The Black Panther Party & Black Power

Picture a sunny day in Oakland, California during the decade of peace and love. For white people, the city is a place that embodies the hippie, free love movement of the 1960’s. For people of color, it was nothing but blatant harassment and violence from the police department that sought to target black people in Oakland with excessive consistency. From this violence comes a surge of resistance from empowered black people in Oakland who have had enough of the violence and band together to protect themselves. This group is known as the Black Panther Party and they became one of the most notorious black power movements in American history.

When forming an organization like the Black Panther Party, a sense of structure was necessary to get their message of resistance out to as many people as possible. The Panther’s outlined a 10-point program which served as a guideline for members and citizens alike to understand what members code of ethics, morals and overall mission was. The formation of the Panther’s was a direct response to the violence and harassment that black people have been dealing with in Oakland forever. Many of the demands were simple and basic human rights such as equal employment and the end to police brutality among the black community.

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The Panther’s 10-point program list of demands from the white public

But it wouldn’t be the Black Panther’s without a bit of radical thrown into the mix. Alongside the more reasonable demands in the program were outlandish requests for control of all modern technology, the release of all black people from imprisonment and for black men to be exempt from military service. Regardless, the ten-point program served as an example of the many ways black people had been denied basic human and civil rights.

Another way the Panther’s sought to reach out to black communities in Oakland and across the country was through the medium of a newsletter, The Black Panther, distributed to members of the black community. Just as any newsletter, the goal was to raise awareness to issues going on in their community. A quote in the newsletter explains a lot about the rhetoric used among the Panthers that posed a threat to the police and anyone else that threatened their freedom and equality.

“BLACK MEN!!! It is your duty to your women and children, to your mothers and sisters, to investigate the program of the PARTY. There is no other way. We have tried everything else. This is the movement in history when Black People have no choice but to move and move rapidly to gain their freedom, justice and all other ingredients of civilized living that have been denied to us. This is where it is at. Check it out, Black Brothers and Sister! This is our Day!!!!!”

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When seeing this rhetoric and understanding the climate towards black people, especially black men, during the time it was printed, it’s understandable why the Panther’s raised eyebrows from regular Oakland citizens to the FBI. These “radical” declarations in their newsletters and in the ten-point program were seen as a violent and aggressive response to the decades of oppression black people in America have endured. The group was declared the “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1969.

In reality, the organization coined the greatest “threat” to national security were running outreach programs from Oakland to Chicago to provide what had been historically denied from their black communities.  From food pantries, free clothing and food drives, after school tutoring, health clinics to legal workshops– the Black Panthers did all they could to improve the lives of their black brothers and sisters.

For me, that is such a telling sign of the way many black power organizations in America are viewed throughout history. Community enrichment and empowerment are at the core of (most) of these organizations but all people want remember are the black berets and guns slinging from leather jackets.

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We see the same national resistance toward the Black Lives Matter movement whose central goal is to gain freedom, justice and equality for black people. It would be wrong for me to say there weren’t legitimate instances where both organizations, the Panthers and BLM, have rightfully been criticized for certain actions or language in their fight for equality. But we have to ask ourselves, what would we do if we were in their position?

Black Americans have had to deal with decades of systematic oppression and institutional racism in every area of life. From red lining to  A seemingly never ending struggle for basic human rights in a country that claims all men are created equal. How far would you be willing to fight for the right to live where you want; have access to equal health care and educational opportunities; to not be followed every time you enter a grocery store; or to not fear for your life at a routine traffic stop?

The Chicago Campaign and Northern Racism

An unprecedented amount of riots in urban cities throughout the country defined the summer of 1965 and the way forward for the Civil Rights Movement. The notion of peace through non-violence hadn’t broken past the South. From Los Angeles to Chicago, black Americans living in metropolitan cities felt they had met their breaking point from the persistence of police brutality, housing inequalities, and scarce job opportunities. Seeing the turmoil in the North, civil rights organizations began to shift their attention to urban regions of the country where racism was saturated in every aspect of society.

At the start of the new year in 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) sought to move their campaign for equality to Chicago, Illinois, where grassroots mobilization had begun to fight against poverty and housing discrimination in one of America’s largest and most segregated cities. At the time, Chicago was home to over a million black Americans who for decades had migrated from the South looking for the American dream. In a document known as the Chicago Plan, the SCLC outlined the importance of mobilizing a larger movement in Chicago where economic corruption had affected every aspect of life for black citizens. “The Chicago problem is simply a matter of economic exploitation. Every condition exists simply because someone profits by its existence.”

One of the major industries being exploited was the housing market. Racist housing policies excluding black families from buying or renting a livable apartments or house forced them into neighborhoods that didn’t receive comparable care and services for the amount of rent paid.  In Chicago, black people were living in slums with no prospect of moving ahead to areas where their white peers lived. With these transparent racist policies in mind, the SCLC decided to join a coalition of civil rights groups in the city under the name the Chicago Freedom Movement. Even with the best intentions, their transition into the North was met with resistance from Chicago Mayor, Richard Daley, who was reluctant to believe the city was in need of intervention from the SCLC. In his view, Chicago didn’t have racist policies written in the law like in Montgomery or Albany with Jim Crow. Because it wasn’t on paper, it must not be happening.

