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The Black Panthers

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The 1960’s had a way of dividing the African American community in many directions. While the Civil Rights movement fostered a non-violent approach to integration, the Black Power movement, and specifically the Black Panthers spoke encouraged the oppressed to express “outrage at the oppressor.1” The Black Power movement of the 1960’s was characterized by a fight for racial dignity and self reliance. One of the groups of the Black Power movement was Black panthers, whose views on violence made a controversial issue with figures involved with the Civil Rights movement and later with the figures of the American government at the time.

The Black Panthers were formed by college friends Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale who were frustrated by groups that spoke of change but lacked “a connection to the streets.”1 The two wrote “an agenda dubbed the Ten-Point Program, which listed as goals everything from affordable housing and universal healthcare to full employment and military service exemption for Black men."2 After seeing the black panther on a letter from another organization, Seale recalls, "I told Huey that if you push a panther into a corner and don't let it out, sooner or later it's going to wipe out whoever is oppressing it, that's like Black folks being pushed into a corner.”3 Newton and Seale decided on the Black Panther Party, but later changed the name to the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Seale was to be the organizer as the “minister of defense”, and Newton the leader as the “chairman.”4

Most notable of the Black Panthers is the group’s acceptance of, or rather approach to violence. “Some point to the civil rights movement, which demonstrated that some ethnic Inequalities-notably racial ones-are quite resilient and that ethnic assertiveness is a legitimate way of achieving important goals.”5 The violence is undeniable, and this “ethnic assertiveness” seems to have accomplished some of the Black Panthers goals. However, the government had responded to the Panthers violence with violence- unnecessary violence in their eyes, and that is the main root of the Panthers anger. There are many stories of the government falsely accusing Panther leaders, and accusations that the FBI “planted disinformation, often to turn party members against one another.”6 J. Edgar Hoover seemed especially passionate about this issue when he stated that the Panthers were "the greatest single threat to the nation's internal security"7 and changed direction of his counterintelligence program called Cointelpro to focus on black power groups. COINTELPRO operated by “collaborating with local police departments, the FBI mounted a vigorous campaign” to “destabilize Panther initiatives.”8 It was these local police that attempted to suppress the Panthers by using the brutality of their own guns and fists. COINTELPRO did its job of bringing down the Panthers. During this period of attack from the government, “the Panthers were also hampered by internal feuds and accusations of robberies, assaults and other assorted street crimes that served to damage the party's overall reputation.”9 It is recognized that “By the time Congress ruled on Hoover's action, the party was in complete disarray, divided by disagreements over philosophy and tactics, and crippled by the sad state of leaders like Huey Newton, once fearless and reckless, but by that time overwhelmed and addicted to cocaine.”10 The incarceration of Seale and Newton was the beginning of the end of the Panthers. COINTELPRO had done what it was set out to do. The Black Panthers were scattered, disorganized, and being “killed, pushed underground, put in jail and run out of the country,"11 the government had won.

What did the government win? The government gained ideas from Seale and Newton’s Ten-Point Program, they saw what needed to be done in the community and worked to improve it. The Ten-Point Program raised concerns about police brutality, employment, healthcare, and affordable housing, all of which continue to be issues today for people of all colors. A well known “survival program” of Black Panthers was a free breakfast program that began in 1969. 12 This program worked very well in the community, and is said to have inspired the government to create the federal Child Nutrition Act. This act allowed children from lower income households to access to free and reduced priced



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