By Larry Pinkney
Oct 22, 2010
"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 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: 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
This Side of Glory: The Autobiography of David Hilliard and the Story
of the Black Panther Party by David Hilliard and Lewis Cole
Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P.
Newton by Bobby Seale
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!