We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, by Mumia

We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, by Mumia

Postby admin » Thu Jun 12, 2014 6:47 am

WE WANT FREEDOM: A LIFE IN THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY
by Mumia Abu-Jamal
© 2004 by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Introduction © 2004 by Kathleen Cleaver
Cover design by Ellen P. Shapiro
Cover photo Mumia Abu-Jamal in the Philadelphia BPP office. Philadelphia Inquirer, January 4, 1970. Temple University Libraries, Urban Archives, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil


Table of Contents:

Inside and Back Cover
Dedication
Introduction by Kathleen Cleaver
1. THE BEGINNINGS OF THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY AND THE HISTORY IT SPRANG FROM
2. THE DEEP ROOTS OF THE STRUGGLE FOR BLACK LIBERATION
3. A PANTHER WALKS IN PHILLY
4. THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY
5. "HUEY'S PARTY" GROWS
6. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: COINTELPRO
7. A WOMAN'S PARTY
8. A PANTHER'S LIFE
9. THE SPLIT
10. ONE, TWO, MANY PARTIES
Afterword
Photos and Documents
Endnotes
Bibliography
Index
About Mumia Abu-Jamal
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Re: We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, by M

Postby admin » Thu Jun 12, 2014 6:48 am

Inside Cover

PRAISE FOR WE WANT FREEDOM


Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title

Mumia Abu-Jamal has forged from the furnace of death row a moving, incisive and thorough history of the Black Panther Party. This book is required reading for any who would seek to understand race, revolution, and repression in the United States .... [G]iven the resurgence of overt and covert government suppression of dissent, true accounts of the popular struggles of the late 60s and early 70s are needed now more than ever. Abu-Jamal carefully imparts the history as passionate participant, skilled journalist, and critical historian. That he has accomplished this without interruption to his prolific written and recorded commentaries, his continuing struggle against political persecution within an unjust criminal justice system, and despite the death penalty that hangs over his head daily, is further testimony to the need we all share to stop his planned execution.
-- Amy Goodman, journalist, Democracy Now

Mumia is a soldier in the war for the soul of America. He is fighting the good fight with the same weapons his ancestors fought with: words. He sings with his words; he sings with his heart; he sings with the truth. Mumia is a free man, no matter what his address because he is a man who knows who he is: a child of challenging God.
-- Nikki Giovanni, Poet

Mumia Abu-Jamal speaks in a voice as timeless as the resistance to oppression he personifies. His words, his mind -- indeed, his life itself -- stand as inspirations to ail of us who yearn for liberation, exemplifying the continuities of struggle joining one generation to the next in our common effort to attain the dignity of human freedom. This book is as necessary as it is unavoidable. It simply must be read by everyone endowed with the least twinge of social conscience.
-- Ward Churchill, author of Acts if Rebellion, Perversions if Justice, and On the Justice if Roosting Chickens.

Writing eloquently from his prison cell, Mumia Abu Jamal gives us a fascinating and unusual history of the Black Panther Party. His chapters "A Woman's Party" and "COINTELPRO" would be enough to make this book an invaluable addition to anyone's reading list.
-- Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

This book amazed and delighted me. I'm still not sure how Mumia has managed -- from a maximum-security prison cell -- to encompass in one book the broad scope of US history, a global perspective, and many intimate, first-hand accounts of life, love and politics in the Black Panther Party. Mumia tells this story with such energy and passion that reading it, I felt I'd returned to the storefronts and battlefronts of the 60s and 70s. This is the Black Panther Party -- and the social movements to which it was connected -- in its historical context, its hopes and triumphs, as well as its tragedies and limitations. It is a story fundamental to understanding the US of the 20th and 21st centuries, and I am eternally grateful to Mumia Abu-Jamal for having written it.
-- Laura Whitehorn, former political prisoner

We Want Freedom is a welcome addition to the Oakland centered accounts of the Black Panther Party. Mumia Abu-Jamal provides a provocative and insightful narrative of local Panther activism in Philadelphia. He presents a superb and thoughtful critique of a myriad of organizational dynamics, including tensions between local Party affiliates and national headquarters, gender relations, and intrafactional conflict within the BPP. Mumia's We Want Freedom enriches our understanding and appreciation of the Black Panther Party. His work will undoubtedly inspire his former Party comrades to document their experience of local Panther activism in the various communities across the United States.
-- Charles E. Jones, chair of the Department of African American Studies, Georgia State University and editor of The Black Panther Party Reconsidered.

Weaving his experiences in the Black Panther Party into the tapestry of Africans' history in America, Mumia Abu-Jamal's book is essential reading for all of us involved in the struggle for freedom.
-- George Katsiaficas, editor Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party

We Want Freedom demonstrates once again Mumia Abu Jamal's leadership and commitment to activism and social change. Abu Jamal's accounts of the strengths and triumphs of the Black Pantl1er Party give readers hope. However, for those who view the governments' repression of the Black Panther Party as unique, the book also gives an opportunity to see what the USA PATRlOT Act portends for social justice activists of today.
-- Tonya McClary, American Friends Service Committee National Criminal Justice Program

Back Cover

Writing from the barren confines of his death row cell, Mumia Abu-Jamal provides a remarkable testament about the Black Panther Party ... His frank vignettes of unforgettable encounters -- with fellow members, hostile opponents, larger-than-life Panther leaders, and brutal police -- are a sheer delight to read.
-- Kathleen Cleaver, from the introduction

