The Rise and Fall of the Black Panther Party

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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When your hear the words “Black Panther Party” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it “a group of violent black people fighting for equal rights”, or “a bunch of black people who had afros and wore all black” or does the famous line of “WAKANDA FOREVER!” come across your mind.Truth is…they were none of those things, they were so much more. If you were lucky, you might have touched on them during your history class, but can you really say you know who they are and what they were about? The Black Panther Party were a revolutionary group of african american men and women ready for a change.

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And they were ready to make that change by any means necessary.

Contrary to many beliefs, The Black Party was originally formed to patrol African American neighbourhoods to protect residents from acts of police brutality. Dressed in black black leather jackets, and berets The Black Panthers organized armed citizen patrols of Oakland, California and other U.S. cities. And at its peak in 1968, the Black Panther Party had roughly 2,000 members. This revolutionary group were formed by by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale who met at Merritt College in 1961.They created the Black Panthers in the wake of the assassination of black nationalist Malcolm X. Also they shooting and killing by the police San Francisco of an unarmed black teen named Matthew Johnson was a catalyst in the formation of this group. Yes, the organization did become violent at a point, due to not receiving to positive results when they were indeed being peaceful, “Despite passage of the 1960s civil rights legislation that followed the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), African Americans living in cities throughout North America continued to suffer economic and social inequality. Poverty and reduced public services characterized these urban centres, where residents were subject to poor living conditions, joblessness, chronic health problems, violence, and limited means to change their circumstances” (Duncan 1). March after march, riot after riot, protest after protest, whether it was peaceful or not , the discrimination of blacks were still very prevalent in society, so they tried an alternative approach.

From the start, the Black Panther Party drafted a Ten Point Program, to start up national African American community survival projects and to simulate alliances along with other organizations of people of colour and progressive white radicals . “The Ten Point Program address a principle stance of the Black Panther Party: economic exploitation is at the root of all oppression in the United States and abroad, and the abolition of capitalism is a precondition of social justice.” (Vernon 1). In the 1960s this progressive economic outlook on society, worked well with other social movements in the United States and in other parts of the world. This allowed The Black Panther Party to find allies both within and beyond the borders of North America. But of course with allies, there also comes enemies and the organization also found itself as a target for the Federal Bureau of Investigation also known as the (FBI) , in fact, ” in 1969, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover considered the Black Panther Party the greatest threat to national security” (Duncan 2).

April 25, 1967 The Black Panther debuts their first newspaper with the headline “Why was Denzil Dowell Killed” to rally action over the death of a young black man shot by police in Richmond. The Black Panther Party newspaper was created to organize, inform and educate the people and promote the 10-Point Program, “selling over 300,000 copies each week, The Black Panther Party newspaper became the No. 1 Black weekly newspaper in the nation from 1968-1971, containing both national and international news ” (—–). The paper sold for 25 cents a pop giving each distributor a dime from each copy. In desperation to put an end to police brutality, The Black Panthers perform a armed neighborhood patrols to observe cruel officers. In spite of the party’s full compliance with California law, which legally allows residents to carry firearms in public, California state legislators submit a racist bill, also known as the Mulford Act, to make it illegal to carry firearms in public just to sabotage the party’s new power opportunity .But the BPP is not going to go down without a fight, standing up for their gun rights, an armed group Panthers peacefully enter the State Capitol for a news conference in hopes to get Gov. Ronald Reagan veto that law.

The conference evidently did not go in the BPP favor, for the safety of California residents, Gov. Ronald Reagan felt that he had no choice but to sign the Mulford Act into law and disarm the Black Panthers,This was just a mere setback for the BPP, awaited, was a major comeback. The growing success of Black Panther social programs, which were being proven to be more helpful than government programs, was leading to its growing membership and popularity, “With this newfound publicity, the Black Panther Party grew from an Oakland-based organization into an international one with chapters in 48 states in North America and support groups in Japan, China, France, England, Germany, Sweden, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uruguay, and elsewhere”(——). One of their most notable recognitions was their Free Breakfast for Children Program which had began in January 1969, “The Free Breakfast Program became the central organizing activity of the group. the program reached and was successful in so many communities that emphasised the insufficiency of the federal government’s under resourced lunch programs in public schools all across the country” (====). During this period of time it was hard for blacks to excel and strive. In hopes provide not only protection but financial and educational help, the Black Panthers made their voices known, using self defense in order to gain respect from the white community. And their voices were beginning to resonate throughout the nation. But as more people supported them , a rise in people who were against them grew as well. It became a matter of time of them not just fighting the enemies against them, but the enemies within the group and within themselves as well.

