The Black Panther Party was a left-wing organization founded in 1966 for the defense of African Americans (Katsiaficas, and Cleaver 3). It was founded in Oakland, California by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton and would go on to gain fame all over the United States for its deep commitment to defend the rights of the African American population as a minority group (Katsiaficas, and Cleaver 3). For the decade it lasted, the Black Panther Party was able to tackle one of the most pertinent issues of the time: Racism.
In this essay, I seek to explain the role the Black Panther Party, whose initial objective was to defend African Americans from police brutality, played in American society in the 1960s. Black Panther Party began as a result of a prior history of activism where African American opinion leaders were pushing for equality and an end to racial prejudices and police brutality (Katsiaficas, and Cleaver 71). African Americans had for long demanded that authorities address the issues that were affecting them as a minority in the American society.
The Black Panther Party the discipline and calmness preached by renown African American activist Malcolm X to become the heroes of the African American cause (Smethurst 21). The party symbolized self determination and pride, and initiated programs aimed at educating African Americans politically as an attempt to achieve a revolution in diction, the free spirit and commitment to the cause. It became a symbol of African American culture and even had an impact on fashion.
The Black Panther Party, through its Ten Point Program, was able to grasp the attention of the authorities and the American public about the issues that were affecting the African American community (Katsiaficas, and Cleaver 76). It gave an outcry about the oppression that was perpetuated against members of its target community and their lack of control in the political and social institutions that were meant to serve them. The party also petitioned the government and demanded it honors its obligation to provide employment or guarantee an income for all people (Katsiaficas, and Cleaver 76).
The other demands in the Ten Point program included a call to end economic exploitation of the African American and other minority communities and the honor of the promise for forty acres of land and a mule that had been made 100 years earlier as reparation for slavery (Jones 177). The party also demanded better housing to be made available in African American neighborhoods failure to which the land should be made cooperative land so that African Americans could build their own decent housing.
The Black Panther Party managed to petition authorities about the poor quality of educational infrastructure in African American neighborhoods as well as pushing the agenda for free healthcare for impoverished Americans (Jones 179). Police brutality was rampant in those days, targeting African American and Hispanic men. The Black Panther Party wanted an end to all this; and through sensitizing the public, it helped create an awareness and knowledge of human rights which was later to become instrumental in later activism (Smethurst 26).
The Black Panther Party followed the ideals of Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong as he outlined them in his manual, The Little Red Book, to orchestrate economic and social awareness campaigns among African American people through what it called Survival Programs (Katsiaficas, and Cleaver 81). Through these programs, it fought drug abuse and rehabilitated drug addicts, organized free medical clinics and offered emergency response and ambulance services.
In addition it founded the Inter-communal Youth Institute with Ericka Huggins as the director to demonstrate how African American youth must be educated so that they would be empowered politically and economically (Katsiaficas, and Cleaver 81). There were also other programs, most of which had an impact on live in areas where the party was operational. The Black Panther Party had an impact on the political landscape during the time it existed. The party assumed the role of teaching African Americans their political rights and their guarantees as legal American citizens to basic human rights, individual freedoms and liberties (Jones 178).
To be more effective, it briefly combined efforts with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee which was headed by Stokely Carmichael who later renamed himself Kwame Ture in line with his Pan African ideals (Jones 178). This was just after it was founded. In the year 1967, the Black Panther Party organized a street march in which many African Americans were involved in a procession to the California State Capital to oppose a proposed directive to ban the carrying of loaded weapons to public places (Katsiaficas, and Cleaver 81)).
The panthers (members of the party) had already begun exercising that right; and on this procession they all carried rifles. The Black Panther Party sought to empower African Americans politically; and having garnered widespread support from African Americans and other sympathizers, its Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver ran for president in the 1968 presidential elections (Katsiaficas, and Cleaver 85). The party made a bigger impact than its opposite, the White Panther Party. Its biggest role was perhaps in the human rights movement.
Even though the party lasted for only 14 years, it left a lasting impression on the struggle for rights and equality, and its ideals of community service are still present in many African American communities today. Works cited Jones, Charles. The Black Panther Party (Reconsidered). Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press, 1998. Katsiaficas, George, and Cleaver, Kathleen. Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party: A New Look At The Panthers and Their Legacy. New York: Rutledge, 2001. Smethurst, James. The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 70s. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.