This gripping revelatory account of the valiant struggles and achievements of the Black Panther Party is a superb antidote to the defamatory "histories" put out by some earlier writers. Mumia fashions a multi-dimensional story with fine style, ideological clarity, and great humanity -- as is his way.
-- Michael Parenti, author of The Assassination of Julius Caesar and The Terrorism Trap

Mumia's keen analysis of the Panthers provides readers with a unique understanding of an organization J. Edgar Hoover deemed the "greatest threat to internal security in the country." Rewarding too is his fresh assessment of the role of women in the Party, which thoughtfully drawn on the work of the late Safiya Bukhari.
-- Herb Boyd, editor of Race and Resistance and Black Panthers for Beginners

As a young Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal helped found the Philadelphia branch, wrote for the newspaper, and began his life-long fight for freedom. In We Want Freedom, Mumia combines his memories of day-to-day life in the Party with analysis of the history of Black liberation struggles. The result is a vivid and compelling picture of the Black Panther Party.

Applying his poetic voice and unsparing critical gaze, Mumia examines one of the most revolutionary and most misrepresented groups in the U.S. His in-depth investigation of government intervention in progressive movements, especially the deadly effects of COINTELPRO, provides timely lessons in the USA PATRIOT Act era.

We Want Freedom focuses on the men and women who were the Party, as much as on the leadership. By locating the Black Panthers in a struggle centuries old -- and in the personal memories of a young man -- Mumia Abu-Jamal helps us to understand freedom.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL is an award-winning journalist and former Black Panther Party member whose previous books include Live From Death Row, Death Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of Conscience, All Things Censored, and Faith of our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life of African and African-American People. He has been living on death row in a Pennsylvania prison since 1982.
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Re: We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, by M

Postby admin » Thu Jun 12, 2014 6:48 am

DEDICATION

TO THE ANCESTORS, the nameless ones who were dragged to living hells in shackles: "strangers in a strange land."

To those young idealistic souls who wore the black and the blue. To those who sold papers in the dead of night, in smoky bars, and in the freezing grips of the wind (especially in the East). To those loving women and sensitive men who rose from their beds at five a.m. to prepare hot breakfasts for schoolchildren from coast to coast.

To Huey, and Eldridge, who are now with the ancestors. To Captain Reggie, to DC. and B.C., to Pink, to "Stretch" Peterson, to Rene Johnson, to Jintz, to Gladys, to Billy 0., to Bullwhip, to Sista Bernice (who became Safiya), to Zayd Malik Shakur, Afeni Shakur, Assata Shakur (the Shakur tribe); to Freddy Nolan, to Frank Jones, to Kathleen, to Geronimo and the Jagas; to the New York 3, to Kiilu Nyasha, to Rita, to Frannie, to Rosemari Mealy, and all the remarkable women who were the luminous glory of the Party. To my former boss, Judi Douglass. To Sista Love. To those known and unknown (like Delbert), who served the Party and their people under arms, and paid the highest price. For those dozens who survived, and remain languishing in the devil's dens still.

To Frances Goldin, who shopped around 'til she found a perfect fit for this work. To Noelle Hanrahan for sending valuable research materials. To those at South End Press, like Alexander Dwinell, Asha Tall, and the rest of the collective, who welcomed, shaped, and praised this project from its earliest incarnation. To my brave and insightful teachers and the thesis committee at California State University, Dominguez Hills; Drs. Myrna Donahoe, Joyce Johnson, and Frank Stricker, who approved an earlier version of this work for completion of an M.A.

To generations to come, who need to know that such a thing as the Black Panther Party was actually possible, and indeed vibrant.

I hereby dedicate this work.

Thank You.

Mumia Abu-Jamal Waynesburg, Pennsylvania
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Re: We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, by M

Postby admin » Thu Jun 12, 2014 6:48 am

INTRODUCTION
by Kathleen Cleaver


WRITING FROM THE barren confines of his death row cell, Mumia Abu-Jamal provides a remarkable testament in his latest book to the transformative impact of being part of the Black Panther Party. A high school student when he joined, reflection now polishes Mumia's extensively researched account that clarifies why, in his words, "the Party became the central focus of the lives of thousands of Panthers across the nation." Frank vignettes of unforgettable encounters he had -- with fellow members, hostile opponents, larger-than-life Panther leaders, and brutal police are a sheer delight to read. His portrayal of the unquenchable enthusiasm for liberation that animated the Black Panther Party, most of whose members were, like Mumia, teenagers -- and over 50 percent were young women-is refreshing. But personal experience comprises only one facet of We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party.

Adapted from his master's degree thesis at California State University, Dominquez Hills, Mumia's book is accessible but not simple. He places the Black Panther Party in the context of the centuries-long resistance against domination and violence that Blacks have demonstrated during the unending fight to live as a free people. Some may find the way Mumia's analysis integrates the Black Panther Party into the history of radical challenges to slavery and racism eye opening, as that past is so rarely examined it remains generally unknown. Mumia applies the "house slave/ field slave" dichotomy that Malcolm X popularized to draw a distinction between what he terms the venerated "civil rights model" of black history, arising from descendants of house slaves who identified their fortune with the well-being of their master, and that disfavored history generated by the descendants of brutalized field slaves, who reacted, as Malcolm described it, to the news master was sick by praying for his death. "Much African American history," Mumia writes, lies "rooted in this radical understanding that America is not the land of liberty, but a place of the absence of freedom, a realm of repression and insecurity." The Black Panther Party emerges from that disfavored history as the contemporary incarnation of that spirit of rebellion and resistance -- subjected to modern techniques of sabotage, retaliation, and erasure from historical memory.

