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The Black Panther Movement History Essay

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The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was a period of change in the ideals and way of life for many Americans. The Black Panther Party was a product of this era. The purpose of this study is to understand to what extent did the Black Panther movement contribute to the advancements of the Civil Rights movement in America. The investigation attempts to understand the contributions of the party towards the successes of the 1960s movement. In order to address the question, it must be investigated in both the context of late 1960s to 1980s. The different perspectives of the effects of the movement will be taken into consideration along with a critical analysis of the sources used. Two sources used in this study are The Shadow of the Panther by Hugh Pearson, and The Black Panther Party Platform by Huey Newton which will be evaluated for their origin, purpose, value, and limitations. The investigation does not address the success or failure of the civil rights movement nor does the success or failure of any of the party leaders or their opposition.

Summary of Evidence

In December 1966 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was "running out of gas". [1] The broadening of the purposes of the SNCC created a vacuum of power in which Huey Newton [2] and Bobby Seale [3] would create the Black Panther Party for Self-Defence. Newton and Seale would start a movement to not only empower and help the black population of Oakland but to radicalize and militarize black power movements throughout the world while attempting to maintain an image of charity and good intentions.

The Black Panthers first met in a clubhouse in Peralta Street, West Oakland, 1966. [4] Soon after, the Black Panthers agreed to the "10 Point Program" written by Newton and accepted it as the party's platform. The platform was radical and socialist in nature due to Newton's knowledge of works by Mao Zedong and other socialist revolutionaries. The platform protested the U.S. Governments in their racism, inequality, and demanded for a compensation for the years of slavery [5] as seen in points three [6] and six [7] which show contempt and defiance towards the government. The combination of these actions and the violence against blacks through the 1940s and into the 1960s in the southern U.S. created the Black Power Movement. Specifically, events such as the attacks on Freedom Riders and attacks on Robert F. Williams in North Carolina would create works like "Negros with Guns" which would go on to influence Newton to form the party [8] .

The violent aspect of the party is what it is most clearly remembered for. Because of Newton's knowledge of a California law that permitted the bearing of loaded arms as long as they are visible [9] and his ideas of implementing something similar to the CAP [10] created an armed wing of the party which would regularly skirmish with police. This developed into the Self-Defence aspect of the party which would eventually disappear as the party became less radical and more appealing.

Because of Newton's admiration of Mao, Lenin, and Marx, the party created programs that would help black people throughout America. The most famous program was the Free Breakfast for Children. Started in St. Augustine's Church, Panthers would give out free breakfast to the poor youth in the area. [11] As the party grew, the project grew along with it and at one point members were serving breakfast to over 10,000 children in America. [12] They would also launch educational and health care institutions which would raise the standard of living of many blacks across the country and help the image of the party enough to reach international fandom.

The party saw its decline for various reasons. The mismanagement by Newton, his arrest and the division of the party contributed to its self-destruction while the outside forces of the government that through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and police forces would perform raids on the houses of important members as well as party offices; sometimes committing assassinations. Eventually the party would slowly dissolve out of existence until now where it has seen a slight renaissance.

Evaluation of Sources

The Shadow of the Panther was written by Hugh Pearson editorialist for The Wall Street Journal. The Book was published in 1995 by Perseus Publishing in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The book aims to critically analyse the downfall of the party through the eyes of Newton and argues that the party fell not because of FBI intervention but rather due to the ineptitude of the leadership. The book contains a variety of sources from interviews to other books on the topic. The book uses mostly facts and Pearson's personal research which does contain some bias. The source is limited due to the bias of Pearson thanks to his background as well as in the censorship and destruction of various sources by the FBI. Pearson tries to argue a revisionist point of view in his book and does not address many of the benefits of the party.

Black Panther Party Platform and Program was written by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. The document was written from October 1st to 15th, 1966 in North Oakland, California. The platform was published multiple times therefore no official publish date exists. The platform aimed to display what the party wanted and what it believed. It also served as a guideline for all party members. The document also worked as propaganda and incitation for new members to join the party. The source provides a great look into the mind of Newton and the beliefs of most party members. The opinions of the platform give and good reading of the attitude at the time. The source fails to look at the broader perspective and the opinions of its opposition within and outside the party. The propaganda of the platform also not reflect the personal opinions of every party member.

