Black History Month: Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

(1966 – 1982)

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[su_note note_color=”#40cd11″ radius=”5″]Noteworthy Accomplishments & Historical Facts [su_list icon_color=”#191f17″]
  • Instituted a variety of social and survival programs designed to alleviate poverty and improve health among inner city Black communities
  • Created the Free Breakfast for Children program which inspired free breakfast and lunch programs in schools today
  • Helped create a free medical center in Chicago, IL
  • Created the Rainbow Coalition
  • Influenced similar groups all over the world
  • Founded the Intercommunal Youth Institute
  • A group that started in one city that grew to having chapters in many cities and achieved national and international notoriety through its involvement
  • National Heroes in Black communities

The Birth of an Organization

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was a Black revolutionary organization, which was founded in Oakland, CA, by 25-year old Huey P. Newton and 30-year old Bobby Seale, on October 15th, 1966. The organization’s name was inspired by the example of the Lowndes County (Alambama) Freedom Organizaton, which first adopted the black panther symbol. That symbol, Bobby explained, was an appropriate one for Black people. 

“It is not the panther’s nature to attack anyone first, but when he is attacked and backed into a corner, he will respond viciously and wipe out the aggressor.”

Both Bobby and Huey were deeply impressed with Malcolm X‘s emphasis on self-defense and his effort to lead the struggle for freedom “by any means necessary.” They often quoted Malcolm’s famous statement:

“We should be peaceful, law-abiding, but the time has come to fight back in self-defense whenever and wherever the Black man is being unjustly and unlawfully attacked. If the government thinks I am wrong for saying this, then let the government start doing its job.”

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The original six members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

Booby and Huey both had connections to a revolutionary movement prior to the creation of the Black Panthers. They were both a part of a Black power group called the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), as well as worked at the North Oakland Neighborhood Anti-Poverty Center where they sat on the advisory board. The anti-poverty center is where they got there first taste of combating police brutality by obtaining signatures to petition the city to create a police review board. Through their involvement, they made various connections with whom they spoke about the group with.

With the organization now formed, they wrote their initial platform statement, the Ten-Point Program. With the help of Huey’s brother Melvin, they decided on a uniform of blue shirts, black pants, black leather jackets, black berets, and openly displayed loaded shotguns. (In his studies, Newton had discovered a California law that allowed carrying a loaded rifle or shotgun in public, as long as it was publicly displayed and pointed at no one.)

A Party with a Purpose

The main reason why the Black Panthers formed was to protect Black people and neighborhoods from police brutality. Members armed themselves with guns, and patrolled the streets to evaluate the behavior of police officers. Their main agenda was acquiring what was noted in the Ten-Point Program.


Initially, the Black Panthers’ focus was on Blacks, and the Black community; however, as the group evolved their focus shifted towards socialism without racial exclusivity. This was in part because they had garnered respect from many people from different backgrounds (including whites), and there were may minorities who were suffering oppression at the hands of the white racists in America.

Misconception of the Black Panthers

Ever since the Black Panther Party was formed, there have been many misconceptions about what the party actually stood for and what it’s true ideologies were. It has been assumed that the Black Panther Party was another radical hate group that showed hatred for whites and the government. 

They have been touted as violent radicals who were out there attacking and killing people in order to advance the Black race. All of this is untrue. They stood for social justice and change, they walked around armed as a way to protect people in the Black community, because there was no protection for Blacks. They wanted to put an end to the unprovoked brutality against their people, and eventually all people who were victims of oppression.

What The Black Panthers Did

The Black Panthers not only provided protection for people within the Black community, but they gave Blacks a sense of pride, something they can be proud of.13th - Black Power Never before, had anyone seen an organized, militant group of Blacks standing up for themselves – standing up for justice! In addition, the Panthers garnered a lot of support internationally, as well as from Whites who were against racism and wanted to do their part to help.

They created many survival programs within the Black community. Programs such as the Free Breakfast for School Children, which was created in January 1969. The program was initiated at St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland; there the Party Members would cook and serve food to the poor inner city youth of the area. Initially run out of a St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland, the Program became so popular that by the end of the year, the Panthers set up kitchens in cities across the nation, feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school.  The thought was that children could not learn if they were not properly fed. 14th - Black Panther Party for Self-Defense breakfast

Other survival programs included free clothing distribution, classes on politics and economics, free medical clinics, lessons on self-defense and first-aid, transportation to upstate prisons for family members of inmates, an emergency-response ambulance program, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and free door-to-door testing for sickle cell anemia.

The Panthers intended to promote “a model for an alternative, more humane social scheme.” These programs, of which there came to be more than 60, were eventually referred to as Survival Programs, and were operated by Party members under the slogan “survival pending revolution.”

They also founded the “Intercommunal Youth Institute” in January 1971, with the intent of demonstrating how Black youth ought to be educated. The school had a unique structure; however, they were taught to read, and were given free bus rides, breakfast, lunch, dinner, books and school supplies; they were taken to have medical check-ups, and many of the children were given free clothes.14th - Black Panther Party for Self-Defense school

Legacy of Inspiration

The Black Panther Party for Self Defense went on to inspire other cultures to create similar groups using the Black Panther ideologies. Groups such as:

Black Panther Party - 1960s

Young Patriots Organization – a group of white leftists from Chicago, IL (also helped form the Rainbow Coalition)

Young Lords – a Puerto Rican turf gang turned nationalist group from Chicago, IL (also helped form the Rainbow Coalition)

American Indian Movement – a group of Native Americans from Minneapolis, MN

Brown Berets – a group of Chicanos from Watsonville, CA

Israeli Black Panthers – a group from the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem 

Russian Panthers – a group out of Russia

I Wor Kuen – a group of Asian-American radicals from NYC

Red Guard Party – a Chinese-American street youth organization from San Francisco, CA

…as well as the Pink Panthers, White Panthers, Gray Panthers, Polynesian Black Panthers, and Pantrarna; some of these organizations are still in effect today.


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