Before his 1982 railroading into prison for the murder of a Philadelphia policeman, Mumia Abu-Jamal was a working journalist. His perspective in We Want Freedom is not exclusively that of a Black Panther, although he does write movingly from that perspective about being among the founding members of the Philadelphia branch in May 1969. These young revolutionaries boldly affiliated with the Black Panthers at a time when the raids, bombings, shootings, arrests, imprisonment, and death at the hands of police forces and intelligence agencies were hallmarks of their campaign to destroy the organization. Inevitably, each member picked up some regional version of Panther lore, a heady combination of things they'd been told or read about, rumors they'd heard mixed with the surreptitious "disinformation" being circulated in the effort to disrupt the organization, all grasped in the midst of an intense experience which, for too many members, turned traumatic. I know countless Panthers have written about their experience in the Party, some circulating their manuscripts solely among family, others leaving them to languish unfinished in drawers, and the most imaginative producing screenplays or novels, but few ever get published. Each of us retains a unique playlist of mental recordings from our Black Panther Party days, with gaps remaining in what we knew then and time blurring the memories slipping away. We are still piecing together that experience when we encounter former Panthers, whether in films, or in books, or in person when we attend weddings, retreats, funerals, trials, cultural affairs, conferences, demonstrations, or family gatherings -- still reinterpreting that indelible relationship we had with each other in the Black Panther Party. Locked inside a Pennsylvania dungeon, Mumia is barred from going to such events, which testifies to his extraordinary talent, concentration, and spiritual strength in producing such a book.

I assure you, recreating Black Panther history is not a simple task -- particularly in light of the sophisticated counter-insurgency operation we now know was being mounted against the organization, its leaders, supporters, members -- and even specifically against Mumia, a high school recruit whom the Philadelphia Police Department and the FBI collaborated to destroy. Among the thousands of FBI documents released, one memorandum I've read sticks in my memory because of a chillingly brutal remark. The memo, dated March 9, 1968, was sent to the director of the FBI from a San Francisco-based special agent; it mentions on the second page that "the young Negro" wants something to feel proud of, but must learn that if he becomes a revolutionary, he will be a "dead revolutionary."

Recreating Black Panther history is not a simple task because some books and newspaper articles that one consults in order to understand significant events and establish their chronology have been corrupted by deliberately falsified, or at least suspect, information, such as the misleading book that former Black Panther Earl Anthony wrote in 1969, published by Dial Press in 1970, entitled Picking Up the Gun. Twenty years later Anthony revealed in a second book that he had been working undercover for the FBI's COINTELPRO (the acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram) while he was in the Party. It is not a simple task because the Black Panther Party exploded across the country from a local Oakland formation into a national organization during 1968 and I saw that those of us involved had no time to record the process carefully. No one provided chapter and verse on how it happened and who did what, and too much was blurred by our deliberate glorification of imprisoned leader Huey Newton, then facing the gas chamber, as part of the all-absorbing international campaign waged for his freedom. The covert COINTELPRO operation that cracked the Black Panther Party into factions by 1971 depended upon meticulous techniques of generating distrust and paranoia, including the insidious portrayal of friends as each other's enemy and the insertion of undercover agents into sensitive positions to help convict or assassinate key leaders. A devastating consequence of that split has been the sense of abandonment and betrayal that barred former Panthers from communicating with anyone aligned with the demonized other faction for more than a generation. Legend, hearsay, and the lack of available factual records mar what has been passed on as "history."

Mumia confronts these obstacles admirably in We Want Freedom) drawing his own conclusions from the available scholarship, memoirs, and government documents, and supplying an intriguing narrative that arises from his personal observations. Even though Black Panther images and slogans have been rediscovered by popular culture, creating a climate in which the historical significance of the Black Panther Party can be recognized and debated remains a slow process. The slash and burn journalistic accounts and police- thriller style portrayals have hampered the development of substantive scholarship. The profound love that thousands of community folk and former members felt for their Black Panther Party, as well as the recent publication of several essay collections that acknowledged its political legitimacy, are encouraging a more serious approach to this history. Increasingly, young scholars choose to investigate the controversial era during which the Black Panther Party soared to international prominence then crashed back into obscurity, and more and more are devoting attention to specific aspects of the Black Panther Party. Mumia's book both complements and expands this new development; he contributes as a scholar as well as a participant, and someone whose participation changed the course of his life. His writing will make you laugh as you see what the daily existence of a young Panther was like, may puzzle you when you read something you didn't believe happened, help you make connections you had not thought of previously, and inspire you to learn more.

The chapter entitled "The Women's Party" was written with new material solicited by Mumia from women in the Party and made accessible through his supporters on the outside. Women who remember Mumia from his Panther days or have recently visited him in prison comment on his kindness, his innate spirituality, and his loving personality -- which you will sense most clearly in this chapter on the nature of women's participation in the Black Panther Party. The chapter, much of which is in the women's own words, presents a nuanced and moving picture of women within a rapidly growing movement under siege, that was transforming itself and the understanding of what a woman's life could be. As Mumia writes, the woman's life in the party was, "Hard Work. Hard Study. Jailed Lovers. Survival. Striving. Times of promise. Times of terror. Resistance to male chauvinism. And hope." He concludes, "The Party may no longer exist, yet much of the spirit, the essence of collective resistance, of community service, of perseverance, continues in the lives of [women] who aspired to change the realities into which they and their people were born. They were, without question, the very best of the Black Panther Party."

