29 Important Facts You Should Know About the Black Panther Party
Formerly known as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the Black Panther Party (BPP) was founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. Fifty-three years later, we remember the political organization by their iconic black-clad, black-bereted, black women and men in disciplined formation, bearing arms. However, the revolutionary Party was more than their physical appearance. Active for 16 years, BPP’s contribution to the world is still evident today.
Here are 29 important facts you should know about the Black Panther Party.
1. The Black Panther Party was founded to protect black people from police brutality
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded on October 15, 1966, in Oakland, California, to protect black people from police brutality. After observing the mistreatment of black people at the hands of law enforcement officers, the founders formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense to build community and ensure the constitutional rights of black people.
2. The teachings of Malcolm X influenced the Black Panther Party
The Black Panther Party was founded in the wake of Malcolm X’s assassination. One year later, the party was officially formed and influenced by many of X’s teachings.
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3. President Lyndon B. Johnson condemned The Black Panther Party
Although the Black Panther Party sought to empower and help black and oppressed communities, President Lyndon B. Johnson vilified the Party along with other national leaders.
4. The Black Panther Party was considered a terrorist organization
Having identified the Black Panthers as the number one threat to the United States of America, J. Edgar Hoover, with the support of President Richard Nixon, led the FBI in taking down what they labeled a terrorist organization.
5. The Black Panther Party outline their needs and principles in a 10-point program
Every organization has a set of principles that guides them. The Black Panther Party was no different. Utilizing the 10-point program, the party outlined its need for freedom, employment, end of capitalism, housing, education, free healthcare, end to police brutality, and land.
6. The Black Panther Party supported the Second Amendment
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The Second Amendment provides U.S. citizens the right to bear arms, and the Black Panther Party exercised that right by carrying guns openly in compliance with California law. BPP believed that black Americans should exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves against an oppressive U.S. government.
7. The Mulford Act of 1967 passed as a response to the Black Panther Party
The Mulford Act of 1967 was a bill that repealed the right to “open carry” in California. President Ronald Reagan signed the law as a response to members of the Black Panther Party marching into the California state Capitol building, with rifles and shotguns in tow. To this day, California has some of the strictest gun laws in America.
8. The Black Panthers made the NRA support gun control laws
With each passing mass shooting, the debate over gun control rages. Although the National Rifle Association (NRA) lead the charge for the rights of citizens to bear arms, they were speaking a different tune in the 1960s when members of the Black Panther Party were exercising that right. The open carry of weapons scared politicians so much that they introduced bills prohibiting the open carry of firearms in California. The NRA was supportive of those regulations.
9. The Black Panther Party monitored police activities
Today we have smartphones and other gadgets we can use to videotape police encounters. During the active years of the Black Panther Party, the members established patrols in black communities to monitor police activities and protect the residents from police brutality. Instead of using cell phones, the members of BPP would trail police officers and observe their interactions with black people. Armed BPP members would show up during police arrests of black men and women, stand at a legal distance, and surveil their interactions to ensure that they observed the rights of individuals.
10. The Black Panther Party was in support of all oppressed groups
Although the Party was founded to protect black Americans, the Black Panther Party was not trying to oppress anyone. In their 10-point program, BPP demanded rights and treatments for all people of color and all oppressed communities.
11. The Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast for Children program forced the government to expand its own school food programs
The Black Panther Party offered many socialist programs. One program, in particular, was the free school breakfast program for children. This program was launched to “encourage the survival of black people and children.” Although the program was one of the Party’s most successful programs, it was eventually destroyed. However, the program had already received so much positive publicity that it put pressure on political leaders to feed children before school, and resulted in the government expanding its school food programs.
12. The Black Panther Party provided sickle-cell anemia screening
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Sickle cell anemia is a genetic condition in which there aren't enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen throughout your body. Those who suffer from this rare disease, which there is no cure for, suffer from anemia, pain, swelling of hands and feet, infections, and vision problems. And people of African descent are primarily affected by this condition. Although there was a rapid screening test for sickle cell anemia based on a simple finger stick, the test was not widely used due to little funding and public attention. The Black Panther Party set up a national screening program for sickle cell, rectifying the government’s failure to act.
13. The Black Panthers created many community programs
In addition to the Free Breakfast for Children program and sickle cell anemia testing, the Black Panther Party created many more programs. They created a free ambulance program, free dental program, free health clinics, nutrition classes, police patrols to monitor police brutality, clothing distribution, classes on politics and economics, classes on self-defense and first aid, transportation to upstate prisons for family members of inmates, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
14. The Black Panther Party was against capitalism
With over 65 socialist programs introduced, it is no surprise that the Black Panther Party was against capitalism. They believed strongly in the value of socialism. They thought that to bring about effective change, they had to end capitalism and establish a socialist society.
15. The Black Panther Party welcomed alliances with white activists
The Black Panther Party welcomed alliances with white activists, such as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Weathermen, because they believed that all revolutionaries who wanted to change systems of oppression in the United States should unite across racial lines.
