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“If you’re not willing to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”
-Malcolm X [el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz]
“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine.”
-Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
The Black Panther Party (for self Defense) was formed in October of 1966, in Oakland, California. Thus, it is appropriate that especially during this month of October, 2010, an examination be made of the intrepid legacy of the Black Panther Party, what circumstances brought it into existence, and its continuing impact today.
The Black Panther Party was initially organized in response to police brutality and the deplorable economic and social conditions in Black communities throughout the United States. In a relatively short period of time the Party grew to systematically link and encompass the related issues of U.S. imperialistic wars abroad and corporate hegemony at home. Strong and active political alliances were also made between the Black Panther Party and other progressive and radical organizations of all colors around mutual concerns that affected everyday poor and disenfranchised people---no matter what their gender or color.
The Ten-Point Platform and Program of the Black Panther Party represented a crisp and concise analysis and action-plan re the goals and objectives of the Party. .
The Black Panther Party grasped the enormous importance of regularly disseminating news and information relevant to Black and poor people communities. Therefore, its primary organ of getting this relevant news and information in printed-form, out to everyday people nationally and internationally, was The Black Panther newspaper, later known as the Black Panther Intercommunal News Service. An informative glimpse at some of the issues of that newspaper can be found in the book, The Black Panther: Intercommunal News Service 1967-1980, edited by David Hilliard. Further views of and from various issues of The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, in addition to a wealth of information on the Black Panther Party as a whole, have been made available by Billy X. Jennings, at the It’s About Time website.
One of the rallying cries of the Black Panther Party was, “Serve The People Body & Soul.” In this vein, the Party established nationwide, numerous programs in service to the everyday people. These programs included Free Breakfast Programs, Free Clinic Programs, and Free Clothing Programs, to name but a few. Some of these programs which were first begun by the Black Panther Party, still function today in one form or another, despite the ultimate decimation of the Party by way of the vicious and murderous COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) U.S. government subterfuge. Nevertheless, as Black Panther Party veteran Billy X. Jennings succinctly put it: “The programs of the Black Panther Party set the stage for many of today’s programs.”
The Black Panther Party, in harmony with point #5 of its Ten-Point Platform and Program, which called for an “education” that teaches “true history” and “our role in the present-day society,” engaged in many specific actions to provide young people with an education that is relevant to reality. One outstanding example of this could be found in the establishment of, and support by, the Black Panther Party of the Oakland Community School in Oakland, California. This school included in its ranks economically disenfranchised children of varying colors and backgrounds, reaching well beyond serving only the children of members of the Black Panther Party. Despite many serious challenges and hardships, the Oakland Community School existed and functioned for approximately ten years in the community, and in service to the people of the community. The Black Panther Party was also very active on college campuses nationwide as it allied itself, and worked with, college students in their struggles to obtain a decent, equitable, and relevant education, free from exorbitant tuition.
Notwithstanding the bold, necessary, and important leadership of the Black Panther Party on the national level provided by persons including Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Kathleen Cleaver, Eldridge Cleaver, and Erica Huggins, etc.; it was in fact the rank and file members of the Party who were its heart and soul, and who through long hours and daily hard work, sustained its very existence. Moreover, it was the rank and file women of the Black Panther Party who were an invaluable part of the very backbone of the Party— a fact which is all too often overlooked. For more information pertaining to women in the Party, reference ‘Women of the Black Panther Party’.
Lest anyone seek to romanticize the Black Panther Party, it should be clearly understood that (as Black Panther Party veteran Kiilu Nyasha is wont to remind us) quoting the poignant words of Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong): Life in the Black Panther Party was one of “plain living and hard struggle.” It was anything but romantic. It was hard, labor-intensive, and often dangerous work full of victories, set-backs, and always constant struggle.
The reaction by the U.S. government and police nationwide to the political organizing and community programs of the Black Panther Party was swift and exceedingly brutal. Every conceivable and devious method was utilized by the government and police to “discredit, frame, imprison, or murder” members of the Black Panther Party. No action was deemed to be too despicable, too underhanded, or too amoral in order to “neutralize and/or destroy” members of the Black Panther Party. The corporate-stream media chimed in to misinform and disinform the public in every possible manner about individual members of the Black Panther Party(BPP) and the entire BPP as an organization.
As a direct result of these actions many BPP members were murdered, including Bobby Hutton, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, John Huggins, Alprentice ‘Bunchy’ Carter, Welton Armstead, and a seemingly endless list of other members of the Black Panther Party nationwide. Members of the Black Panther Party were abducted and physically and psychologically tortured by the police and government agents (as in the case of the ‘SF 8’—San Francisco 8). The U.S. government, through the use of agents, informants, and strategically placed fake information also viciously created deadly internal dissension within the BPP itself, which caused the deaths of even more BPP members, which was of course the government’s primary objective. Meanwhile, as lives were lost or ruined, and families and relationships torn asunder by government and police subterfuge, the infamous COINTELPRO activities were ratcheted-up to a fever pitch by U.S. government authorities. All of this in a so-called ‘democracy’ of, for, and by the people.
