Black Panthers

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The Black Panthers were a group created by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California in 1966. Malcolm X was a major influence on the idealogies of Newton and Seale, and most members were either Marxist, Socialist, Pan-Africanist, or Black Nationalist. Originaly called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the group's goal at their inception was to protect African-Americans from racial violence and police brutality. The groups founders not only looked at 20th century violence against blacks for inspiration, but they viewed their people's entire history as recipients of violence as reason for protection and retaliation [1]. Huey Newton said, "we believe that in order to get rid of the gun, it is neccesary to pick it up"; this concept was reiterated by the unconcealed loaded shotguns that were a part of the official Black Panther uniform [2]. The Panthers not only believed in protecting themselves from outside forces, but they also strived to improve the dismal economic situation for blacks by creating community driven programms that provided basic needs for struggling families. Many of the founders felt that African-Americans were being disenfranchised by the capitalist system and those who controlled it. With job oppritunities on the decline, and fear of poverty on the increase, the Black Panther's message applied directly to the average black citizen. The group was founded on a 10 point programm that at its core called for "land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace" [3]. The hieght of the BPP (Black Panther Party), was arguably between 1967 and 1970; the incarceration of Huey Newton in 1967 brought the Panther's causes more to the forefront of America's vision and the Party's official membership, which never reached very impressive numbers, did increase during this time. This small range of years would also see the birth of the phrase "black power" and the beginnings of the iconic symbol of the clenched and rasied black fist. Unfortunately, the lack of direction and leadership, mismanagement of Party funds, and growing factions within its membership would begin to tear the Black Panthers apart. Increasing amounts of violence and scandals had caused the Panthers to lose credibility and the scant amounts of political clout they possesed. Although many still identified with the ideals of the party, The Black Panthers as a unit were basically non-existent by the late 1970's.


Racial issues were thrust into the public eye during the 1960’s. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 promised “Prohibition against discrimination or segregation in places of public accommodation” [4] The Act was originally outlined by John F. Kennedy, but after his assassination the Act was passed by Lyndon Johnson. Although the legislation was supposed to ensure equal access to African Americans, many Americans felt that equality was undeserved. Despite many African Americans losing their lives while fighting for a country that considered them second class citizens, the United States still was unable to secure rights for these men and women. As a result of the ineffectualness of the United States Government’s Legislation at curving racism, many different Civil Rights movements gained strength during the 1960’s. Martin Luther King’s movement advocated nonviolence. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was also a major advocate of nonviolent protest. In their founding statement, the Committee states, “We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our belief, and the manner of our action.” [5] The Committee shared this philosophy with Dr. King. Many African Americans felt that this method was unyielding and too slow. They felt that there needed to be action taken immediately and that change needed to be expedited. Radical Leaders like Malcolm X called for more violent approaches to achieving change. As a reaction to Malcolm X’s assassination, the Black Panther Party was formed to try to continue his radical approach to achieving Civil Rights for African Americans. In October 1966, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale crafted the Black Panther Party Platform and Program. The tenth point sums up the goals the the Black Panther Party, “We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.”[6] The document continues and quotes the Declaration of Independence about the pursuit of happiness. By quoting such a sacred American document, Newton and Seale inflamed many people. They qualified their need to overthrow the American government by using the same Declaration used against the British in the 18th century. [7]. The Black Panthers were a reactionary group to both the incompetence seen in American government concerning Civil Rights and the disagreement with other more peaceful movements.


"Black Panthers." Photo. Dated 2002. Viewed 2 Sept. 2008.


October 1966 - Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale develop the Ten-Point Program and thus begin the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense [8]

January 1, 1967 - The Black Panther Party opens its first office. The office is located in Oakland, California. [9]

February 1967 - Radical Eldridge Cleaver joins the party. [10]

April 25, 1967 - The Party publishes its first issue of their newspaper. The paper is called Black Community News Service. [11]

May 1967 - The Black Panthers protest a gun law in Sacramento, California. [12]

October 1967 - Huey Newton is arrested after involvement in the murder of a patrol officer. [13]

December 1967 - The Black Panthers join with the Peace and Freedom Party to protest the Vietnam war and begin the Free Huey movement. [14]

August 1968 - The Black Panthers protest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Cleaver Runs for President under the Peace and Freedom Party. [15]