What Chicago had instead, were a set of cultural customs that replaced explicit laws to discriminate against black Americans. The Federal Housing Administration, outlined areas in cities where banks should feel comfortable lending mortgage loans based on property value and resident population. Neighborhoods with predominately black residents were outlined in red, meaning banks should be cautious of lending loans to residents in the area. This meant black residents were forced into the slums with slumlords who would charge higher rent, require more money upfront and would purposely allow the property to deteriorate so they wouldn’t have to pay more in property taxes (Reader, 295). For Dr. King and the SCLC, Chicago needed to mobilize citizens against these discriminatory practices that affected over a million black Americans living in the city.

In July of 1966, Dr. King led a massive march from Solider Field to the steps of City Hall demanding action from state, federal and local authorities to allow black Chicagoans the chance to escape from the economic and societal trap they have been put into from political, financial and housing institutions (Reader, 300).  With the housing inequality being one of the biggest issues that mobilized people, they planned marches into white neighborhoods that had systematically kept black families in the slums of the inner city. In neighborhoods like Gage Park, marchers came face to face with some of the most violet and egregious white protestors embellished with Swastikas and handmade explosives. Veteran Southern activists were shocked at what they experienced in Gage Park. In the south, protesters were driven by a mob mentality but in Chicago it was women and children and families who came out with bricks and homemade bombs.

The march into Gage Park was the first time Dr. King had led a march that ended in violence. While he was shaken and upset that nonviolence hadn’t prevailed, citizens of Chicago were ready, now more than ever, to continue the march into white neighborhoods. In Chicago, the neighborhood of Cicero was famous for its racial hostility and became the next destination for marchers. Clory Bryant, a resident of Chicago in 1966, she explained in the PBS documentary Eyes on The Prize how much a march into Cicero would mean a lot for the black community. “You don’t know what Cicero meant to people in Chicago. You don’t go into the viaduct, honey, because if you do, you may not get back. Cicero was on the other side of the viaduct. And you didn’t walk through Cicero alone. You didn’t let your car break down in Cicero and get out to change a tire,” Bryant said.

Dr. King was opposed to the march after he was able to negotiate a Fair Housing agreement with Mayor Bevel and the City of Chicago to make strides toward housing equality for black residents. But many saw this agreement as words on paper without any accountability for it to be enforced by state or local agencies. In defiance of Dr. King’s ultimate wishes, the march into Cicero was organized and led by the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) on September 4th 1966. What set the Cicero march apart was how marchers began to fight back when bricks, eggs and rocks were thrown at them. They returned the violence.

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It was during the march into Cicero that the Civil Rights Movement, centered and created around the notion of non-violence, had to come to terms with the changing mentality among black Americans away from non-violence and toward a more aggressive approach to achieving racial equality. The Chicago campaign also allowed Dr. King and leaders in the SCLC to see how different the role racism played in the fabric of society in North versus the South. Different tactics were needed depending on the region and culture of racist practices. In the South, racist policies were written into law in the form of Jim Crow, which can be argued is easier to combat because laws can be changed just as they were made. Whereas Northern racism manifested itself in institutions that systematically chose to discriminate against black people. They were able to play the ignorance card and say these policies didn’t outright discriminate against black people and were applied to everyone. But when black people aren’t being hired for skilled jobs, can’t get a loan to buy a house so they are forced to live in neighborhoods with very few resources or an good schools for their children – it’s clear to see that the North was no different than the South. Explicit or not, the outcome was always for black people living in America.

On paper, the Chicago Plan was a failure for the SCLC. They hadn’t been able to negotiate solid demands with Mayor Daley, for the first time Dr. King had led a march that ended in violence and in Cicero marchers resorted to violence. They left Chicago no better than when they entered and some could argue even more divisive. But looking deeper into the larger effect the Chicago campaign played in the role of the greater Civil Rights Movement, it allowed our country to see how vital racial equality was for the security of our democracy. Racism wasn’t a Southern issue but an American issue that effected every community across the country.

Reflecting on Black History Month

As Black History Month comes to an end, our acknowledgement toward the struggles of African Americans should not. We must continue to appreciate and honor those in the African American community who have fought and continue to fight tirelessly for the basic rights of personhood within our societal fences of white supremacy. It’s my personal belief that we need to learn from black voices not just during this month but all year long.

In that spirit, I’ve compiled a list of 12 stories, one for every month of the year, from African Americans, past and present, whose achievements I’d like to acknowledge for their unabashed commitment to civil rights. Many of their accomplishments have gone underreported in the media. We have a lot to learn from the black experience in America and these are just a few of their stories.

