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By Sarah Morin
WE WANT freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
We BELIEVE that black people will not be free until we are able to determine our destiny.
First Point of Ten-Point Platform & Program (1966)
Founding fathers of what was originally called The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense formulated the revolutionary Ten-Point Platform & Program, splitting from the white community and bonding the black.
The pioneering political party shook up the 1960s, patrolling the streets in emblematic black berets and black leather jackets armed with weapons. In the celebrated Panther 21 case, a jury acquitted New York party members who had been charged with arson, conspiracy and attempted murder for allegedly plotting police assassinations and attempting to burn and or bomb public buildings.
In the 1970s, members expanded their services: providing free breakfasts for children, free medical clinics, free clothing and free food to the homeless. The Black Panther Party faded during the 1980s, and yet the Panther prowls on.
Today, original party members teach, write and lead new organizations still devoted to black community concerns. New parties, such as the Black Panther Collective and the New Black Panther Party, ignite emotion and attention with the Panther name and image.
The return to rallies, protests and marches sparked by ruptures in race relations and episodes of police brutality resonate with Panther ideology: generating awareness in the black community of police oppression.
Members at a "FREE HUEY" Panther Vigil, 1968 Thirty years after Huey Newton and Bobby Seale started the legendary organization in Oakland, Calif., the Panther legacy grabs, entices, and infuriates people. It conjures images of revolution -- exactly what the new parties and old members still using the name are counting on. David Hilliard, former Black Panther chief of staff, founded the Huey Newton Foundation with Newton’s widow, Fredrika, in 1996, helping to fund the organization with proceeds from the $200,000 sale of original Panther ephemera and artifacts to Stanford University. Newton was shot and killed by a drug dealer on the streets of Oakland in 1989.
Hilliard, who unsuccessfully ran for Oakland City Council last year, copyrighted the Black Panther name and currently leads the "Black Panther Legacy Tour" through his home town.
"My right to do this is indisputable," he told San Francisco Weekly last year. "My right is in being a founder of the Black Panthers, in having suffered, in being shot at, in watching my friends killed, in going to prison. This is our history. It’s not something that’s up for grabs."
The New Black Panther Party first surfaced in Jasper, Texas during July of 1998. Khallid Muhammad, self-assigned leader of the new party, and his armed cadre marched the city streets in Jasper.
The group was protesting the brutal killing of James Byrd, a black man dragged to death by three white men, and the subsequent Klan rally. At a Ku Klux White Pride Rally, the klansmen refuted any Klan ties with the white assailants.
The New Black Panthers circled around the rally, chanting "Black Power," but were unable to pierce the barricades. After Muhammad’s gun threats, police ordered the Klan to go home, and then surrounded Muhammad. Only one Panther member was arrested that weekend, charged with disorderly conduct. He was later released.
Barricades and media equipment followed Muhammad and his New Black Panthers again at Harlem’s Million Youth March, almost two months after Jasper.
Problems plagued the September march. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani refused to issue a permit for what he called a "hate march." His decision was later appealed in court. In retaliation, Giuliani and the New York police department barricaded most intersections leading to the march on Malcolm X Blvd, and blocking subway stops from 110th to 145th St. The media considered the march a failure because of its low turnout.
Sam Anderson, a founding member of the Harlem Black Panthers in 1966, attended the march as a legal observer. He said thousands of people were en route to the march but grew frustrated by the barricades never making it to Malcolm X Blvd.
Louis Farrakhan censured Muhammad, his former supreme captain in the Nation of Islam, after his blatant racial slurs against Jews, whites and homosexuals in 1993.
Muhammad denied the existence of the Holocaust and has called New York, "Jew York City."
"He shows up at events to get media attention with the purpose to create tension and to agitate," said Marilyn Mayo of the Anti-Defamation League. "They show up at situations where the community is upset and then disappear."
The name-connection is to lead people into believing that they have a similar agenda to the original party, but they have no agenda, she said.
