The Black Panthers Were Founded 54 Years Ago

The first Black Panthers—Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale

I’ve written a few times about different Black Panthers throughout the years, but I’ve never celebrated their founding. Today, 54 years ago, Bobby Seale (left) and Huey P. Newton founded the Black Panthers, originally called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, in Oakland. The two young college students were mobilized by what they perceived were failures during the Civil Rights Movement and by witnessing constant State and policing violence against Black people. The Black Panthers saw the material living conditions of Black people as what they truly were—inherent functions of a society that didn’t care about anyone nonwhite. Bobby, Huey, and the other Black Panthers (the original six were Elbert “Big Man” Howard; Huey P. Newton (Defense Minister), Sherman Forte, Bobby Seale (Chairman), Reggie Forte and Little Bobby Hutton (Treasurer) were active and militant organizing against all racist police departments and the societal oppression of Black people. They crafted a list of demands that they would fight for during their existence, which would eventually become their infamous Ten-Point Program for Self Defense:

  1. We Want Freedom. We Want Power To Determine The Destiny Of Our Black Community.
  2. We Want Full Employment For Our People.
  3. We Want An End To The Robbery By The Capitalists Of Our Black Community.
  4. We Want Decent Housing Fit For The Shelter Of Human Beings.
  5. We Want Education For Our People That Exposes The True Nature Of This Decadent American Society. We Want Education That Teaches Us Our True History And Our Role In The Present-Day Society.
  6. We Want All Black Men To Be Exempt From Military Service.
  7. We Want An Immediate End To Police Brutality And Murder Of Black People.
  8. We Want Freedom For All Black Men Held In Federal, State, County And City Prisons And Jails.
  9. We Want All Black People When Brought To Trial To Be Tried In Court By A Jury Of Their Peer Group Or People From Their Black Communities, As Defined By The Constitution Of The United States.
  10. We Want Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice And Peace.

The Black Panthers were socialists and communists who organized to improve the daily living conditions of their community members. They wanted real revolutionary change to improve the social, economic, and political lives of Black people around the country. Many of the leaders were Black women who helped create the infamous free breakfast program for low income children and their families (who received political education), sponsors schools, develop legal aid services, distribute clothing to those in need, hold political education classes, and work on health clinics to test for illnesses like sickle-cell that disproportionately affects Black people. As many of their leaders were targeted and incarcerated, the Panthers advocated for prison reform, helped people transition after leaving prison, gave away free food, and fought for equitable housing. The Panthers were known for their cop-watch program where they’d ensure that Black people weren’t being harmed and/or killed by cops in different neighborhoods. They’d often walk around armed in opposition toward the constant violence inflicted by policing (here’s a longer historical dive into the Panthers).

The Black Panthers developed some of the most prolific Black organizers with Fred Hampton being the best of the best. I shared a post about him on his birthday back in August, but this quote from Jeffrey Haas’ The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther illustrates Hampton and the entirety of the Panthers in the most perfect way, “If you ever think about me and you ain’t gonna do no revolutionary act, forget about me. I don’t want myself on your mind if you’re not going to work for the people. If you’re asked to make a commitment at the age of twenty, and you say I don’t want to make a commitment at the age of twenty, only because of the reason that I’m too young to die, I want to live a little longer, then you’re dead already. You have to understand that people have to pay a price for peace. If you dare to struggle, you dare to win. If you dare not struggle then damn it, you don’t deserve to win. Let me say peace to you if you’re willing to fight for it. I believe I was born not to die in a car wreck or slipping on a piece of ice, or of a bad heart, but I”m going to be able to die doing the things I was born for. I believe I’m going to die high off the people. I believe that I’m going to be able to die as a revolutionary in the international proletarian struggle. And I hope that each of you will be able to die in the international revolutionary proletarian struggle or you’ll be able to live in it. And I think that struggle’s going to come. Why don’t you live for the people? Why don’t you struggle for the people? Why don’t you die for the people?” (Haas 4-5).” As many of the Panthers were murdered by state police and/or federal agents, it’s important to remember that revolutions and history-making organizing come at a price and not everyone will make it through. I’m thankful for the ideas that propelled these incredible organizers into their work that many of us now adopt as theory. May we assist in building a world worthy of the Panthers where Black people are free to live with peace, opportunity, and liberation from capitalism, imperialism, and racism.

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