Monday, 8 October 2012

The Black Panther Party for Self Defense

 This month is the 42 anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. On October 15th 1966 Huey P. Newton and his friend Bobby Seale after months of frustration with the already established Black political groups in Oakland established their own group which quickly grew into a local and then national political party and social movement.

I personally believe that the Black Panthers were one of the most important political developments in post war America and that their destruction by the authorities a tragedy for American Idealism. In an era where on the one hand White radical movements were trying to reach accommodations with the establishment after the Vietnam War wound down removing the urgency for more affluent Americans to fight for change. And on the other black and other minority groups whom had grown impatient with the slow pace of reform advanced by the mainstream civil rights movements meant many young black Americans grew parochial and turned to extreme Black Nationalism whose beliefs could often be mistaken for a KKK document with a find and replace treatment.

The Black Panthers remained defiant and contemptuous of the hypocrisy and corruption of the American establishment and rejected simplistic Nationalism/racism in favour of Socialism and reaching out to all the oppressed in America and the world.

 The History of the Black Panthers

The group grew to have branches all over America and beyond, in addition to an international section in Algeria (which also held similar refuges for over Revolutionary groups like the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front) the Panthers inspired black Brits to form their own Black Panther party. Though rather wisely the British Panthers realised that just copying the gang across the pond wouldn't be very effective in dealing with issues facing Black Brits so developed an independent program.

Fundamentally the Black British and the Black American experience was different, right from source. Black Americans were dragged, screaming and kicking, from the shores of Africa to an utterly hostile America, whilst my parents, they bought a ticket on the ‘The Windrush’ bound for London! So, right off, you have it there, a major fundamental difference.

The British Black Panthers were mostly active from 1970-73 tackling racism, police discrimination and community issues, but quickly wound down soon after. Nevertheless the Party did provide much needed political experience to many in the Black community such as Darcus Howe. And members and ex-members could be found forming or taking part in many other community groups.

Unfortunately the original Black Panthers also succumbed to the pressure put on them by the FBI. Huey in particular degenerated from a community stalwart and dedicated leader to a crack addicted murderer prone to bouts of violence, before a drug dealer gunned him down in 1989. COINTELPRO doesn't excuse his and similar meltdowns on the part of Panther Activists but the enormous strain heavy handed policing put on the organisation (It should be remembered that similar methods and resources were not placed against White racist militia's like the Minute Men or the KKK, even though both were quite active in the same period) not to mention the deliberate attempts to drive wedges between party members (extremely risky given the party was well known to be armed) were contributing factors to this decline, and responsible for a lot of the political and criminal fallout that the implosion of the Black Panther Party caused.

Nowadays the Panthers legacy has been hijacked by the so called "New Black Panther Party" a group that is blatantly racist and makes a mockery of the Cause and dedication of the original Black Panthers many of whom paid a high price for their commitment to end an oppressive system that oppressed billions around the globe.

In fact so successful has this group been in hijacking the imagery and legacy of the Black Panther Party that the Huey P. Newton foundation an organisation set up by Huey's widow Frederika Newton to archive information on an by the Party and its surviving members had to publish a lengthy condemnation of the New Black Panthers making it clear that the party is doing nothing more then the ideological equivalent of squatting.

In response from numerous requests from individual's seeking information on the "New Black Panthers," the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation issues this public statement to correct the distorted record being made in the media by a small band of African Americans calling themselves the New Black Panthers. As guardian of the true history of the Black Panther Party, the Foundation, which includes former leading members of the Party, denounces this group's exploitation of the Party's name and history. Failing to find its own legitimacy in the black community, this band would graft the Party's name upon itself, which we condemn.

Photo source
Second Photo

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