I thought of this topic while discussing the KKK in Montana with a peer of mine. I know, it seems far fetched, but my mind always seems to find ways to link things back to African-American history. Now, what I want to focus on is the interpretations of the Black Panther Party. When I mention it, what comes to mind? Radicalism, violence, the trademark cultural and political upheaval of the 1960s, etc.? Well, yes – but do you know how the Black Panthers started, and what their ultimate goal was?
Here is the mission statement of the Black Panthers: The Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation is a community-based, non-profit research, education, and advocacy center dedicated to fostering progressive social change. By preserving the history of multicultural activism and community self-determination, by educationg the public about this history’s continued relevance, and by creating a crucible for practicing ongoing progressive change, guided by the writings and teachings of Huey P. Newton, the Foundation seeks to empower all people, but especially urban youth, to be builders of a true global community.
Here is the Vision of the party: The original vision of the Black Panther Party was to serve the needs of the oppressed people in our communities and defend them against their oppressors. When the Party was initiated we knew that these goals would raise the consciousness of the people and motivate them to move more firmly for their total liberation. We also recognized that we live in a country which has become one of the most repressive governments in the world; repressive in communities all over the world. We did not expect such a repressive government to stand idly by while the Black Panther Party went forward to the goal of serving the people. We expected repression.
If you, like me, see a stark difference between the mission statement and the vision, than you see the reason the party has such a violent and poor reputation. The Mission statement highlights their efforts for community growth in urban areas – education, positive social change, instillment of confidence and leadership in the younger generations. All of that sounds good to me! And the Panthers did this, and they provided poor urban children with meals at schools (the first organization to do so), after school programs, etc. However, given the atmosphere of the 1960s, their goal for urban revival and building of a black identity, their efforts became radical and violent. I could go on for hours about the unique environment of the 1960s, the fall of the democratic party, the anti-Vietnam sentiment, the culmination of the Civil Rights movement, it was a crazy time – and many people resorted to violent and radical means to achieve their goals, not just the Black Panthers.
Overall, one can’t deny the violence that resulted from much of the Black Panthers interactions with the government. We also have to look at the positives that came out of their efforts though to truly understand the organization and what they sought to acheive. But, I can understand why they thought it was the only way to achieve their goals, and that can be said for many of the social groups who came about in the 1960s – I’m sure glad I wasn’t around then.