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Black Panthers Literature Review
The Black Panthers Party was a movement for social justice. It sought to create an equal society by fighting against police brutality, racial injustices, and the mass imprisonment of black people (Meredith Roman, 2016). Unlike the civil rights movements with the same demands, the Black Panther Party (BPP) advocated and used violent means. The BPP began as a self-defense system against police brutality (Ringel, 2021). The clashes of the 1960s between the police, other law enforcement agencies, and the civil rights movement activists meant that the Black Panthers would be under the close watch of local and federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI (Ringel, 2021). This essay will explore how the Black Panther Party struggled for social justice and human rights. The Panthers’ initial focus on militancy was often perceived as open hostility, creating a reputation of violence despite their efforts to address social issues and exercise their legal rights to carry arms for self-defense. Indeed the Black Panthers were empowerment for the Black people and influenced the Black Pride movement, and the call for revolution was justified and the means used were necessary to voice the needs of the black community.
Background of the Black Panther Party (BPP)
Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale met at the Merritt College, Oakland, and founded the BPP in October 1966 in Oakland, California (National Archives, 2020). The party was a revolutionary movement with the dogma of Black socialism and nationalism. The members were armed for self-defense against police brutality and patrolled the streets monitoring police activities. Most people, especially the White majority, perceived the members as militants who favored confrontational and violent approaches to support their political ideologies and social cause (National Archives, 2020). The party was part of the Black Power movement and a continuation of the civil rights movement. The Lowndes County Freedom Organization, an independent African American political party in Alabama, used the black panther symbol, which inspired the party’s name (National Archives, 2020). Malcolm X’s speeches, the anti-colonialist book “The Wretched of the Earth,” and Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s teachings influenced the BPP’s philosophy (National Archives, 2020). The party primarily conducted armed defense patrols, a practice influenced by the Robert Williams book “Negros with Guns (1962).” Robert Williams advocates against anti-black aggression by the Ku Klux Klan (National Archives, 2020). The party created a Ten-point Platform and program that guided their operations (National Archives, 2020). Prominent Black Party leaders and members include Elaine Brown, Fred Hampton, Eldridge Cleaver, Ericka Huggins, Kathleen Cleaver, Huey P. Newton, Barbara Easley, and Bobby Seale.
Black Panther Party Achievements
The party had multiple mainstream and unconventional accomplishments, although many people often overlook Black Panther’s achievements. The party and the Black Power Movement helped establish many successful initiatives to help disadvantaged African Americans. They created programs to help people in underserved Black communities. For instance, their food, education, and health programs helped more than 10,000 Black people (Pien, 2021). By 1969, the party had opened up 49 health clinics throughout the United States (Pien, 2021). The clinics helped tackle Sickle Cell illness, also a top government agenda (Pien, 2021). In 1972, the US Congress passed the National Sickle Cell Anemia Control Act due to the party’s nationwide community education about the illness and the government’s neglect of the disease.
The party’s influence in public health was enormous, and Bassett (2016) reinforces the idea of Black Panthers as health care advocates. Many people remember the Panthers as armed militia in disciplined formation, but Bassett (2016) captures their contribution to public health. The party’s legacy of advocating adequate and decent housing, jobs, and education is still strong despite the many health disparities based upon racial divides existing today. The Panthers protected and helped the Black community by starting programs to provide food, clothing, and health services. The Panther Party advocated for better access to health services by Black people in Boston and other areas (Bassett, 2016). The Panthers viewed police violence as a broader part of social violence. The party’s “Protection” meant the fight against a wide range of social and economic injustices, including health disparities (Bassett, 2019). The party integrated the civil rights movement, women’s movement, and other revolutionary and progressive movements’ ideologies into their fight against structured inequalities (Bassett, 2019). They perceived inadequate public services as a form of oppression, and to promote social justice and human dignity, Panthers incorporated “No Justice, No Health” in their survival programs (Bassett, 2019). The Panthers established multiple clinics throughout the country and the national sickle cell screening program. These programs are still relevant today.