1. Claudette Colvin – The First Rosa Parks

 

Colvin, 15, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama nine months before Rosa Parks did the same. On March 2, 1955, Colvin was taking the bus home from high school when the driver ordered her to give up her seat, according to NPR.  Colvin refused, saying she paid her fare and it was her constitutional right, but was then arrested by two police officers. Colvin later became the main witness in the federal lawsuit Browder v. Gayle, which ended segregation on public transportation in Alabama. 

(Original biography Marie Claire). 

2. Ella Baker – The woman who propelled MLK into the national spotlight

 

Baker was a civil rights activist who worked for a number of civil rights organizations throughout her lifetime. In 1957, she was asked to help organize Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and also helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, which became one of the biggest human rights advocates in the country. “You didn’t see me on television, you didn’t see news stories about me,” Baker said of her role in the civil rights movement, the Times reports. “The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come.”

(Original biography Marie Claire). 

3. Miss Mary Hamilton – The Honorific Leader

 

In the Supreme Court Case, Hamilton v. Alabama,  the court held that an African-American woman, Mary Hamilton, was entitled to the same courteous forms of address customarily reserved solely to whites in the South and that calling a black person by his or her first name in a formal context was a form of racial discrimination. Miss Hamilton was the spearhead for the way our court system was to use honorifics for all persons.

(Original Biography Wikipedia.)

4. SIDNEY POITIER – The Award Goes To…

 

Born to poor farmers in the Bahamas but later moving to New York, Sidney Poitier came from nothing, but achieved the unimaginable for black actors of his day he became a leading man in Hollywood. Sidney was determined to make opportunities for African-Americans and did so by performing outstandingly as an actor, gaining a respected reputation. Eventually he went on to become the first black actor to win an Oscar for a leading role in “Lilies of the Field.”

(Original Biography).

5. Daisy Bates – The Little Rock Nine + Ms. Bates

 

Bates became president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP and played a crucial role in the fight against segregation. In 1957, she helped nine African American students to become the first to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, who became known as the Little Rock Nine. The group first tried to go to the school on September 4. A group of angry whites jeered at them as they arrived. The governor, Orval Faubus, opposed school integration and sent members of the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the students from entering the school. Despite the enormous amount of animosity they faced from white residents of the city, the students were undeterred from their mission to attend the school.

6. TA-NEHISI COATES – The 21st Century Leader

 

Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates is an American author, journalist, comic book writer, and educator. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about cultural, social and political issues, particularly regarding African Americans. His raw and engaging essays about the black experience in America sets him up to be a James Baldwin in the making.

7.  JAMES BALDWIN – The Writer

Baldwin, an acclaimed writer and novelist, broke literary ground with the exploration of racial and social issues in his works. He was known for his essays on the black experience. As a child, he cast about for a way to escape his circumstances. As he recalls, “I knew I was black, of course, but I also knew I was smart. I didn’t know how I would use my mind, or even if I could, but that was the only thing I had to use.” By the time he was fourteen, Baldwin was spending much of his time in libraries and had found his passion for writing.

(Original Biography).

8.  SHIRLEY CHISHOLM – The Congress of the United States of Shirley

9. Fannie Lou Hamer – The Summer of Ms. Fannnie Lou Hamer 

 

Fannie Lou Hamer was a civil rights activist whose passionate depiction of her own suffering in a racist society helped focus attention on the plight of African-Americans throughout the South. In 1964, working with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Hamer helped organize the 1964 Freedom Summer African-American voter registration drive in her native Mississippi. At the Democratic National Convention later that year, she was part of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, an integrated group of activists who openly challenged the legality of Mississippi’s all-white, segregated delegation.

(Original Biography).

10. THURGOOD MARSHALL – The HonorablE Judge Marshall

 

Thurgood Marshall  was an American lawyer who was appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1967. He was the first African-American to hold the position and served for 24 years, until 1991. Marshall studied law at Howard University. As counsel to the NAACP, he utilized the judiciary to champion equality for African Americans. In 1954, he won the Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the Supreme Court ended racial segregation in public schools.

(Original Biography).

11. JESSE OWENS – The One Who Humiliated Hitler 

Jesse Owens also known as “The Buckeye Bullet,” was an American track and field athlete who won four gold medals and broke two world records at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. When Owens finished competing, the African-American son of a sharecropper and the grandson of slaves had single-handedly crushed Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy.

(Original Biography)

12. RICHARD PRYOR – The Comedic Relief 

 

Pryor was an American stand-up comedian, actor, and social critic. Pryor was known for uncompromising examinations of racism and topical contemporary issues, which employed vulgarities and profanity, as well as racial epithets. He reached a broad audience with his trenchant observations and storytelling style and is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential stand-up comedians of all time.

(Original Biography).

#TakeAKnee Divides the Nation

It’s hard to log onto Twitter and not see the #TakeAKnee hashtag all over your timeline. Confused about what it all means? Let’s dive into the conversation that has taken over social media and has President Trump’s eye.

Continue reading #TakeAKnee Divides the Nation