The History of The Black Panther Movement and The Lessons For Africans Today

The suppression of Africans in America was a practice that went on for the 400years of slavery, and beyond. Africans, even after slavery was abolished, continued to be subjugated, bullied, killed, lynched and maltreated in America.

Police brutality was on the rise, and something had to be done!!!

The Black Panthers, which is also known as the Black Panther Party, was the answer to the many years of brutality by the white system in America. It was founded as a political organization in 1966, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.

Their major objective was to challenge police brutality in African American society. They were uniformed in black leather jackets and black berets, and organized armed citizen patrols in Oakland and other cities in America.

It is accounted that in their peak in 1968, the Black Panther Party, had roughly 2,000 members in its ranks. Unfortunately, their organization faced setbacks which resulted from deadly shootouts and majorly FBI counterintelligence activities aimed at weakening and dislodging the strong Black Panther.

History of The Black Panthers

The founders of the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton, and Bobby Seale met while they were students at Merritt College in Oakland, California, in 1961.

Newton and Seale had both protested the college’s “Pioneer Day” celebration, which omitted the contributions and roles of African Americans in settling the American West in the 1800s. They also formed the Negro History Fact Group, which mandated Merritt College to offer classes on black history.

After the brutal assassination of Malcolm X, they both founded the Black Panthers Party. One other tragic event that led to the creation of the organization was the killing of an unarmed black teen, Matthew Johnson, by white police in San Francisco.

After the arty was founded, their first point of duty was self-defense and monitoring the activities of the police in the black neighborhoods in Oakland and other cities as well.

The Black Panthers was not just any kind of party or organization. It was not about gangs or hoods for them. Their goal was to protect the lives of African Americans – a duty which the white-dominated system was not doing.

So, they created and ran a number of social programs that were meant to support and uplift the African American people. They also engaged in political activities.

Their vision and activities made them very popular, and they also got the support of largely African American communities from cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. And this support made their numbers rise to as much 2,000 members by 1968.

Black Panthers Social Programs and Political Activities

Forming a political front for African Americans, at such a point in history required some form of political ideology that would match the tyranny of white supremacy and subjugation.

Newton and Seale took a leaf from Marxist Ideology of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. From the ideology, they drew up a Ten-point philosophical view and political objectives of the Black Panthers.

Their Ten-point Program demanded an immediate end to the police brutality faced by African Americans. They also called for the employment of African Americans, land, housing, and justice for all.

The Black Panthers were part of the larger Black Power movement, which promoted black pride, community control, and unification for civil rights in America.

Many circles in America often saw the Black Panthers as a gang. But this was not true. They only used the means available to them to stand up to the injustice on their people.

The leadership of the party always portrayed the party as a political party whose major aim was getting more African Americans elected into political office. Although this didn’t happen under the black panther, their progress paved the way for African American politicians in years to come.

In their bid to heal the African American communities and society at large, they started a number of popular community social programs. These included free breakfast programs for African American school children and free health clinics in 13 African American neighborhoods across the United States of America.

The White System Fights Back with Violence and Controversies

To halt and frustrate the activities of the Black Panthers, the police had to make it a point of duty to create violent encounters with them.

In 1967, while defending African Americans and himself, one of the founders, Huey Newton, allegedly killed an Oakland police officer in a shoot-out. He was later convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 1968 and was then sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Although the decision of an appellate later reversed his conviction.

In another incident in 1968, the editor of the Black Panther’s newspaper, Eldridge Cleaver, the editor of the Black Panther’s newspaper, and a 17-year old member, Bobby Hutton, were involved in a shoot-out with the police. This incident left two police officers wounded, and led to the death of the 17-year old Hutton.

The Role of FBI and COINTELPRO in Dismantling the Black Panthers Party/Movement

If there is one thing that is a fact about “Supremacists ideologies” of any kind, it is that those who see themselves as superior or subjugate others are always on the alert. They are always quick to sense a threat to their supremacist ideologies and systems.

The FBI being a body that was tasked to protect America’s interest, saw the Black Panther as a threat to the white supremacists’ ideals of America at that time. So, they went to work with one thing in mind: “Destroy the Black Panthers before they grow too big for us to handle.”

The socialist message and black nationalist focus of the Black Panthers made them the target of a secret FBI counterintelligence program, called COINTELPRO.

The Black Panthers, in 1969, was declared a communist organization and an enemy of the United States government, by the FBI. FBI’s director J. Edgar Hoover, in a statement in 1968, referred to the Black Panthers as “one of the greatest threats to the nation’s internal security.”

Of course, the Black Panthers were the threat to national internal security, while white cops went about happily intimidating and killing unarmed African Americans. What an Irony!!!

The FBI worked round the clock to dismantle the social structures and programs which were set up by the Black Panthers. They dismantled the Black Panther’s Children Program and other community social programs that were created and run by the Black Panthers.

What did the children ever do to them? Oh, a guess they were scared of the knowledge and self-awareness the Black Panthers were introducing the African American children to. Oppressors are always scared of knowledge – knowledge of self.

In 1968, in cold blood, Chicago police gunned down and killed Black Panther Party members, Mark Clark, and Fred Hampton, while they were asleep in their apartment.

It was reported that “About a hundred bullets were fired in what police described as a fierce gun battle with members of the Black Panther Party. However, ballistics experts later determined that only one of those bullets came from the Panthers’ side.”

A federal grand jury later ruled that the FBI played a significant role in the events leading to the raid and death of the two Black Panther members.

The many persecutions by the FBI and their police counterparts led to the death and dismantling of the Black Panthers party.

The Lessons for The African Continent and Africans All over the World

Africans worldwide must take a lesson from the ideologies and bravery of the Black Panthers. Although it’s been decades since they last stood to defend the rights of their people to justice, their rise and fall still speak volume about the suppression of our people by the powers that be.

They push us to the wall, milk our lands (in Africa) dry of resources, and then when we fight back, they send their agents and forces to kill us.

But for how long can we endure this persecution?

Each time a strong voice rises to defend the rights of Africans worldwide, he/she is killed and snuffed out. What this has done to the psychology of many Africans and African-Americans, is that it creates a SCARE for anyone who ever thinks of rising up to fight for equal rights and justice.

So less and fewer Africans stand up to fight, for fear of death at the hands of the supremacists. And after many decades, we have ended up with millions of men and women who suffer in silence and are scared to speak up.

Today in Africa, any movement that speaks up for the rights of the masses is met with brutal and strict resistance from those in power. We find it in Nigeria, with Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB who are demanding justice and freedom for the Igbo people.

We find it in South Africa, with Julius Malema and his party EFF who are demanding the return of their local lands by white colonizers who killed them and took their lands.

The spirit of the Black Panthers is an African spirit and must be emulated across the continent. If we do not stand up against our oppressors, no one will.


5 things to know about the Black Panthers. USA Today.
Black Panther Party. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Black Panthers: Revolutionaries, free breakfast pioneers.

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