September 1968 - Huey is sentenced to 2 - 15 years in prison for murder. [16]

August 1970 - After many appeals and Free Huey Rallies, Huey is released and his manslaughter conviction is overturned. [17]

November 1975 - Cleaver returns to United States. [18]

Significant People:

Huey P. Newton-Founder and President

Huey P. Newton was born in a small Louisiana in 1942 [19] . As a young child, Newton and his familly moved to Oakland, an often turbulent city in regards to safety and race realtions. He attended Merritt University where he and his friend Bobby Seale created many of the political ideas that would lead them to create the Black Panther Party. Both Seale and Newton were influenced by the growing number of Marxist and Socialists governments abroad. They started the Black Panthers in order to protect fellow African-Americans from police brutaility, but one of their ultimate goals was to achieve equality through creating a black state or changing American government into a more socialist state that would give blacks the equal oppritunities they had been denied previously. Newton was no doubt a revolutionary thinker for his time, but the coming years would bring so many problems for the Black Panthers, that the group would never be able to rise to its full potential. One of these would be the trial and incarceration of Newton in 1967. On an Oakland street, Newton was found severely wounded next to two white cops; one had been killed and the other severely wounded. Huey was immediately taken into custody and was soon after indicted for the assault and murder (Waiting). Three years later, after a conviction and appeal, Newton was released from prison, but while he was incarcerated, The Party used his situation as an example of why their cause was so important. Numerous rallies were held over the course of the three years, and the "Free Huey Movement" increased the Panther's noteriety and membership. Though this incident had short term benefits, the long term consequences where that Huey faded from power within the Party. Politicaly, the group had turned more militant while Newton began to focus more on community programs and education (Resource). Despite his efforts to reunite the Panthers, Huey Newton had lost so much power in the Party that he was forced to sit back and watch as the Panthers self-destructed. Later on in his life, Newton had numerous personal issues including numerous other arrests and a drug problem that would be the casue of his death in the late 1980's (resource).

Bobby Seale - Co-Founder and Chairman

Bobby Seale pioneered the Black Panther party with Huey P. Newton. Seale was born on October 22, 1936 in Dallas, Texas. Bobby Seale started off with a rambunctious clash with authority. He served in the United States Air Force for three years, but was discharged because of bad conduct. Newton and Seale met at Merritt College in Oakland California. The two eventually went on to work together in the development of the Black Panther Party and its Ten Point Platform. Along with other members of the Party, Seale was arrested multiple times for standing up to bigotry. After marching on California’s capital in May 1967 to protest a gun bill, Seale was arrested. Later that month Seale was arrested again because he was carrying a gun while he attempted to bail out co-founder Huey Newton from jail. He unknowingly violated a law passed in 1887 that prohibited guns near jails. Because he Seale was in violation of this gun law, he was sentenced to three years probation in June of 1968 [20] When asked about the charge, Seale told prosecutors that, “I know by the law, you could have a shotgun as long as it wasn't concealed and as long as you are in a public place, and I was actually in fact on a public sidewalk” [21]. As seen in his cunning answers, Seale seemed to possess a firm grasp of the law and the basic American rights that should be protected. Seale was even charged for conspiracy of murder, but the charges were dropped because of a lack of evidence. Yet another clash with the law occurred at the 1968 Democratic Convention [22]. The Panthers were protesting the fact that the Democratic National Party had not lived up to its promises concerning Civil Rights. The case against the “Chicago Seven” received national attention. The case was titled United States v. Dellinger, et. al. The 1969 case stated, “They, along with Bobby Seale, were charged with making certain speeches for the purposes of inciting, organizing, promoting, and encouraging a riot, after having traveled in interstate commerce to Chicago with intent to do so” [23]. His unwavering dedication to the Black Power movement drove Seale to make sacrifices that often landed him on the wrong side of the law. He actually received a four year sentence for inciting riots, but that was overturned [24]

