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Black Panthers Project

In 1965, with the death of Malcolm X, emerged a Civil Rights group known as the Black Panther Party.
The Black Panthers initially rejected the notion of peaceful protest like that of the SNCC, and instead
advocated a more aggressive approach. The founders, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, were African
American residents of Oakland, California. They both rooted the Panther's ideals in Socialism. During
it's founding, the group laid out what is known as the 10 Point Program. This program was a form of
mission statement on the behalf of the Black Panthers. It called for decent housing, equal employment
opportunities, decent education, free health care, an end to police brutality, fair trial by jury, and last but
not least a general sense of justice.

Although the Panther's were originally rooted in the belief of black nationalism and only accepted blacks
into their organization, they encouraged other oppressed nationalities to stand up for themselves by
forming their own organizations. In time, the Panthers would change their attitude towards "black
nationalism", deeming it racist, and would eventually form alliances with other oppressed peoples. By
1970, a shift had taken place in the Black Panthers. The previously exclusive group of black nationalists
now strived for international harmony of all ethnic groups, for the most part at least. At a speech at
Boston College, Huey Newton told of how he wished for a disentegration of all states and nations, into
a worldwide social framework of people interdependent on one another. However, this speech caused
much controversy between fellow members of the Black Panthers, one of which being Stokely
Carmichael. Being a devoted black nationalist, Carmichael considered Newton to be a traitor to the
African American community. Suprisingly, discrepancies like this were not uncommon during this time
within the Black Panther Party.

In the beginning, the Black Panthers had adopted "Black Power"(coined by Stokely Carmichael) as their
slogan. After the 1970's however, Newton and Seale worked to replace this slogan with "Power To The
People", which they believed was more internationalist. Unfortunatly, a prominent member of the party
by the name of Eldridge Cleaver worked to undo what Newton had been striving for. While Newton was
serving time in jail, Cleaver demanded less emphasis on community programs, and more dedication to
that of guerilla warfare. This lead to a physical split between the Party, with supporters of Newton on
the Western coast, and supporters of Cleaver on the Eastern coast.

Regardless of what side Party members were on, there was no denying the fact that police brutality was
an issue. Out of the 661 members of the Oakland Police Department only 16 were African American.
This lead members of the Black Panthers to believe that the police department had some serious issues
when it came to African Americans. This situation was not isolated to that of Oakland either. The police
of Birmingham, Alabama went as far as to openly work with Ku Klux Klan members. Throughout the
1960's race riots broke out across the nation. The Black Panthers set up neighborhood patrols that kept
an eye on suspicious police activity. If an officer was thought to have treated a fellow African American
with racial prejudice, they would be followed by armed Black Panthers. Although each confrontation
varied, almost all involved a level of violence, either from that of the Black Panthers or the police
departments. By 1970, 34 Black Panthers were dead as a result of the race riots where as police suffered
15 officers dead, with dozens injured.

The race riots were not in vain. Police started to integreate their departments by hiring more African
Americans. Unfortunatly, most were hired for all the wrong reasons. Police departments sought to use
these African American officers as spies to gain knowledge of Black Panther activities. The Black
Panthers caught onto this quickly, and by the end of 1972 at least 4 African American officers were
killed. A prominent member of the Panthers by the name of H. Rap Brown is currently serving life in
prison for the murder of a Georgian sheriff's deputy and the wounding of another officer in a gun battle.
Both of the officers were African American. After this, police forces finally started to fully integrate and
this time for the right reasons.

The Black Panthers sometimes have a negative connotation attached to them. It should be understood,
however, that the Black Panthers did have a soft side of the African American youth. They set up a
program called the Free Breakfast For Children in the 1960's. Initially run out of San Francisco, party
members cooked and served breakfast to the inner city children before school. The program became so
popular that by the early 1970's more than 10,000 children were being fed nation wide. This program is
said by some to be responsible for Lyndon B. Johnson's decision to pass the Child Nutrition Act of 1966.
The Black Panthers also operated what they called Survival Programs. These programs were free
services that provided clothing, political classes, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, medical clinics,
self-defense classes, testing for sickle cell disease, and transportation. Without the Black Panther Party,
these services may not have been provided any where else.

It is my conclusion, that without the Black Panther Party, the United States may not have ever reached a
definite resolution in the fight for civil liberties. Some would argue this and point out the twisted irony
of how the Black Panthers used violence to work towards peace. However, that is not what they were
all about. The Black Panther Party may have been split on many issues, but when they came together,
the services they provided for African Americans could be considered by many to be priceless
contributions. This is why the Black Panther Party were important during the civil rights movement.
They proved that when all else fails, a gentle shove is the key towards getting results.