Analysis

The Civil Rights Movement in the United States is one of the most important events of the 20th century which would shape black culture for many years after. Even if the movement was perceived as peaceful there were extreme aspects; the Black Panther Party being the one of the biggest. [13] Even if the party was regarded as extremist and combative, the aspects of the party that benefited the party were felt for generations. The party would overlook the creation of various programs including the anti-police brutality patrols, Liberation Schools, [14] as well as Free Breakfast for Children Program, [15] and Free Health Clinics. [16] 

The party's basic ideals came from the platform itself. [17] Their points were reflected in their actions. The Panthers were very aggressive with their idea of stopping police brutality and the murder of African Americans as stated in the 7th point in the platform. [18] This point in the party would be the causation of the horrible label the party would inherit. Between 1967 and 1970 there had been nine police deaths and 56 more wounded. On the Panther side there was 10 deaths and an unknown number of wounded. This period also saw mass arrests of Panthers amounting to 348. [19] This stain in their reputation came with approval of the black population. This was shown in a nationwide Lou Harris poll taken on January 1970. It showed that the support and pride for the Panthers was at 64 % [20] taken shortly after the death of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. [21] Most of these engagements would happen due to party members pursuing police officers and providing aide to blacks if they were getting harassed. [22] Some of these deaths also happened due to government interference and attempts to dismantle the party through the FBI and local police departments. [23] We can speculate that the African Americans in these towns and cities in which the Panthers were active would have felt safer due to their patrolling. [24] This orthodox view is challenged by revisionist historians like Pearson which argue that the deaths, injuries and arrests did not justify their actions and that those actions did not improve the life of black Americans.

The party's lighter reputation came from the various actions it took in order to ratify point 5. [25] Point 5 specifically states their desire for proper education and teaching of African American history. The party did exactly this when they opened their Panther elementary in East Oakland. [26] The 120 student tuition-free school hosted classes of Spanish, math, reading, writing, and broader history. [27] It is known that these schools would instill a strong sense of self-worth and pride in the students. [28] The school was place for not only black students but for the large Mexican minority and even some white students. [29] This idea spread around the country. However some revisionists like Pearson again argue that the methods of acquisition and financing just further taint the Panther's image as it was known that they were funded by cocaine distribution. [30] However as the party grew, and the elementary grew into the Oakland Community Learning Center, the school became one of the Party's most outstanding accomplishments. It helped educate many blacks into literacy and informed blacks of their history and culture. [31] This is even more evident as it was one of the party's priorities to keep running as the party was going broke after the 1970s. [32] Overall, however, the legacy of the party's initiative of cultural and accessible learning for blacks remains today in black colleges and black studies courses in other universities. After the school closed down it was bought by Blank Muslims who made it into a mosque and later on the school would be purchased and made into the Acts full Gospel Church. [33] 

Point ten [34] of the platform was very important to the Panthers even if it was not their first priority like point 5. The Panthers also created two pivotal programs to aid their reputation. The opening of health clinics, and the Free Breakfast for Children Program were appeals at the public in order to ratify their ill-conceived image. The FBCP started in November 1968. [35] Again, as good willed as the cause might have been the methods that the Panthers used were nothing but abusive as argued by revisionist Pearson. The party would incite the members of communities to not buy from larger supermarket chains that would refuse to donate to the FBCP like Safeway. [36] Other smaller stores were vandalized and even fire bombed for not donating what was asked of them. [37] The response was so great even Swedish media created a television segment about the program. [38] The program helped many black families not only by lowering the cost of living but giving them extra time every morning. Sheeba Haven founded the Berkeley Free Clinic [39] and many all over the country including Kansas, Chicago, and Seattle. These clinics were not all smooth sailing as seen in Haven's case, even if she had to deal with ineptitude from staff. Once Newton centralized the economics of the party, [40] most of the clinics had to close due to the inefficiency of the management. The clinics however did provide many blacks with all kinds of testing, medication, and care. Sickle Cell anemia tests were common, as well as vaccinations. [41] The clinics and the FBCP was a great success in both cleaning up the reputation of the party and furthering the black civil rights movement by providing food and health care to communities that could not afford these and give them opportunities for their future.

Conclusion

Overall the party demonstrates the eternal question of whether the end justifies the means or weather the means justify the end. After analysing the evidences in the sources picked we can see that the party did have an overall good effect on not only the small scale lives of blacks across America but to the identity of blacks and their ability to recognize their presence and power in the political game even through the party's history of violence and bad fame.

List of Sources

Primary

Newton, Huey P. Interview by Louis Massiah. Personal interview. Washington University, May 23, 1989.

"It's About Time - Black Panther Party Legacy & Alumni 45th Year Reunion." It's About Time - Black Panther Party Legacy & Alumni 45th Year Reunion. http://www.itsabouttimebpp.com/ (accessed October 30, 2012).

Newton, Huey P. "The Ten Point Plan." BlackPanther.org. http://www.blackpanther.org (accessed October 30, 2012).

Newton, Huey P. "Huey's Statement on Racist Verdict." The Black Panther (Oakland), September 14, 1965.

Newton, Huey P. "I Found Freedom In Jail." Ebony, May 1973.

Austin, Curtis J. Up against the wall: violence in the making and unmaking of the Black Panther Party. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2006.

Secondary

Austin, Curtis J. Up against the wall: violence in the making and unmaking of the Black Panther Party. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2006.

Pearson, Hugh. The shadow of the panther: Huey Newton and the price of Black power in America. 1994. Reprint, Reading, Mass.: Perseus Publishing, 1996.

"RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY." Black Panther Party. www.blackpanther.org/legacytwo.htm (accessed December 1, 2012).

Word Count: 1972


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