Stack up what you read in We Want Freedom against the fact that the Philadelphia jury, uncertain of what motivated Mumia to allegedly kill police officer Daniel Faulkner in a murky case, was swayed to convict by learning of his membership in the Black Panther Party. Inadequate material evidence, perjured eyewitness testimony, and an attorney with a drinking problem prevented even the shadow of fairness in Mumia's trial. This may help you comprehend the dimensions of the miscarriage of justice that led to the death sentence. This condemned man, this sensitive, thoughtful author has poured his energy into an amazing book that illuminates the truth of what his membership in the Black Panther Party was about, and reveals the extreme price extracted from him for having learned, and for now telling, that truth.
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Re: We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, by M

Postby admin » Thu Jun 12, 2014 6:53 am

CHAPTER ONE: THE BEGINNINGS OF THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY AND THE HISTORY IT SPRANG FROM

I started with this idea in my head, "There's two things I've got a right to, death or liberty."
-- Harriet Tubman, Black Freedom Fighter


THE ORIGINS OF the Black Panther Party seem surprisingly mundane, as we look from the other side of time's hourglass.

Two relatively poor college students, fresh from meager and uninspiring public schools, seek to join a junior college's Black student group to give voice to their emergent sense of activism.

They were, on the surface, unremarkable. Two Black men in their twenties, searching for meaning in a world that seemed content to ignore their existence. They were among doubtless thousands, if not tens of thousands, of young men and women who were among the first in their families -- members of that first generation -- to seek higher education. Their trek into such institutions was, in many ways, a voyage into a new and unfamiliar world. A trek that their earlier, unchallenging education left many youth woefully unprepared for.

What made these two emerge as remarkable men was not so much that they possessed remarkable qualities, as that this was a truly remarkable time.

It was the mid 1960s, movements were circling the globe like fresh winds blowing through stale, unopened, darkened rooms. Wafting on those winds were the seductive scents of rebellion, resistance, and world revolution!

In West Oakland, California, where Merritt College was then located, the biggest issue sparking discussion was the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Although it seemed that the immediate problem of a nuclear war between the US and the USSR over Cuba had been averted, the terror of possible atomic war was as real as moonlight. The international tensions of the times caused the era's students to question the world they were growing into. And, if that were not enough, the rising Civil Rights movement in the US South brought domestic questions to the debate amongst the young.

A student named Bobby Seale walked the campus, observing and listening to those who possessed the power to engage in verbal combat and hold court. Speakers didn't just spout their opinions to silent observers, but engaged in debate, parrying a variety of rapid-fire questions from the massed throng. One speaker -- a young guy named Huey -- spoke with such militant conviction and knowledge that Bobby stood transfixed:

I guess I had the idea that I was supposed to ask questions in college, so I walked over to Huey and asked the brother, weren't all these civil rights laws the NAACP was trying to get for us doing some good? And he shot me down too, just like he shot a whole lot of other people down. He said, it's all a waste of money, black people don't have anything in this country that is for them. He went on to say that the laws already on the books weren't even serving them in the first place, and what's the use of making more laws when what we needed was to enforce the present laws? [1]


This thriving, questioning atmosphere gave way to broader challenges. Huey had joined the school's Afro-American Association to try to formulate answers to the questions that hung in the air. Bobby was soon to follow:

That's the kind of atmosphere I met Huey in. And all the conflicts of this meeting, all the blowing that was going on in the streets that day during the Cuban crisis, all of that was involved with his association with the Afro-American Association. A lot of arguments came down. A lot of people were discussing with three or four cats in the Afro-American Association, which was developing the first black nationalist philosophy on the West Coast. They got me caught up. They made me feel that I had to help out, be a part and do something. One or two days later I went around looking for Huey at this school, and I went to the library. I found Huey in the library, and I asked him where the meetings were. He gave me an address card and told me there were book discussions. [2]


How does such a benign meeting presage the emergence of the Black Panther Party? What these recollections reveal are the various strands of thought that were circulating through the Black student and radical community at the time, and would later coalesce and congeal as the beginnings of ideology. The two men seemed to be searching for something -- perhaps answers to why the world was as jumbled up as it seemed, perhaps for a way out of their daily grind, perhaps for that which Black Americans had searched for centuries -- for freedom.

They were looking for an organization that would represent their collective voice. Even at this early stage, there existed positions that would later re-emerge espoused and reflected by the Black Panther Party: a questioning of the status quo; a sense of alienation not only from the US government, but, reflecting a class divide, also from the elite of the Civil Rights movement; and the germ of recognizing the importance of the international arena to the lives and destinies of Blacks in America.

Their first interaction also suggests the beginnings of the power relations that would last for the duration of the existence of the Black Panther Party. It is clear that, although younger, Huey P. Newton possessed a mind far more active, far more flexible, and far more wide-ranging than did Bobby Seale. Newton emerged as the teacher, though Seale too was pivotal.

Seale would introduce Newton to the Caribbean-born Algerian revolutionary Frantz Fanon through his masterpiece, The Wretched of the Earth. A notoriously slow reader, Newton would read the extraordinary book six times. [3] For Newton, and for many other Black Americans, Fanon's words were a revelation, not merely of African colonial conditions, but of the world's problems and why Black America was in such a wretched state:

The mass of the people struggle against the same poverty, flounder about making the same gestures and with their shrunken bellies outline what has been called the geography of hunger. It is an under-developed world, a world inhuman in its poverty; but also it is a world without engineers and without administrators. Confronting this world, the European nations sprawl, ostentatiously opulent. This European opulence is literally scandalous, for it has been founded on slavery, it has been nourished with the blood of slaves and it comes directly from the soil and the subsoil of that under-developed world. The well-being and the progress of Europe have been built up with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians and the yellow races. [4]


For one seeking to make sense of the vast, bleak panorama of poverty in the American ghetto, as contrasted with the projected stately order and opulence of white wealth, Fanon's brave and passionate prose held powerful illumination. Black folks in America saw themselves in the villages of resistance and saw their ghettos as little more than internal colonies similar to those discussed in Fanon's analysis.

