So for Today’s history lesson, I would like to discuss a group that is often much maligned and misrepresented in history. Of course if you have learned anything from reading my work, it is that most of these men and groups were maligned, whitewashed, and reduced in a way to make them either the safest or most evil thing they could be. Neither is fair to their memory. Remember that when reading about MLK, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and James Baldwin.
No, today I would like to address the Black Panthers. Let’s start with the piece that many folks are able to agree on about this group. The group began in Oakland in October of 1966 under the name “The Black Panther Party for Self-defense. They were in many ways a Black nationalist group and many members were anti-White. What is often forgotten about with them is everything else. Consider, first, where the group was formed. We were still in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement here in the US, so most of these men and women had grown up knowing stories of Emmett Till. Many were followers of Malcolm X or were proponents of Garveyism.
But you know what the core functions of the group were? The Black Panther Party (BPP) established social programs. They fed inner city children. The organized citizen patrols, which served to keep cops accountable, something we still seem to be seeking today.
So if the BPP did such positive things, why are they viewed so negatively in the history of American culture, at least by White America?
Because of Edgar J Hoover. Perhaps you have heard of him? Hoover was the founder of the FBI. He served as the director for nearly 5 decades and managed to use his role to collect so much dirt on those around him, granting him coercive power, that following his death, the law was set so that no one could be the director of the FBI for longer than 10 years.
See, Hoover personally declared the BPP the “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country” because, you know, feeding people who don’t have enough to live on and making sure police officers treat everyone fairly is obviously a dangerous notion to this idea of the American Dream and Freedom. Hoover created COINTELPRO, or the COunter INTELigence PROgram specifically to watch and harass the BPP Leadership, seeking to undermine the growing organization and the work it sought to do. Heck, the government moved in to kill Fred Hampton when he was leading such radical growth and change in the organization.
See, there is a much greater history than we give the BPP Credit for in our history books. There is a much deeper tale to tell than we ever seem to allow. Often times people have a certain reaction to seeing a fist raised in a BPP Salute. But many people simply followed what the media soled about the group. As it truly fell in 1982 after a great deal of infighting and villianization in the media, there have been groups since who have sought to use violence and the name to force change. All of this demonizes and changes the story. It removes the characters. It downplays the wonderful change that the BPP really did instill. It ignores the organizations attempts to “pull the community up by its own bootstraps” as much of conservative America is calling for today. See, even when POC in this country have sought to improve themselves and defend themselves, this was the story.
And sadly is still plays out that way today.
And we have the gall to call ourselves the United States?