Stokely Carmichael/ Kwame Ture- Honorary Prime Minister

Stokely Carmichael was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad in 1941. He attended Howard University where he recieved a degree in philosophy (king), and while at school, he became active in a number of non-violent student movement groups. However, he soon became frustrated with the often violent reactions that both white and black peaceful protestors recieved. Although lynchings had dramatically decreased by this time, police brutality and the assasination of African-American leaders [Violence in america] (namely Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X)pushed Carmichael towards more radical political ideaologies. He found a place to express and spread is new leftist views in the newly formed Black Panther Party, and he was appointed Honorary Prime Minister by Newton and Seale. He was vocal, active, and he coined the phrase "black power", which would basically represent the entire movement for years to come (king). But, less than three years after he joined the Black Panthers he removed himself from The Party because of their cooperation with white owned and managed organizations (Stokely). He had become and avid Pan-africanist, and in the later stages of his life, he went so far as to move to the African country of Guinea, where he stayed until his death in 1998 (king)

Eldridge Cleaver - Minister of Information

Eldridge Cleaver is known as one of the most radical members of the Black Panther Party. Cleaver was born on August 31, 1935 in a small town in Arkansas. Cleaver later died in 1998. Like Seale, Cleaver did not have a clean record for very long. In 1958, he was put in prison after being accused of assault. Eventually he was paroled and joined the Black Panther Party in 1967 as their Minister of Information.[25] Many Americans became frightened after Cleaver called for an armed uprising to replace the current United States government with that of a Black Socialist government. [26] After a year with the Panthers, Cleaver fled the country for Algeria with his wife to avoid a return to prison for his 1958 conviction. At this point the politics within the party begin to get out of control. Cleaver and Newton began to fight over control of the Black Panther Party. Seale and Newton were even kicked out of the party by Cleaver at one point and Cleaver was also kicked out of the party by Newton. This seemed to end his involvement with the Black Panther Party in the United States. [27] When Cleaver eventually returned to the United States in 1975, his sentence was reduced to 1200 hours of community service. He could have been given over 70 years in prison for his crimes. [28]

Outcomes/Long Term Effects on U.S. Culture:

Because of its disorganization, the Black Panthers were never really able to live up to their potential. They were ineffective in gathering official memebership, and they were even less effective in controlling and focusing the few members that they had. Politicaly, some of their ideas wer plausible and even neccesary in the black community, but the good things that they attempted to do were overshadowed by internal and external violence. The Panther's never really mustered the political strength to accomplish their goals, but what they were able to do was provide African-Americans with pride in their culture. The Black Panthers were instrumental in creating the "black power" movement that encouraged blacks to be proud of their culture and heritage.


  1. "African Americans." Violence in America. Charles Scribner's Sons, 199. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.
  2. Erikson, Kai T. In search of common ground; conversations with Erik H. Erikson and Huey P. Newton. New York, NY: Norton, 1973.
  3. "Huey." A Huey P. Newton Story. 2002. Public Broadcasting Stations. 2 Sept. 2008 <>
  4. U.S. Congress. "Civil Rights Act of 1964." Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.
  5. “Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Founding Statement”, 1993. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.
  6. Black Panther Party Platform and Program, October 1966. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.
  7. “Black Panther Party Platform and Program.”
  8. "Luna Ray Films, LLC for PBS. “Formation.” Dated 2002. Viewed 2 Sept. 2008.
  9. "Formation."
  10. "Formation."
  11. "Formation."
  12. Luna Ray Films, LLC for PBS. “Capitol March.” Dated 2002. Viewed 2 Sept. 2008.
  13. Luna Ray Films, LLC for PBS. “Free Huey Movement.” Dated 2002. Viewed 2 Sept. 2008.
  14. "Free Huey Movement."
  15. Luna Ray Films, LLC for PBS. “Eldridge Cleaver.” Dated 2002. Viewed 2 Sept. 2008.
  16. "Free Huey Movement."
  17. "Free Huey Movement."
  18. "Eldridge Cleaver."
  19. "Huey P. Newton."Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. 5 vols. Macmillan, 1996. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.
  20. Luna Ray Films, LLC for PBS. "Bobby Seale." Dated 2002. 2 Sept. 2008 <>.
  21. “Testimony of Bobby Seale.” Dated 2006. Viewed 2 Sept. 2008.
  22. "Bobby Seale."
  23. Dellinger, et. al.." American Decades CD-ROM. Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.
  24. "Bobby Seale."
  25. Luna Ray Films, LLC for PBS. “Eldridge Cleaver.” Dated 2002. Viewed 2 Sept. 2008. <>.
  26. "Eldridge Leroy Cleaver."Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. 5 vols. Macmillan, 1996. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.
  27. “Eldridge Cleaver.”
  28. "Eldridge Leroy Cleaver."

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