The Panthers inspired and empowered African Americans to rediscover their identity. Identifying people in terms of color is dehumanizing (Beyers, 2019). Most stereotypes and discrimination resulted from racial identification. For several centuries the Black identity was expressed and constructed using a White-dominated matrix (Duncan, 2021). Black people fought to reconstruct their identity after the end of slavery, but for years their efforts became more pessimistic due to white hegemony. The Black Panthers continued the fight, and their achievements made people develop a different perspective about Black people (Duncan, 2021). They advocated for vital matters in society like social justice, health problems, and joblessness. The Panthers’ political figures reconstructed the Black identity and black pride.
The Panthers helped tackle police brutality and harassment against Black people, widening their support, especially in big US cities like Boston and New York. The party’s membership had grown to about 2000 people across the US by 1968. BPP helped address economic and political issues the Blacks in American faced. The Black Panthers organized armed civilian patrols in Oakland and other US cities to monitor police activities. Their support was progressive and highly fundamental to the African Americans living in the Ghettos. Their activities remained on the political agenda. The party also highlighted and appealed for necessary changes in the South. They made fundamental steps in fighting police brutality and unfair arrests of the Black people that still drive the current movements.
Attacks on the BPP
The Black Panther’s political activities subjected them to constant watch by the police and law enforcement agencies, who perceived the party as a threat to the United States’ internal security. Ringel (2021) discusses law enforcement agencies’ aggressive and combative approaches against Black Panther Party members. At that time, the police and the US policing sought to force Black Panthers out of the communities. The police force was “heavily armed and wearing flak jackets” during these raids. This aggressive strategy led to the death of many Black Panthers. The surveillance and intimidation of Black Panther leaders had become common as the government sought to infiltrate revolutionary groups fighting for Black rights. According to Williams (2008), the FBI defined the Black panthers as the “single greatest threat to the internal security” despite most members being peaceful and with no criminal history. The police conceptions misguided the community who felt the Black Panthers’ influence towards social and economic equality. Congressman Richardson Preyer analysis of the Black Panthers is contradictory to that of the police, and he concludes that “who disagreed with their violent tactics, felt that the Panthers served a purpose in focusing attention on ghetto problems and argued that they gave a sense of pride to the Black community” (Williams (2008). Police brutality and racial profiling derailed the Black Panthers’ efforts to propagate black pride, especially in the underserved urban communities.
Meredith Roman (2016) illustrates the Black Panthers’ strive for human rights and analyzes the COINTELPRO and US White Supremacy roles. The Panthers used the rhetoric of “pigs,” Cold war geopolitics, and armed revolution to fight police brutality and Black oppression. The Panthers took advantage of a California law that permitted civilians to carry loaded rifles or shotguns as long as it did not threaten anyone and is publicly displayed. The Panther’s militancy and carrying weapons openly was necessary to protect Black people from police violence. They were human rights activists who had significant influence and support for the Black revolutionary movements (Meredith Roman, 2016). The Panthers used the term “human rights” to fight against police brutality, uplift the black community, and gain decent housing for the black people and other suppressed communities. However, the police and the US media successfully framed the Panthers as a “gun-toting gang and anti-White hoodlums,” slowing the African American fight for equality.
The FBI used numerous strategies to infiltrate the Black Panther Party. Sweeping FBI raids and infiltration hurt the Panther leadership. The FBI announced the party as the greatest threat to the United States’ internal security, calling its members extremists (Arlitist, 2016). The FBI had multiple informants, about 4 of 5 people, who made the party’s members turn on each other (Arlitist, 2016). The FBI manipulated and picked one group against another, hoping the groups would get in gunfights and kill themselves (Arlitist, 2016). There were numerous unexplained arrests by the FBI. Twenty-one party members were arrested and detained over the FBI’s conspiracy to burn the New York City department stores (Arlitist, 2016). Bobby Seale is charged over a conspiracy to insight violent riots and protests (Arlitist, 2016). He demanded the right to defend himself, and he kept talking, causing the court to bind and gag him (Arlitist, 2016). The FBI forged letters talking about Huey’s and Cleaver’s growing ego and mistrust (Arlitist, 2016). They wrote letters pretending they were Eldridge, Huey, and other party members and accused people of being informants (Arlitist, 2016). They sent letters to Huey pretending they are from Clever, saying that Cleaver wanted to kill him. Cleaver also got pretentious letters from Huey saying he would distance himself from him and disrespected him (Arlitist, 2016). The FBI used everything that seemed to create violence and mistrust among the party members and leaders (Arlitist, 2016). FBI activities affected progressive efforts by the Panthers to create an equal and just society.
