Can we ever stop racism? The idea of racism in the twenty-first century seems ludicrous; but only fifty years ago, segregation was very apparent and a norm for Africans and African-Americans. Fed up and tired of the open discrimination faced every day, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded The Black Panther Party in Oakland, California in 1966 during the height of immense discrimination. The main goal of this party was to shed light on injustice and incomprehensible police brutality that people of color faced. The Black Panther Party were so hell bent on getting their message through that they were willing to die for what they believed in, and even called for violence if need be. The media started to retaliate by trying to call the Party troublemakers, disruptive and convoluting The Black Panther Party’s original message to the public.
Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale had this idea of a civil rights organization way before The Black Panther Party had become a legitimate party. They posted signs all over the country that read “The Panthers are coming” three years in advance before their official unification. They started recruiting members from different parts of the country such as Bob Brown and Kathleen Cleaver to help create more branches and spread The Black Panther Party’s word. “The goal was to spread the Panther’s globally” – Bob Brown. This was an idea in the wood works for a while, and was properly organized. The Black Panther Party also affiliated itself with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Stokely Carmichael the fourth chairman of SNCC who later changed his name to Kwame Ture had a great influence on founders of The Black Panther Party, and The Black Panther Party itself from the time of inception. SNCC had very indistinguishable ideologies with The Black Panther Party. They both had the same end goal; hence, why both Parties were very close.
Bob Brown was responsible for recruitment in Chicago, Illinois for The Black Panther Party. There were other parties similar to The Black Panther Party around that time. What set them apart was Brown, and others members of the Party, strongly believed “In order to call yourself a Panther you must know what they stand for” – Bob Brown. Brown has also read over one hundred thousand pages of Chicago police reports which he plans to release against court order because he believes we as people of color deserve the right to know what really happened in those times of turmoil. Brown also helped make people aware of the Party by posting the infamous “The Panthers are coming” signs around the city of Chicago. Kwame himself told Brown to name the Party “The Black Panther”. Brown made a further significant impact on the Party by nullifying the non-factual and hyperbole conceptual idea the media tried to portray out to the general public. Brown is quoted saying “We have an obligation to help our people” and “We have the power to make history”.
Kathleen Cleaver was the first woman in The Black Panther Party who had real power. She had power in decision making, influence, and recruitment. She became communications secretary and moved to San Francisco California in 1967 to help with the Party. She is a strong believer in liberation. Cleaver later married Eldridge Cleaver. Cleaver’s husband later organized an ambush on Oakland Police Officers in retaliation for the constant targeting they received from them. The ambush saw the killing of two Oakland Police Officers and Cleaver was facing. Kathleen and Eldridge later fled to Algeria where The Black Panther Party was very prominent for asylum to avoid charges. They both eventually came back to the United States and Kathleen attended Yale.
Bobby Seale was the prime example of “you make sacrifices for what you believe in”. Seale, one of the two founders of The Black Panther Party, spent time in jail trying to fight the injustice faced by people of color by the American Justice System. Seale was a strong believer in, the only way people of color can change anything is to take political seats. In 1965 out the five hundred thousand political seats in the United States only fifty were filled with people of color. Seale worked as an engineer, but three and half years later he quit his job to pay full attention to The Black Panther Party. At that time this black preacher was going around the country trying to spread a message of equality by the name Martin Luther King (MLK). MLK was coming down to the Oakland-San Francisco area where Seale resided. Seale was ambivalent going but decided to give MLK a chance and went to the rally. Seale vividly recalls MLK saying at the rally “Here in San Fran area… All across America Wonder Bread would not hire a black person… We have to boycott them! We have to make Wonder Bread wonder where all their money went!” From there Seale respected MLK and his message.
Seale was arrested for conspiracy to incite riots with seven other Panther members and was sentenced to four years in prison on the grounds of contempt of court. He was also tried for the murder of a fellow Panther suspected of being a police informant but the jury was deadlocked. While in prison, Seale first hand experienced how badly the American justice system and police treated people of color. He recounted how his rights as an American Citizen have stripped away from him while incarcerated. He recounts how his eighth amendment right (cruel and unusual punishment) was taken away by people interrogating him hitting him in the crotch region to try and get answers out of him. He also divulges how he was made to talk after stating he did not want to talk without his lawyer present which violated his Fifth Amendment right. Finally, Seale was put on a gurney strapped down and covered from his feet to his head in restraint devices. They treated him like a convicted felon and took away another right “innocent until proven guilty”. Seale was gurney out in metal chains and he remembered that “Pulling on metal chains is a sign of freedom”. Therefore, he pulled on the chains to make such a ruckus so that the courts had to adjourn.
I had the honor to talk to Kathleen Cleaver and ask her a question that was not able to be asked due to time limitations of the event. I asked her “Do you think Black Lives Matter properly represents what The Black Panther Party stood for?” Cleaver immediately stopped me and told me that the two groups should not be afflicted together because there are two different entities with different methods of achieving their end goal: Black Lives Matter has vowed not to use violence to get their message across while The Black Panther Party sometimes promoted the use of violence. She reminded me that why I might have made that correlation because the media is trying to group each party and movement as one potpourri. Just because The Black Panther Party and Black Lives Matter Movement have the word “black” in the names and both are fighting for the liberation of colored people the media is trying to make them seem like the same group while in reality, they are distinctive.
Even in the twenty-first-century the question of police brutality against the people of color still comes up and is very apparent. It seems like every new week there is a shooting of an unarmed black man. Racism does not seem like a problem that can ever be solved. Even though The Black Panther Party brought forth the discriminatory law called “stop and frisk” and helped abolish the law. Police brutality has just gotten extensively worse especially after the turn of the century. The Black Panther Party’s made it one of their main goals to stand beside police officers during arrests of people of color armed to teeth to ensure the person getting arrested would be treated properly instead of beaten senseless like multiple reported and tapped cases.
The Black Panther Party was really the first successful organization to really have a legitimate impact on addressing the systematic racism and segregation that went on in Africans and African-Americans life after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. The Party’s affiliates were portrayed and called “hoodlums” – Bobby Seale while in reality, the Party was just trying to uphold one of America’s key promises and that is Justice, Freedom, and Equality for all. The simple idea of races coexisting among one another seemed so unfathomable for Caucasians as early in the nineteen sixties. The Black Panther Party made sure that their voice was heard and was not afraid of death to achieve true freedom for Africans and African-Americans. To this day more than twenty Black Panther activists sit in prison.
Thank you for taking the time to read, “The Black Panthers” by Victor Nwadike. If you enjoyed this article or it has moved you in any way, please consider supporting the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights at www.loweryinstitute.org. Let us be the change!