16. There was a White Panther Party who supported the goals of the Black Panther Party
The Black Panther Party was pro-black, not to be confused with anti-white. They welcomed white allies who were dedicated to eradicating systems of oppression for all. When asked what white people could do to support the Black Panther Party, Newton responded that they could form a White Panther Party. And thus, the far-left anti-racist white American group in support of BPP was founded in 1968 by Pun Plamondon, Leni Sinclair, and John Sinclair. They also had a similar ten-point program to support the goals of BPP.
17. The Black Panther Party chose their uniform to combat respectability politics
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How can we forget the cool black leather jackets and berets, all slightly different but all in formation and commanding attention? The BPP uniform was very calculated. It was a way to break away from the idea that to gain respect, one had to dress a certain way.
During the civil rights movement, many participants believed that dressing up in suits, ties, dresses, and skirts would gain them favor with oppressive and racist groups. BPP wanted to separate themselves from that idea. Besides, their attire made them look hip and fresh to the younger generation, helping them to attract young members.
18. The Black Panther Party went international
From its Oakland-based home, the Black Panther Party grew to chapters in 48 states in North America. Also, there were international support groups in Japan, France, Germany, Sweden, Algeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uruguay and many more.
19. A black woman led The Black Panther Party at one point
Although the male members gained more recognition in the organization, black women played significant roles in the party. By the early 1970s, most of the members of the Black Panther Party were women. At one point, Elaine Brown led the Party. The first and only woman to do so.
When Newton fled to Cuba in 1974, in the face of murder charges, he appointed Brown to lead the Party. Elaine Brown led the Black Panther Party from 1974 until 1977. Unfortunately, the Black Panther Party suffered from sexist practices, so choosing a woman to lead the party was, in itself, revolutionary.
20. The Black Panther Party had many famous members
The Black Panther Party had many notable figures. A fun fact is that soul singer Chaka Khan was an active member of the Party and worked on the organization’s free breakfast program for children.
21. The FBI had a secret operation to take down the Black Panther Party
Coined COINTELPRO, short for Counterintelligence Program, the secret operation was created to disrupt the activities of groups like the Black Panther Party, the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers' Party, and Ku Klux Klan. Though COINTELPRO didn’t make BPP their only targets, most of their actions were towards the Black Panthers. The Black Panther Party was explicitly targeted and received the most scrutiny.
22. The Black Panther Party had a newspaper
Talk about telling your own story and taking control of the narrative - the Black Panther Intercommunal News Service served as the official voice of the Black Panther Party and was published on April 25, 1967. The newspaper was distributed around the world to discuss BPP’s philosophies and affairs. The paper was also a great source of revenue for the Party and helped to support the different branches and programs.
23. The Black Panther Party established schools
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What first started as informal educational programs transformed into full-fledged schools with curriculums. The curriculums included traditional courses like english, math, and science, in addition to classes on black history and culture, and activities focused on class structure and the prevalence of institutional racism. These schools were called Liberation Schools, and their goals were to provide students with education and training that were not accessible in “white schools.” The most popular and successful one was the Oakland Community School.
24. The Black Panther Party had shootouts with LAPD
In 1968, there was a shootout with Oakland police that led to the death of Bobby Hutton. Police raids and other conflicts with the Black Panthers in Los Angeles and Chicago ended with many shootouts and fatalities.
25. The Black Panther Party eventually dissolved
After many party controversies, internal divisions, and targeted efforts by the FBI, the Black Panther Party dissolved in 1982.
26. Huey P. Newton, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, was shot dead
On August 22, 1989, Huey P. Newton, 47, was shot in West Oakland by gang member Tyrone Robinson of the Black Guerrilla Family, allegedly over a drug-related incident.
27. New Black Panther Party emerged in Texas
The New Black Panther Party (NBPP) was formed in Dallas, Texas, in 1989. However, many members of the original party have objected to this and state that there is no new Black Panther Party.
28. The Black Panther Party remains the largest revolutionary black American organization ever created
While many organizations and movements have evolved after, some with similar names, the Black Panther Party remains the largest revolutionary group started by and for black Americans.
29. Fifty-three years later we are still asking for the same things the Black Panther Party once demanded
Whether we are marching for universal healthcare, affordable housing, an end to police brutality, or rights to free education, we have come to realize that what the Black Panther Party was demanding in the ‘60s and ‘70s are the same things we continue to ask for today.
Although the Black Panther Party was born on the premise of protecting black communities from police brutality by taking up arms, its founders and members eventually realized that violence comes in many forms; therefore, protections must also come in many forms. Unsafe neighborhoods, poor education system, high unemployment rates, and costly healthcare are all acts of violence that BPP sought to address. What they found was that protection could be provided not only in bearing arms but through social programs.
In just a few years, the Party mobilized and provided services to its community, while always holding the government accountable. These programs left lasting impressions on society. Some may remember these revolutionary black men and women as gun-toting, black power shouting, all black everything militants; however, the Black Panther Party were progressive individuals with a full and lasting legacy that we should never forget.
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