, capitalized on every opportunity to demonstrate his command of the streets in front of an audience:

[Newton] watched the shaky officer approach, surrendering his license as required but refusing to yield any information not demanded by statute.

“What are you doing with the guns?” the patrolman asked, torn between obvious fear and hostility.

“What are you doing with your gun?” Newton countered…

Newton was in his element, playing to the crowd as he asserted his right to bear arms, announcing his intention to open fire if the police should draw their guns or try to disarm his men illegally. In the end, the police were beaten.
Newton said, “Come on out, black people. Come on out and get to know about these racist dog swine who been controlling our community and occupying our community like a foreign troop. Come on out and we’re going to show you about swine pigs.” [19] The Panthers relied on these demonstrations to educate the community about their rights and the Ten Point Program, as well as to recruit potential members.


The group believed that violence - or the threat of violence - might be needed to bring about social change. They set forth their political goals in a document called the Ten-Point Program, which included better housing, jobs, and education for African Americans. The Black Panthers had a total of 35 community programs, with goals ranging from providing free breakfasts for school children to providing classes for children to setting up medical clinics and to driving family members to visit other family members in prison.

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