Fanon's anticolonial and anti-imperialist perspective was not the only influence on the young Newton. The Black nationalist Malcolm X had a powerful impact upon him, one he termed "intangible" and "deeply spiritual." [5] Newton regularly visited Muslim mosques in the Bay Area and discussed the problems facing Black Americans with members of the Nation of Islam (NOI). He heard Malcolm X, accompanied by a young convert then named Cassius Clay, speak at Oakland's McClymond High School and found the intense young minister an impressive man "with his logic" and his "disciplined" mind. [6] He seriously considered joining the NOI, but growing up as a preacher's kid

I could not deal with their religion. By this time, I had had enough of religion and could not bring myself to adopt another one. I needed a more concrete understanding of social conditions. References to God or Allah did not satisfy my stubborn questioning. [7]


Fanon's analysis mixed well with Malcolm's militant anti-establishment oratory. Malcolm spoke often about the anticolonial liberation movements in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. He spoke also of the Bandung Conference (1955) in Indonesia where African and Asian nations pledged support to the anticolonial movement. Malcolm X and Fanon were deep influences on Newton and played a role in moving him to develop an anti-imperialist and radical perspective:

From all of these things -- the books, Malcolm's writings and spirit, our analysis of the local situation -- the idea of an organization was forming. One day, quite suddenly, almost by chance, we found a name. I had read a pamphlet about voter registration in Mississippi, how the people in the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, had a black panther for its symbol. A few days later, while Bobby and I were rapping, I suggested that we use the panther as our symbol and call our political vehicle the Black Panther Party .... The image seemed appropriate, and Bobby agreed without discussion. At this point, we knew it was time to stop talking and begin organizing. [8]


Black and Third World freedom struggles, nationally and internationally, deeply influenced the two men that formed the Black Panther Party. Several books in addition to Fanon's were pivotal to this process.

While Robert Williams's 1962 Negroes With Guns, as well as the works of VI. Lenin, W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, Dostoyevski, Camus, and Nietzsche fed the growing intellect of Newton, young people of that era were being fed soul food-cooked on the burning embers of Watts, the ghetto rebellion that raged the year before. The books of Black revolutionaries and other thinkers were deeply influential, but what to do?

In his twenty-fourth year of life, Newton would organize a group that would spread across the nation like wildfire. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPPFSD), founded on October 15, 1966, and later renamed the Black Panther Party (EPP), would gain adherents in over forty US cities, with subsidiary information centers (called National Fronts Against Fascism offices) across the nation.

The Black Panther Party was born.

Southern Roots

If one examined the places of origin of leading members of the organization, despite its founding in northern California, one could not but be struck by the number of people who hailed from the South. The first two Panthers, Newton and Seale, were native to Louisiana and Texas, respectively. The BPP's Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver, was born in Arkansas and the Los Angeles chapter's Deputy Minister of Defense, Geronimo ji-Jaga (ne Pratt), was also born in Louisiana. The Party's Chief of Staff, David Hilliard, and his brother, Roosevelt "June" Hilliard, were country boys from Rockville, Alabama. BPP Communications Secretary, and one of the first women to sit on the Central Committee, Kathleen Neal Cleaver, was born into an upwardly mobile Black family in Texas. [9] Elbert "Big Man" Howard, an editor of The Black Panther newspaper for a time, was a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

It seems the young folks who established and staffed the organization came from predominantly southern backgrounds and therefore had to have suffered a kind of dual alienation. First, the global, overarching feeling of apartness stemming from being Black in a predominantly white and hostile environment. Second, the distinction of being perceived as "country," or "southern," a connotation that has come to mean stupid, uncultured, and hickish in much of the northern mind.

They were born into families that brought up the rear of the Great Migration, that vast trek of Black folks fleeing the racial terrorism, lack of opportunity, and stringent mores of social apartheid of the US South. Although they arrived in California as youths and adolescents, they never truly felt at home there, looking to the bayous, deltas, fields, and farmlands of their birthplaces almost as ancestral homes. This was perhaps best voiced by David Hilliard:

Yet Rockville remains a profound influence on my life .... "We're going back to the old country," my cousin Bojack used to say when we were growing up and preparing for a trip south. Rockville remains the closest I can get to my origins, to being African. [10]


For millions of African Americans living in the North, the same can be said. This almost rural mind set would have repercussions for the Party as it grew and expanded into northern cities with teeming Black ghettos.

Roots of Black Radicalism

For decades, neither scholars nor historians bothered to address the existence of the Black Panther Party. If the BPP was a member of the family of Black struggle and resistance, it was an unwelcome member, sort of like a stepchild.

The accolades and bouquets of late twentieth-century Black struggle were awarded to veterans of the civil rights struggle epitomized by the martyred Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elevated by white and Black elites to the heights of social acceptance, Dr. King's message of Christian forbearance and his turn-the-other-cheek doctrine were calming to the white psyche. To Americans bred for comfort, Dr. King was, above all, safe.

The Black Panther Party was the antithesis of Dr. King.

The Party was not a civil rights group. It did not believe in turning the other cheek. It was markedly secular. It did not preach nonviolence, but practiced the human right of self-defense. It was socialist in orientation and advocated the establishment (after a national plebiscite or vote) of a separate, revolutionary, socialistic, Black nation-state.