Anderson said the party is just fluff, interested in the limelight of the media. Both old Black Panther members and new ones assert that the only link between the two parties is the name. The new party has made no effort to make connections with formal (original) party members, he noted.
"He (Muhammad) said the BPP was destroyed because men were chasing white women," Anderson, currently education director for the Center of Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, said laughing. "That is totally incorrect."
The name, Black Panther, attracts so many young people because of its revolutionary origins. Anderson said he became a member in May of 1966 when a Harlem chapter was formed to build on the work of the Lowdnes County Freedom Party in Alabama, which was involved in black voter registration. The Lowdnes group had adopted the black panther as its mascot. Anderson and other members expanded the mission of the Lowdnes organization to include both electoral politics and community issues.
Anderson said the first Harlem party actually pre-dated Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party of Self-Defense. The media focused on the more militant Oakland branch and the Harlem chapter, he said, beset by counter-intelligence efforts, disbanded after about a year and a half. A second chapter later formed in the 1960s, but Anderson said he was concentrating on academics at the time and did not join.
As to the new Black Panther Party, Anderson said, "In the year 2000 in New York City, they are irrelevant in regards to the black community. They took the name and image as defined by white bourgeois media of what the panthers were all about."
The Black Panther Collective works directly with old members. The group is rooted in Panther history by studying and staying involved at the grassroots level, Anderson said.
It started in conjunction with the original members in 1994 while campaigning for political prisoners, most notably Mumia Abdul-Jamal, an imprisoned journalist.
The New York-based organization attracts members from all five boroughs and New Jersey; there are no separate chapters or branches.
The BPP Committee at the United Nations for the Party's Platform & Program, 1968
The Black Panther Collective addresses issues such as police brutality and political prisoners, and conducts community outreach programs. The group took as its own the original Panther ten-point platform whereas the New Party has a new platform of its own.
In 1997, Collective members patrolled the streets of Washington Heights with video cameras to monitor police behavior. The group also depends on propaganda — a Black Panther hallmark — distributing pamphlets, buttons, t-shirts and stickers to create awareness.
The organization’s Speakers Bureau offers workshops, seminars and political education on Black Panther Party History, Political Prisoners & P.O.W.’s in the United States, FBI’s Counter-intelligence (COINTELPRO) and other subjects.
"It is not a competition thing, if my people are dying," said Shaka Shakur, a five-year member of the Black Panther Collective, dismissing tension with the New Black Panther Party. "I would rather focus my energies on the enemy: the oppressor."
Both groups attract media coverage during sensational cases such as the Amadou Diallo slaying, Shakur said, adding that the Collective is a "pro-actionary" not a reactionary party.
" We constantly work around the clock fighting oppression," Shakur said.Shakur, 30, would not disclose the size of either party, citing security as the concern.
"We’re like the Salvation Army, we love everyone," said a nineteen-year old New Black Panther member from Ohio, who asked that his name be withheld.
The group is still growing, said the two-year member. The main focus of the party is concentrating on the youth, "We’re there to teach, and we need older generations to help."
The BBP's Intercommunal Youth Institute, 1971 He was not familiar with the Black Panther Collective and asserted that the new party is not the same as the old one.
The purpose of the New Black Panther Party: empower and clean up the black community, clothe and feed the homeless, he said.
"We’re not pointing guns at the police or threatening anyone," he said in a recent phone interview. "We’re based on trying to help people, not going to jail, not always in black."
Like the Black Panther Collective and the original Panthers, the group holds classes on an array of topics—African American History, politics, economics and self-improvement, he said. He could not comment on Khallid Muhammad or the structure of the party.
As for Hilliard's "Black Panther Legacy Tour" in Oakland, it has two objectives, according to San Francisco State Professor Robert Smith: to keep the legacy of Huey alive and to capitalize on the Huey/Panther name in order to generate income.
Smith does not criticize Hilliard because of the sacrifices he and other original party members made as young people.
People want to be part of the past and its revolutions, and recreate it in this period of conservative government, he said.
"There are a number of groups that pop up calling themselves that (New Black Panther Party)," Smith said. "It immediately has a meaning."