The ultimate significance of the BPP
Significance to Black pride
The Black Panther Party was part of a larger Black Power movement that emphasized the equality of human rights, community control, and Black pride. Black power is an ideology that sought to empower black self-resilience, racial pride, and self-defense (Nguyen, n.d.). The Panthers identified themselves as Black because they perceived black as beautiful. They encouraged Black people to celebrate their culture and embrace their identity and heritage. The Black pride movement was a direct response to white racism (Nguyen, n.d.). The Panthers fought against colonial oppression and White supremacy. They became very influential in society providing self-defense classes, food and clothing, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, childcare centers, and free medical clinics (Nguyen, n.d.). These programs invited support from different famous people, including actors, athletes, and singers like Miles Davis and Bill Cosby. Many films such as Catwoman, Blaxploitation, and Shaft (1971) incorporated more Black characters that became famous among African Americans for displaying assertiveness, strength, courage, and Black superiority (Jackson, 2020). Black people became more involved in the party’s activity because they were happy to contribute positively to society.
Significance to human rights and political involvement of African Americans
The Black Panther Party brought power to the people. It was an African American liberation struggle for human rights. They fought against White supremacy, which equated humanity to whiteness (Meredith Roman, 2016). The Panthers were human rights activists, and they talked about killing the “whitey,” which is a rhetoric phrase of ending white hegemony. They were using the term “human rights” to represent their struggle to end police brutality, empower the community, and acquire decent housing for the people (Meredith Roman, 2016). The invocation of human rights suggested how deep the party conceptualized the African American freedom struggle. They believed that Black people had a right to safety and patrolled streets with loaded weapons to monitor police activities (Meredith Roman, 2016). They challenged the police and promoted a social change to end police violence and state oppression. The party organized programs to serve people with food, clothing, and medical services because they believed that lack of access to social services is a form of oppression (Meredith Roman, 2016). The BPP lead the advocacy for the principle of respect of human dignity for all people.
Huey Newton and Bobby Seale were young political activists, and their legacy still lives today. Black people were more empowered to vie for political positions in the United States. As they became more politically involved, Eldridge Cleaver decided to run for United States president as a Peace and Freedom Party nominee (Arlitist, 2016). He presents a fearless personality and led a national revolution movement with the slogan, “Death to the pigs. Stop the pigs.” He also addressed Reagan as a “Mickey Mouse,” challenging him to a duel. The Panthers believed that their political involvement would help confront the White establishment and racist government authorities (Arlitist, 2016). The courage to take political positions spread to other Black people, increasing Black representation in Congress and government institutions.
Changes that occurred as a result of Black Panthers
The Black Panthers advocated for community reforms, and they transformed quickly from fighting police brutality to addressing other social reforms. The Panthers campaigned for prison reforms, drove Black voter registration, and opened giveaway programs, providing breakfast and free health clinics in several cities (Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, 2020). They served thousands and after opened Freedom Schools in nine cities, including the Oakland Community School. Their health initiatives are still vital today. Their fight against Sickle Cell illness led Congress to pass the National Sickle Cell Anemia Control Act of 1972. They are considered health advocates serving the underserved American minorities (Bassett, 2016). They changed the political and economic status of the Black community, and Black people have gained control of their politics and economics. The Black Nationalism became an admission that Black people were liberated and had gained racial solidarity (Cambridge University, n.d.). The Black Panthers’ influence is still felt in current social movements, encouraging minority groups to fight for their own cause.
