In 1966, on the heels of the U.S. Congress passing a civil rights act that outlawed racial segregation in public facilities and the start of the Vietnam War, two men from Oakland, California weren’t satisfied with the results of the Civil Rights Movement and took matters into their own hands. Some say that Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale were on the other side of the Civil Rights Movement. Where the Civil Rights Movement stressed a “non-violent” approach, Newton and Seale wanted to take a much bolder approach to end the oppression of not only blacks but also to speak out against the Vietnam War.
The Black Panther Party’s most widely known programs were its armed citizens’ patrols to evaluate behavior of police officers and its Free Breakfast for Children program. But with any movement, the politics became overshadowed by other activities. From the supposed criminality of members and their confrontational, militant, and violent tactics against police, the Black Panther Party had its fair share of problems.
In all of its issues, the Black Panther Party did accomplish something revolutionary when it came to black women. At the start of the organization, women were relegated to the background, with the organization stating that the role of female Panthers was to “stand behind black men” and be supportive. But that all changed by 1969. The Black Panthers eventually adopted a womanist ideology because of the unique experiences of black women, affirming that racism is more oppressive than sexism. Womanism was a mix of black nationalism and the vindication of women, putting race and community struggle before the gender issue. The face of black women revolutionaries had emerged. We had Kathleen Cleaver, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur and Erika Huggins.
Till this day, there are still remnants of the old Black Panther Party, with newer groups coming into existence. But as hard as many try to duplicate the original Black Panther Party, it’ll never be the same. And that could be a good thing, in the eyes of some.
Clutchettes, most of our grandparents told stories of the Civil Rights Movement, but what about your parents? Were they on the other side with their fists in the air and a revolutionary mind?