The Black Panther Party made (white) Americans feel many things, but safe wasn't one of them.

For late twentieth-century scholars and historians trained to study safe history, the Black Panthers represented a kind of anomaly, rather than a historical descendant of a long, impressive line of Black resistance fighters.

In fact, the history of Africans in the Americas is one of deep resistance -- of various attempts at independent Black governance, of self-defense, of armed rebellion, and indeed, of pitched battles for freedom. It is a history of resistance to the unrelenting nightmare of America's Herrenvolk (master race) "democracy."

For generations, Blacks have dreamed of a social reality that can only be termed national independence (or Black nationalism). They gave their energies and their strength to find a place where life could be lived free.

The Black Panthers represented the living line of their radical antecedents. In the dichotomy popularized in a speech by Malcolm X, the Black Panthers represented the "field slaves" of the American plantation who did not disguise their anger at the oppressive institution of bondage; Dr. King's sweet embrace of all things American was typical of the "house slave" who -- denounced by Malcolm -- when the white slavemaster fell ill, asked, "Was sa matter, boss? We sick?"

"The field slaves," Malcolm preached bitingly, "prayed that he died."

The origins of that resistance may be dated (on the North American landscape) to 1526, when Spaniards maneuvered a boatload of captive, chained Africans up a river (in a land now called South Carolina) and nearly one hundred captives broke free, slew several of their captors, and fled into the dense, virgin forests to dwell among the aboriginal peoples there in a kind of freedom that their kindred would not know for the next 400 years. [11] Over that period of time, there would be several attempts to establish a separate Black polity away from the US mainland, situated in Africa, in Haiti, in Central America, or in Canada. With the exception of the struggling Republic of Liberia, established on Africa's West Coast in 1822 by US Black freedmen and -women under the aegis of the American colonization societies, none of the other projects offered a viable site for establishing a separate African American polity.

Even the Republic of Liberia had its critics. Indeed, Liberia was considered a mockery by nineteenth century Black nationalist Dr. Martin Delany. Traveling the world in search of an independent "Africo-American" nation-state, he left little doubt that Liberia was not the answer, calling it "a burlesque of a government -- a pitiful dependency on the American Colonizationists, the Colonization Board at Washington city, in the District of Columbia, being the Executive and Government, and the principal man, called President, in Liberia, being the echo ... " [12]

The inborn instinct for national Black independence found various forms of expression: For example, in 1807, in Bullock County, Alabama, Blacks organized their own "negro government" with a code of laws, a sheriff, and courts. Their leader, a former slave named George Shorter, was imprisoned by the US Army. [13] As early as 1787, a group of "free Africans" petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for leave to resettle in Africa, because of the "disagreeable and disadvantageous circumstances" under which "free Africans" lived in post-Revolutionary America. [14] The petitioning delegation was led by Black Masonic leader, Prince Hall, who exclaimed:

This and other considerations which we need not here particularly mention induce us to return to Africa, our native country, which warm climate is more natural and agreeable to us, and for which the God of Nature has formed us, and where we shall live among our equals and be more comfortable and happy, than we can be in our present situation and at the same time, may have a prospect of usefulness to our brethren there. [15]


Here may be found one of the earliest manifestations of a back-to-Africa movement, expressed nearly 120 years before the heralded Black nationalist Marcus Garvey. It was a deep expression of alienation with American life, even in Massachusetts where Africans had perhaps the best and most free life in the colonies.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that only Blacks sought the establishment of a separate Black nation-state. Some of the deepest thinkers in American life expressed surprisingly similar thoughts to the Black Masonic leader.

Six years before Prince Hall's petition was submitted in Boston, one of the brightest minds of the Old Dominion was writing that there were "political," "physical," and "moral" objections to Blacks living in political equality with whites in the same polity. In the year he resigned from the office of Governor of Virginia, and several decades before he would occupy the office of president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

It will probably be asked, why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expense of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave? Deep-rooted prejudices entertained by the whites, ten thousand recollections by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained, new provocations; the new distinctions which nature has made, and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce compulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of one or the other race. [16]


What may surprise many is that another major American political thinker, Abraham Lincoln, while a sitting president, expressed quite similar views over three-quarters of a century later. In an 1862 address to a "Colored Deputation" in Washington, DC, the president expressed his thinking on Black colonization:

Why should they leave this country? This is, perhaps, the first question for proper consideration. You and we are different races. W/e have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this be admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated. [17]


Lincoln proposed mass resettlement of US Blacks to lands in Central America. [18] What is remarkable is that Lincoln's vision, pronounced while the country was convulsed in the throes of civil war, shares so much with the Black separatism best typified by the former, formal position of the Nation of Islam. While the NOI's position is termed radical, racist, and hateful, Lincoln is lionized as the Great Emancipator. Not surprisingly, the "Colored Deputation" received the Lincoln resettlement proposal coldly. [19]

After the war ended with Union victory, a Republican Reconstruction- era governor of Tennessee, William G. Brownlow, would urge the US Congress to set aside a separate US territory for Black settlement. His 1865 proposal would establish a "nation of freedmen." [20] Historian Eric Foner has found in periods of heightened Black conflict with, and political disenfranchisement by, the white majority and its political elites, the hunger for African independence, or nationalism, is rekindled, and re-emerges in Black popular demands:

One index of the narrowed possibilities for change was the revival of interest, all but moribund during Reconstruction, in emigration to Africa or the West. The spate of black public meetings and letters to the American Colonization Society favoring emigration in the immediate aftermath of Reconstruction reflected less an upsurge of nationalist consciousness than the collapse of hopes invested in Reconstruction and the arousal of deep fears for the future by the restoration of white supremacy. Henry Adams, the former soldier and Louisiana political organizer, claimed in 1877 to have enrolled the names of over 60,000 "hard laboring people" eager to lea\'e the South. "This is a horrible part of the country," he wrote the Colonization Society from Shreveport, "And our race can not get money for our labor .... It is impossible for us to live with these slaveholders of the South and enjoy the right as they enjoy it." [21]


Nationalism, therefore, was a live option that had considerable support in both the Black and white communities, that waxed and waned according to the political, economic, and psychosocial context of life for Black folks in white America.

