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original name BLACK PANTHER PARTY FOR SELF-DEFENSE, American black revolutionary party founded in 1966 in Oakland, Calif., by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. The party's original purpose was to patrol black ghettoes to protect residents from acts of police brutality. The Panthers eventually developed into a Marxist revolutionary group that called for the arming of all blacks, the exemption of blacks from the draft and from all sanctions of so-called white America, the release of all blacks from jail, and the payment of compensation to blacks for centuries of exploitation by white Americans. At its peak in the late 1960s, Panther membership exceeded 2,000 and the organization operated chapters in several major cities.
Conflicts between Black Panthers and police in the late 1960s and early '70s led to shoot-outs in California, New York, and Chicago, one of which resulted in Newton's going to prison for the murder of a patrolman. While some members of the party were guilty of criminal acts, the group was subjected to police harassment that sometimes took the form of violent attacks, prompting congressional investigations of police activities in dealing with the Panthers. By the mid-1970s, having lost many members and having fallen out of favour with many American black leaders, who objected to the party's methods, the Panthers turned from violence to concentrate on conventional politics and on providing social services in black neighbourhoods. The party was effectively disbanded by the early 1980s.