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The Black Panther Party was a civil rights organization whose primary focus was the protection of black neighborhoods from police brutality founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in October 1966. The group’s goal was condensed into a ten-point program to create areas of opportunity in human and civil rights, employment, housing, the inclusion of African American history in public schools, exclusion from military service, and equal justice within the court system. The group also published its own newspaper, self-titled The Black Panther, which first circulated in 1967 edited by Eldridge Cleaver. One of the groups early successes was the Sacramento California State Capital March, which protested the ban against public display of loaded weapons. This event attracted a lot of new membership.
By 1969, chapters spanned nationwide in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Washington DC. Membership reached 10,000 people. The Black Panther Party appeared to be the most progressive from 1966 to 1972. Yet, it was the difference in ideology amongst prominent members, harassment by counter-intelligence programs, and criminal activity that led ultimately to the downfall of the Black Panther Party. In 1969, due to harassment by law enforcement, 348 members were arrested for different crimes. By 1982, membership dwindled to 27 members.
The group however made a substantial effort to include females amongst its ranks. On women’s issues, the organization made an effort to equalize male and female roles by making a distinction between womanism and feminism. Feminism was considered part of the White Power Ideology because it was too general in opposing male sexism. While, due to the experiences of African-American females, womanism included class and race with male opposition, with roles accepted as equal but different with each gender of the black community. Another interesting fact was that the head editors of The Black Panther paper were all women from 1968 to 1982.
BPP members were also given Mao Zedong’s The Little Red Book, as guides to revolutionary activities. The origin of self-reliance and pride in “Blackness” came mainly from Malcolm X speeches. In 1969, Stokely Carmichael agreed with Malcolm’s philosophy that Black People must first help themselves before allowing whites to assist the Black Panther Party. Henceforth, he left the organization.
In September 1968, J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI and “Co-Intel-Pro”, deemed the BBP as “Black nationalist hate group” and “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Hoover’s Co-Intel-Pro prevented the unification of Black organizations, weakened the power of its leaders, and discredited the group; thereby discouraging public support.
Fights with gangs and other organizations reported frame-ups by Co-Intel-Pro, drug-dealing in urban communities, extortion with neighborhood businesses, and shootouts with law enforcement officers led to the organization’s downfall. One incident included the unsolved murder of BPP member Fred Hampton, leader of the Chicago chapter, who had formed the Rainbow Coalition in cooperation with civil rights groups such as the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican nationalist organization. One of the most disheartening events occurred in 1982 when Huey P. Newton took money from the Black Panther Party’s children school to pay for his drug habit. In the prime of the Black Panther Party’s community development success, The Inter-Communal Youth Institute founded in 1971, located in Oakland, California, provided free education, clothes, food, school supplies, medical examinations and school bus transportation for its students.
*Note: According to co-founder Bobby Seale, The New Black Panther Party, lead by Khalid Muhammid, has no affiliation with the original organization. The Anti Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center includes this “imitation” on their list of hate groups.