While periods of tension and strife gave rise to nationalist aspirations, for some the struggle for survival demanded that people take immediate, militant, and indeed violent action to protect their lives and their freedom. Nationalism may have been a considered aspiration; survival was sheer necessity. People thrown into an untenable situation had to find remarkable ways of getting out. Those qualities and impulses lie deep within the psyches and historical experiences of Black people in the Americas -- people who have been far more radical than a tame, sweet, civil rights-oriented history might suggest.

Black Roots of Resistance

When one speaks of African Americans, it is clear to many of whom we speak. What may be unclear, however, is how the very term itself masks deep ambiguities within Black and white consciousness. It is but the latest nominally socially accepted term for a people who long predate the United States.

Among all the myriad people who call themselves Americans, the sons and daughters of Africa-called variously Africans, Negroes (and various pejorative derivations therefrom), gens de couleur; Africo-Americans, Afro-Americans, colored people, Bilalians, [22] African Americans, and the recently revived people of color -- view their nationality ambiguously, as if more a question than a self-evident certainty. That ambiguity is a natural result of the troubled history of Black people in the United States, who have tasted the bitter gall of betrayal by the nation of their birth, and, like the aboriginal peoples of the Americas, the so-called Indians (how long will we repeat the navigational errors of Columbus?), they have seen a long trail of broken promises.

Unlike most others who call themselves Americans, Africans did not immigrate here by choice, fleeing foreign princes in search of "freedom," but were brought here in sheer terror, shackled, chained, and against their deepest will. This is therefore a home, not by the choice of one's ancestors, but by a cruel kind of historical default.

The classic narrative of Olaudah Equiano, an eighteenth-century captive taken as a preteen boy from his Ibo clan in what would be modern-day Nigeria, reflects the terrors of millions of West Africans who were forcibly brought to the West in the holds of slave ships. His first sight of such a vessel (he, a boy of eleven years, had never seen a river, much less a coastal sea), and the strange, pale beings, filled him with dread. He felt like prey before ravenous beasts:

Their complexions too, differing so much from ours, their long hair, and the language they spoke, which was very different from any I had ever heard, united to confirm me in this belief. Indeed, such were the horrors of my views and fears at the moment, that if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged my condition with the meanest slave in my own country. When I looked around the ship too, and saw a large furnace of copper boiling and a multitude of black people of every description, chained together, everyone of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow I no longer doubted of my fate; and quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck, and fainted. [23]


Equiano thought these strange, red-faced beings were bad spirits who would surely kill and then eat him and the other sad-faced Black people. He used his wits and business acumen to survive a brutal bondage in Georgia, and, sold to a sea captain, lived on board slaving vessels, learned the craft of seamen, and traveled the world, eventually buying his freedom and settling in London.

His horrific memories of the torture, brutalities, and savageries of the slave trade stand like dark sentinels in the recesses of Black consciousness of what it means to be Black in America. Almost every African American knows that his or her ancestor entered the doorway to America through the stinking hold of a vessel such as that which transported Equiano.

These beginnings, so radically different from most other Americans, may be the psychic wellspring of so much that is radical in contemporary Black America. What white America perceived as radical may have been the norm in the very different context of Black life in the midst of a white supremacist, hostile, and patriarchal society. In a state where the violently enforced norm was white supremacy and Black devaluation, it should surprise no one that there was resistance, nor that this would stimulate a radical social response.

Much of African American history, then, is rooted in this radical understanding that America is not the land of liberty, but a place of the absence of freedom, a realm of repression and insecurity. Only such a people as this could create the haunting hymns of the spirituals, in which people sang so movingly of loss and yearning:

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
a loooong way from hooome,
a long way from home!


Some Africans, early in the eighteenth century, resisted the status quo by seizing control of their slaveships and setting sail for freedom back in Africa. Ninety-six Africans aboard the Little George slipped their bonds and overpowered the crew. Some of the crew were not slain, but were locked in their cabins so that they could not interfere with the trek home. The Black naval rebels sailed for nine days and made landfall on the West African coast in 1730.

Two years later, the captain of the William was slain by its Black captives, its crew was set adrift in the waters of the Atlantic, and a new, rebel crew pointed the bow of the vessel homeward, to Africa. [24]

Nor were things quiet and sedate for Africans on land.

The period of the 1730s and 1740s has been seen by some historians as an era of incessant resistance. One contemporary observer described the period, almost as if he were referring to a prevalent disease, as "the contagion of rebellion" sweeping the colonies. Indeed, this spirit of rebellion flashed up and down the coasts of the British colonies and encircled the isles claimed by tribes of Europe in the West Indies, lighting fires of freedom in the dark night of bondage.

