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Black Panthers march to a California courthouse in support for Huey Newton

For decades, hard times and struggles have been a fact of life for urban African Americans. Through mass migrations from rural areas to urban areas during the 40s and 50s, the Black Power movements of the 60s and 70s, and events today, African Americans have struggled. The Black Panther Party was one of the many organizations that was formed to fight oppression and aggression against African Americans. Some people view the Black Panther Party as an angry militant organization because they carried guns to protect themselves, though this was actually legal at the time.

The Black Panther Part was really one of the most influential parts of the Black Power Movement. From patrols against police brutality to marches to the state capital to community programs, the Black Panther Party did many things for the Black community. That's often looked over. The Black Panther Party has played a very important role in the history of America and leaves a legacy that still exists today.

The Black Panther Party hasn't always been called the Black Panther Party. It was first called the Black Panther Party For Self Defense. The founders of the group felt that what ever kind of party or movement they formed, they should stress their constitutional right to bear arms. In the 60s, police brutality against African Americans was at its all time high. Black churches were being burned and women and children were being beaten. It was a very violent time, so the Black Panthers felt like they had no choice but to arm themselves if they wanted to protect their families and live through the violence. Immediately, the Party expressed its right to bear arms in public and whenever it was needed.

Huey Newton founder of the Black Panther Party
The Black Panther Party was started from the vision of an intellectual man. His name was Huey Newton, and he later became Dr. Huey Newton. His vision was to improve life for Africans-Americans in many different respects. His vision included freedom, full employment, decent housing, decent education, completely free healthcare, end of police brutality, end of all wars of aggression, and trials by a jury of peers. Newton expressed his views to two good friends, Bobby Seal and David Hilliard. They soon formed the Black Panther Party For Self Defense, and created the party's ten point program. It included all of Huey Newton's visions.

The Black Panthers first needed to make themselves present in the community. As residents of Oakland, they decided to start their group there. In Oakland during the 60s life was hard. Oakland was a predominantly African American community. African Americans often lived in substandard housing and very poor conditions. The town was politically run by white Republican males, who were often very out of touch with the needs of the community. Even if they did know what was going on in the streets of Oakland, they took no political action to do anything about it.


The Glorious Highway 1

The Panthers recognized police brutality as a very immediate problem. They started patrols that followed the police around town. Whenever the police pulled over to write somebody a ticket, the Panthers got out of their vehicles to observe the situation. They were dressed in their leather jackets and black berets carrying loaded weapons. They distanced themselves twenty feet away from the police cars, because that was the legal distance from which you were able to observe. They knew this because Huey Newton was a law student at Merritt College. This showed the community that the party was here to protect them by all means necessary. This also intimidated the police and made them very nervous. As more and more of these incidents took place, more people joined the party. The tension between the police and the party grew larger and larger. The tension eventually led to several shoot outs between the BPP and the Police.

The patrols were one of the first things the Panthers did for the community, but they also did several other things. For instance, they put a stop light in Oakland where kids were often hit by cars. They put in the light for the safety of the community. The Panthers also started several different programs for the community. These included a free breakfast program, health clinic, legal aid and education, Oakland community learning center, housing cooperative program, free shoe program, and so many more. As you can see, the Panthers took the social ills of the community into their own hands. The programs were the main focus of the party and are really the legacy we should remember.

Black Panther's march against the bill the denies people the right to bare arms in public
As a political party, they decide to take political action. In 1967 a bill was being considered that outlawed carrying loaded weapons in public. The BPP marched to the State Capital in Sacramento carrying loaded weapons, in protest of a bill that violated their constitutional right to bare arms. Press swarmed the protesters, immediately giving them national publicity. From this point on the press viewed the Black Panther Party as being a very violent, militant organization. At this protest Bobby Seal and thirty others were arrested.

Bobby Seal speaking at a
A huge incident that made the growth of the party widespread was the imprisonment of Huey P. Newton. In 1967 he was sent to prison for manslaughter, when a confrontation with the Oakland police left one cop dead. In a response to his imprisonment, a nation wide "Free Huey" movement began. This campaign united many different groups together. People from all different ethnic backgrounds came to protest the imprisonment of Huey Newton. African Americans, Native Americans, Latino's, Asians, and Whites all came together for support. The conviction was later reversed in 1971 and he was set free.

From that point on, the Black Panther Party affiliated itself with many movements of the time. Eldridge Cleaver, the minister of information for the BBP, started the Black Panther newspaper. Throughout the paper the Black Panthers talked about all issues of oppressed peoples. It was an informative paper for the communities to educate themselves on past and current issues.

As I walk the streets of Oakland today I can see why the Black Panther Party was needed, and why they approached society and politics the way they did. Today, there is much to be learned from the Black Panther Party. They organized and fought for what they believed in, no matter what the conditions were. They united people from all races to come together. For us as youth today, the Black Panther Party should be studied. We can still modernize many of their positive tactics to our needs, in the struggles that we face today.


Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

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Jennifer - X stands for: Fight the powers that be!
Stephanie - The night Watts was set ablaze