Other casualties of the U.S. government’s war against the Black Panther Party remain in plain view today; Political Prisoners. In the year 2010, in the United States of America, there are scores of political prisoners, most of them veterans of the Black Panther Party; and all of them the victims of government subterfuge, terror, injustice, hypocrisy, and repression. Moreover, some, including Black Panther Party veteran Assata Shakur, and William Lee Brent (now deceased) of necessity fled into the confines of exile.
While we must always remember and support our beloved Leonard Peltier and Lynne Stewart; let us not even for an instant, forget about the Black Panther Party veterans who have been languishing in the U.S. prison gulag system for at least one, two, or three decades or more. Some have died in prison such as Bashir Hameed, while numerous others, including Herman Bell, Eddie Conway, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Safiya Bukhari, Chip Fitzgerald, Abdul Majid, Jalil Muntaqim, Jamil Al-Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown), Mondo Langa, Sundiata Acoli, Sekou Odinga, Ed Poindexter, Russell Shoats, Sekou Kambui, Kamau Sadiki, Teddy ‘Jah’ Heath, Kuwasi Balagoon, Woodfox & Wallace (of the ‘Angola 3’), Albert ‘Nuh’ Washington, Veronza Bowers, Jr., and Seth Hayes, etc., continue being held in the clutches of this ghastly, beastly U.S. prison system. These afore names only begin to scratch the surface of those unjustly held in the confines of gulag hell, yet, it is also very important to include the names of Hugo ‘Yogi’ Pinell and Ruchell ‘Cinque’ Magee, who have for so long now been dehumanized in this unspeakable travesty against humanity of mass incarceration and brutalization in this twisted, distorted, hypocrisy called ‘democracy,’ in the United States of America.
The ever-present reality of the U.S. government’s COINTELPRO outrages can be seen in the numerous amount of political prisoners still being held in this nation to this very day. Numerous veterans of the Black Panther Party remain as political prisoners in this year of 2010, as a direct result of the murderous machinations carried out by the U.S. government. This too, is a part of the Black Panther Party’s ongoing legacy of struggle.
In the name of justice, Black Panther Party veterans who are political prisoners must be freed. Indeed, all political prisoners must be freed! (Reference this cartoon by Carlos Latuff.
Lessons for Today
The case of the Black Panther Party beckons critically thinking and conscious people today to learn from, and act upon, the lessons that its legacy presents. The triumphs, trials, and tribulations of the Black Panther Party continue as an important part of the ongoing struggle of everyday Black, White, Brown, Red, and Yellow people for complete and uncompromising justice and human rights.
Its lessons are not romantic ones. Nevertheless, they are extremely relevant and significant to the present day. There remains, for example, the absolute need to have real community control of the police. The need for economic parity (including decent jobs and housing), relevant and attainable education for everyone, social and environmental justice, and an end to avaricious corporate hegemony are paramount; perhaps more so now than ever before in the history of this nation. And certainly the need to bring about an end to heretofore perpetual U.S. wars abroad and repression at home is of the utmost urgency.
The stalwart legacy of the Black Panther Party continues as strong as ever, which is one reason why the corporate-stream media, even in the 21st century, continues in its attempts to distort and disfigure its legacy. But said media will not prevail. The everyday people will!
This has been but a synopsis of the Black Panther Party’s legacy. Additional information can be found in a number of books including the following:
THE ASSASSINATION OF FRED HAMPTON: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas , TO DIE FOR THE PEOPLE by Huey P. Newton, FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE HEAP: An Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King by Robert Hillary King, ASSATA: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur, WE WANT FREEDOM: A Life in the Black Panther Party by Mumia Abu-Jamal [Introduction by Kathleen Cleaver], PANTHER ON THE PROWL by Elbert ‘Big Man’ Howard, AGENTS OF REPRESSION: The FBI’s Secret War Against the American Indian Movement and the Black Panther Party by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, LIBERATION, IMAGINATION, AND THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY by Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas [editors], THIS SIDE OF GLORY by David Hilliard and Lewis Cole, and SEIZE THE TIME: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton by Bobby Seale .
To Die for the People by Huey P. Newton
From The Bottom Of The Heap: The Autobiography Of Black Panther Robert Hillary King by Robert Hillary King
Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur
We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party by Mumia Abu-Jamal [Introduction by Kathleen Cleaver]
PANTHER ON THE PROWL by Elbert ‘Big Man’ Howard (no longer in print)
Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall
Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Panthers and Their Legacy by Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas [editors]
This Side of Glory: The Autobiography of David Hilliard and the Story of the Black Panther Party by David Hilliard and Lewis Cole
The Black Panther Party existed during a period of special people living in special times. Yet, each of us today are also special people living in special times. More than ever, it is important to heed the words of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, when he said, “If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.”
Onward then my sisters and brothers! Onward!
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board Member, Larry Pinkney, is a veteran of the Black Panther Party, the former Minister of Interior of the Republic of New Africa, a former political prisoner and the only American to have successfully self-authored his civil/political rights case to the United Nations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In connection with his political organizing activities in opposition to voter suppression, etc., Pinkney was interviewed in 1988 on the nationally televised PBS NewsHour, formerly known as TheMacNeil/LehrerNewsHour. For more about Larry Pinkney see the book, Saying No to Power: Autobiography of a 20th Century Activist and Thinker, by William Mandel [Introduction by Howard Zinn]. (Click here to read excerpts from the book). Click here to contact Mr. Pinkney.
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