What Was the Black Panther Party?



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What Was the Black Panther Party?

The Black Panther Party (BPP) was a progressive political organization that stood in the vanguard of the most powerful movement for social change in America since the Revolution of 1776 and the Civil War: that dynamic episode generally referred to as The Sixties. It is the sole Black organization in the entire history of Black struggle against slavery and oppression in the United States that was armed and promoted a revolutionary agenda, and it represents the last great thrust by the masses of Black people for equality, justice, and freedom. The Party’s ideals and activities were so radical that it was at one time labeled by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States.” And despite the demise of the Party, its history and lessons remain so challenging and controversial that established texts and media erase all reference to the Party from their portrayals of American history.


The Black Panther Party was the manifestation of the vision of Huey P. Newton, the seventh son of a Louisiana family transplanted to Oakland, California. In the wake of the assassination of Black leader Malcolm X, on the heels of the massive Black, urban uprising in Watts, California, and at the height of the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in October of 1966, Newton gathered a few of his longtime friends, including Bobby Seale and David Hilliard, and developed a skeletal outline for this organization. It was named, originally, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The Black Panther was used as the symbol because it was a powerful image, one that had been used effectively by the short-lived voting rights group the Lowndes County (Alabama) Freedom Organization. The term “self-defense” was employed to distinguish the Party’s philosophy from the dominant nonviolent theme of the Civil Rights Movement, and in homage to the civil rights group the Louisiana-based Deacons for Defense. These two symbolic references were, however, where all similarity between the Black Panther Party and other Black organizations of the time, the civil rights groups and Black power groups, ended.
Immediately, the leadership of the embryonic Party outlined a Ten-Point Platform and Program. This platform and program articulated the fundamental wants and needs of the organization, and called for rectification of the long-standing grievances of the Black masses in America, who were still alienated from and oppressed by society despite the abolition of slavery at the end of the Civil War. Moreover, this platform and program was a mani- festo that demanded the express needs be met and oppression of Blacks be ended immediately; they issued a demand for the right to self-defense by revolutionary ideology and by the commitment of the membership of the Black Panther Party to promote its agenda for fundamental change in America.

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