Black Panthers [Podcast 557]

This week on the BMWAG show podcast I share the history of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, Andrew Branca returns with his segment on the Law of Self Defense, my cohost Monster, aka Michael Woodland, talks about a guy that responded to the tragedies by destroying his rifle. There was a tragic shooting in Florida and as a result the gun control people are on a roll. I share where I was last week.

This weekend is the premier of the Disney movie, Black Panther. a radically different kind of comic-book movie, one with a proud Afrocentric twist, featuring a nearly all-black cast, that largely ignores the United States and focuses instead on the fictional nation of Wakanda — I loved it. It had a little Lion King in it… It was one of Marvels best adaptations.  But back in the day…

Around February 1981, while stationed in Camp Pendleton California, a engineer base in San Mateo, a young Marine Lance Corporal named Blanchard got into trouble and called a r”acist, a militant, a subversive” for reading the history of the Black Panther Party.

Here’s the history.

The Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), also known as the Black Panther Party, was started in 1965 under the direction of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activist Stokely Carmichael.  In 1965, Lowndes County in Alabama was 80% black but not a single black citizen was registered to vote.  Carmichael arrived in the county to organize a voter registration project and from this came the LCFO. Party members adopted the black panther as their symbol for their independent political organization.

More than half of the African American population in Lowndes County lived below the poverty line.  Moreover, white supremacists had a long history of extreme violence towards anyone who attempted to vote or otherwise challenge all-white rule.  Lowndes County Freedom Organization members didn’t simply want to vote to place other white candidates in office.  Instead they wanted to be able to vote for their own candidates.

White voters in Lowndes County reacted strongly to the LCFO.  In many instances, whites evicted their sharecroppers, leaving many blacks homeless and unemployed.  Whites also refused to serve known LCFO members in stores and restaurants.  Small riots broke out with the local police often firing only on blacks during these confrontations.  However, the LCFO pushed forward and continued to organize and register voters.  In 1966, several LFCO candidates ran for office in the general election but failed to win.  While their attempt was unsuccessful, the LCFO continued to fight and their goal and motto of “black power” spread outside of Alabama.

The movement spread all over the nation.  Two black Californians, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, asked for permission to use the black panther emblem that the Lowndes County Freedom Organization had adopted, for their newly formed Black Panther Party.  The Oakland-based Black Panther Party became a much more prominent organization than the LCFO.  Thus few people remember the origins of this powerful symbol with impoverished African Americans in a central Alabama County.

The Black Panthers, dressed in black berets and black leather jackets, organized armed citizen patrols of Oakland and other U.S. cities. At its peak in 1968, the Black Panther Party had roughly 2,000 members. The organization later declined as a result of internal tensions, deadly shootouts and FBI counterintelligence activities aimed at weakening the organization.

Founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale met in 1961 while students at Merritt College in Oakland, California.

They both protested the college’s “Pioneer Day” celebration, which honored the pioneers who came to California in the 1800s, but omitted the role of African Americans in settling the American West. Seale and Newton formed the Negro History Fact Group, which called on the school to offer classes in black history.

They founded the Black Panthers in the wake of the assassination of black nationalist Malcolm X and after police in San Francisco shot and killed an unarmed black teen named Matthew Johnson.

Originally dubbed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the organization was founded in October 1966. The Black Panthers’ early activities primarily involved monitoring police activities in black communities in Oakland and other cities.

As they instituted a number of social programs and engaged in political activities, their popularity grew. The Black Panthers drew widespread support from urban centers with large minority communities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. By 1968, the Black Panthers had roughly 2,000 members across the country.

Newton and Seale drew on Marxist ideology for the party platform. They outlined the organization’s philosophical views and political objectives in a Ten-Point Program.

The Ten-Point Program

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.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

The Black Panthers were part of the larger Black Power movement, which emphasized black pride, community control and unification for civil rights.

While the Black Panthers were often portrayed as a gang, their leadership saw the organization as a political party whose goal was getting more African Americans elected to political office. They were unsuccessful on this front. By the early 1970s, FBI counterintelligence efforts, criminal activities and an internal rift between group members weakened the party as a political force.

The Black Panthers did, however, start a number of popular community social programs, including free breakfast programs for school children and free health clinics in 13 African American communities across the United States.

The Black Panthers were involved in numerous violent encounters with police. In 1967, founder Huey Newton allegedly killed Oakland police officer John Frey. Newton was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 1968 and was sentenced to two to 15 years in prison. An appellate court decision later reversed the conviction.

Eldridge Cleaver, editor of the Black Panther’s newspaper, and 17-year old Black Panther member and treasurer Bobby Hutton, were involved in a shootout with police in 1968 that left Hutton dead and two police officers wounded.

Conflicts within the party often turned violent too. In 1969, Black Panther Party member Alex Rackley was tortured and murdered by other Black Panthers who thought him a police informant.

Black Panther bookkeeper Betty Van Patter was found beaten and murdered in 1974. No one was charged with the death, though many believed that party leadership was responsible.

The Black Panthers’ socialist message and black nationalist focus made them the target of a secret FBI counterintelligence program called COINTELPRO.

In 1969, the FBI declared the Black Panthers a communist organization and an enemy of the United States government. The first FBI’s first director, J. Edgar Hoover, in 1968 called the Black Panthers, “One of the greatest threats to the nation’s internal security.”

The FBI worked to weaken the Panthers by exploited existing rivalries between black nationalist groups. They also worked to undermine and dismantle the Free Breakfast for Children Program and other community social programs instituted by the Black Panthers.

In 1968, Chicago police gunned down and killed Black Panther Party members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, who were asleep in their apartment.

About a hundred bullets were fired in what police described as a fierce gun battle with members of the Black Panther Party. However, ballistics experts later determined that only one of those bullets came from the Panthers’ side.

Although the FBI was not responsible for leading the raid, a federal grand jury later indicated that the bureau played a significant role in the events leading up to the raid.

The Black Panther Party officially dissolved in 1982.

I have learned many things about American history.  It’s not always pretty.  I do not romanticize it.  The purpose of history is to learn from it so we won’t make the same mistakes again.  We are living longer, so we might as well live better.  Go forward my friends…

Sadly, this week, this happened…

in the News




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