Although many of the BPP members mind was in the right place, it began to seem like their heart wasn’t.While many members continued to fight for the cause, some leaders became abusive of their power and openly promoted violence. Violence amongst the group as well “Nineteen-year-old Alex Rackley, with the New Haven chapter, a suspected FBI informant, was tortured and murdered by other party members. Ideological disagreements (some wanted to concentrate on the social programs, others on the revolutionary struggle) split the party and membership began to dwindle. A couple of party leaders, including Seale, unsuccessfully ran for office in the years following the scandals, but the party eventually collapsed in the later part of the 1970s” (Hoyt 1). To add fire to the fuel co- founder Bobby Seale is arrested for conspiracy to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. His case showcased the discrimination and bias he received from being a Black Panther, “the court refused to allow Seale to choose his own lawyer. When he spoke up for his constitutional rights during the hearing, the judge ordered him bound and gagged”(——). As if they’re werentenough problems going on within the organization , nothing could have prepared them for what was about to hit them. The most detrimental cause of the BPP’s downfall was the programs conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation targeted at breaking up the organization, ” When traditional modes of repression (exposure, blatant harassment, and prosecution for political crimes) failed to counter the growing insurgency, and even helped to fuel it, the Bureau took the law into its own hands and secretly used fraud and force to sabotage constitutionally-protected political activity. It’s methods ranged far beyond surveillance and amounted to a domestic version of the covert action for which the CIA has become infamous throughout the world”(hhhhhh). The infamous program known as COINTELPRO, which stands for “Counterintelligence Program” took a deteriorating toll on the once powerful party, “One of the effective ways COINTELPRO worked was how it systematically destroyed the power structure of the Black Panther Party. For instance, fabricated letters were sent to different factions causing dispute”(====). The organization began becoming more known for their violence, which started overshadowing their original plan to bring awareness about wrongful abuse in the first place. But if there is anyone to blame for downfall in BPP , they should blame themselves. The party became flawed within their group. They began growing tendencies of a lack discipline, misuse and abuse or alcohol and marijuana and vulgar language, and grew criminal mentality.Due to the fact that a large number of the members were youths and students, this became a serious problem. You would think that if the group was falling apart it would be the powerful leaders to bring it back together…WRONG.

The Black Panther Party’s top leaders: Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver all folded and caved in to the pressure and adopted behavior that was intentionally designed to destroy the BPP. Within the party the leaders began to have differences of opinion,some became arrogant and felt as though they were the only possessors of absolute truths. These tendencies within the Party became prevalent in the public which evidently provided the media with and opportunity to slander the Party. As a result, the public’s attention was directed away from the Party’s more positive deeds. And in the late 70s and early 80s came upon, the Black Panther Party started to diminish into history making it no longer effective force to reckon with. In 1968, Chicago police gunned down and killed Black Panther Party members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, who were asleep in their apartment. Huey Newton’s sadness at the community’s anarchy against him and his once powerful party, led to his growing violence and addiction which ultimately led to his death. He was shot and killed to death on August 22, 1989 in Oakland, CA, “his body was found lying in a pool of blood on a street in an Oakland neighborhood where residents say they fear they are losing the fight against drug dealing and poverty…the shooting was reported to the police at 5:29 A.M. The 47-year-old Dr. Newton was taken to Highland Hospital, where he was pronounced dead less than an hour later” (—–).
Fifty years after the group was founded, the Panthers remain a turning point in the fight for black equality in the United States. Even though the party failed to live up to its true goal and dream while it was active, there is no doubt that its efforts paved the way to greater equity and strength in the black community.

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The Rise and Fall of The Black Panther Party. (2019, Dec 22). Retrieved from