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Influence on modern-day black power
The Black Panthers are the roots of modern-day Black Power. Black people are still fighting for safety and self-sufficiency, which is still inadequate in many African American communities (Beyers, 2019). The Panthers’ ideologies and tactics have influenced current revolutionary movements like the Black Lives Matter, formed with demands of ending police brutality and oppression of minority Blacks. The Panthers have influenced Black people to challenge the US structural inequalities (Beyers, 2019). Current day activists use the Black Power slogan during protests and marches to advocate for issues that matter, such as police brutality and inequality in health care access. The party’s ideologies influenced popular culture, education, and politics, and currently, Black people can freely organize groups to challenge social, political, and economic inequalities.
The Black Panthers empowered Black people and influenced the Black Pride movement. The call for revolution was justified and the means used were necessary to voice their needs. They unified people across the country and helped Black people in many different ways. They carried guns openly to monitor police activities, an act of self-defense, and protecting Black people from police violence. They also carried law books to confront any incidences of police harassment. The party founded multiple social programs to serve the people. They started the free breakfast for black children program, serving more than six thousand children weekly. They also established the people’s free food programs. They set up free medical clinics offering medical services, food, and clothing to the underserved communities. However, law enforcement agencies like the FBI were keen to undermine the political power of the Panther party. They used manipulative tactics, aggressive raids, and constant surveillance to infiltrate the party. They made members turn against each other, creating divisions and violence within the party. People should remember the Black Panthers for their achievements and insightfulness towards equal human rights, social justice, Black pride, and racial identity.
Arlitist. (2016, October 23). The Black Panthers documentary. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=EukElITplo4&ab_channel=arlitist
Bassett, M. T. (2016). Beyond berets: the Black Panthers as health activists. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303412
Bassett, M. T. (2019). No justice, no health: The black panther Party’s fight for health in Boston and beyond. Journal of African American Studies, 23(4), 352-363. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12111-019-09450-w
Beyers, J. (2019). Reconstructing Black identity: The Black Panther, Frantz fanon and Achilles Mbembe in conversation. SciELO – Scientific Electronic Library Online. https://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0259-94222019000400056
Cambridge University. (n.d.). Revolutionary nationalism: The Black Panther Party and other groups (Chapter 6) – Red Black and green. Cambridge Core. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/red-black-and-green/revolutionary-nationalism-the-black-panther-party-and-other-groups/56B72C460E5F64B874792A729E32EE3A
Duncan, G. Albert (2021, February 9). Black Panther Party. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Black-Panther-Party
Jackson, A. (2020, May 11). Black power, Blaxploitation, & the sounds of the seventies. CrimeReads. https://crimereads.com/black-power-blaxploitation-the-sounds-of-the-seventies/
Meredith Roman. (2016). The Black Panther Party and the Struggle for Human Rights. Spectrum: A Journal on Black Men, 5(1), 7-32. https://doi.org/doi:10.2979/spectrum.5.1.02
National Archives. (2020, August 27). The Black Panther Party. https://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/black-power/black-panthers
NGUYEN, T. (n.d.). The importance of the Black Panther Party for the emancipation of Afro-Americans in the 1960/70ies. GRIN – Buy academic papers and publish yours for free. https://www.grin.com/document/115803
Pien, D. (2021, January 20). Black Panther Party’s free medical clinics (1969-1975). Welcome to Blackpast •. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/institutions-african-american-history/black-panther-partys-free-medical-clinics-1969-1975/
Ringel, P. (2021, February 8). Why a shootout between Black Panthers and law enforcement 50 years ago matters today. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/why-a-shootout-between-black-panthers-and-law-enforcement-50-years-ago-matters-today-153632
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. (2020, August 23). The Black Panther Party: Challenging police and promoting social change. National Museum of African American History and Culture. https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/black-panther-party-challenging-police-and-promoting-social-change
Williams, Y. (2008). “Some Abstract Thing Called Freedom”: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Legacy of the Black Panther Party. OAH Magazine of History, 22(3), 16-21. Retrieved May 13, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25162181
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