During the 1730s and early 1740s, the "Spirit of Liberty" erupted again and again, in almost all of the slave societies of the Americas, especially where Coramantee slaves were concentrated. Major conspiracies unfolded in Virginia, South Carolina, Bermuda, and Louisiana (New Orleans) in the year 1730 alone. [25]


Historians cite a remarkable man named Samba, who featured predominantly in the 1730 New Orleans revolt. He had previously led an unsuccessful rebellion against a French slave-trading fort back in Africa and had mutinied while aboard a slave vessel. The town fathers in New Orleans responded to his incessant quest for liberty by giving him a brutal, tortuous death. This state terror did not diminish the thirst for liberty surging in Black hearts in New Orleans. Captives there organized an uprising just two years after Samba's sacrifice.

Historians describe a coherent cycle of rebellion that threw the Atlantic into convulsions of resistance to the established colonial slavocracies:

The following year witnessed rebellions in South Carolina, Jamaica, St. John (Danish Virgin Islands), and Dutch Guyana. In 1734 came plots and actions in the Bahama Islands, St. Kitts, South Carolina again, and New jersey. The latter two inspired by the rising in St. John. In 1735-36 a vast slave conspiracy was uncovered in Antigua, and other rebellions soon followed on the smaller islands of St. Bartholomew, St. Martin's, Anguilla, and Guadeloupe. In 1737 and again in 1738, Charleston experienced new upheavals. In the spring of 1738, meanwhile, "several slaves broke out of a jail in Prince George's County, Maryland, united themselves with a group of outlying [or escaped] Negroes and proceeded to wage a small-scale guerrilla war." The following year, a considerable number of slaves plotted to raid a storehouse of arms and munitions in Annapolis, Maryland, to "destroy his Majesty's Subjects within this Province, and to possess themselves of the whole country." Failing that, they planned "to settle back in the Woods." Later in 1739, the Stono Rebellion convulsed South Carolina. Here the slaves burned houses as they fought their way toward freedom in Spanish Florida. Yet another rebellion broke out in Charleston in June 1740, involving 150 to 200 slaves, fifty of whom were hanged for their daring. [26]


In a study of the radical underpinnings of Black thought it is not sufficient to provide a kind of caramel-colored, sepia-toned version of US history. Consider that these rebellions occurred but a few decades before the Declaration of Independence and the subsequent American Revolution. In those battles for liberty it is perhaps unremarkable to note that some 5,000 Blacks were eventually integrated into the Army of the Continental Congress, although General George Washington, a slaveholder from Virginia, initially opposed their enlistment. The First Rhode Island Regiment, an elite regiment of Black enlisted men and white officers, carried the day against the British at Yorktown, playing a pivotal role in forcing the surrender of Cornwallis. [27]

What is less well known is that well over ten times that number, some 65,000 Africans, joined the British cause. They joined not because of any craven loyalty to the Crown, nor any disloyalty to the colonies, but rather because of the age-old impetus of self-interest. Britain's Lord Dunmore offered freedom to all "negroes" who would fight for the Crown, and tens of thousands leapt at the opportunity. Dunmore organized a corps of Black former slaves into the Ethiopia Regiment, who wore the motto "Liberty to Slaves" on their tunics. This regiment helped the British capture and torch Norfolk, Virginia, on New Year's Day, 1776.

When the British were forced to withdraw in 1783, over 20,000 Africans fled the United States. Having fought for the losing side of the Revolution, they had no desire to remain in the slavocratic states. They may have lost the war, but they did not lose all. Many lived lives of freedom that their former countrymen would not experience for almost a century, settling in London, ova Scotia, Ontario, and other British dominions. [28]

Seen from this perspective, did they really lose?

This is not to suggest that the British were, as a rule, liberators of African slaves. They were not.

Lord Dunmore was putting forth a war policy to the benefit of the Empire; if, in support of that objective, strategy dictated the freedom of a few thousand Africans, all to the good. The Irish-born British parliamentarian Edmund Burke, who promoted conciliation with the Americans, saw the Dunmore proposal as sheer hypocrisy. Burke asked whether Blacks should accept "an offer of freedom from that very nation which has sold them to their present masters?" [29]

Indeed, just over a decade before Dunmore's offer, Blacks living in the Spanish colony of Florida, and especially those hundreds of Maroons who lived in Fort Mosa, just north of St. Augustine, set sail for Cuba rather than live under the British Crown. Fort Mosa and the surrounding Black community it defended constituted one of the earliest Black settlements on the land that we now call the United States. Fort Mosa was the name that Black fugitives, Seminole Indians, and Floridian Spanish used. The English-speaking people of Georgia and South Carolina called the site Negro Fort and viewed it as a threat to the slave system. When the British took over Florida in 1763, the Maroons fled with the Spanish. [30]

For Africans, whether in Virginia or Spanish Florida, the central objective remained the same: which way freedom? If the price for freedom was to ally with the British against the slavery-addicted Americans, or to turn from Spain for liberty and dignity among aboriginal peoples like the Seminoles, so be it.

Freedom was ever the goal.

Resistance After the "Revolution"

After what some historians have termed the Baron's Revolt of the nouveau riche Americans against the established, wealthy, and rapacious Crown of England for "freedom," there were millions of Blacks in the newly independent American states who knew that freedom was still not theirs. They were slaves before the "buckra war" [31] for freedom and independence and were still in bondage after it ended. [32]

The post-Revolutionary era brought the language of liberty out into the open, if not into reality. It also brought with It a methodology.

People must fight for their freedom.

On the Revolution's eve, whites of property, who cried loudest for "liberty" from British tyranny, strove mightily to tighten the shackles on the people they held in unremitting bondage. As radical historian Herbert Aptheker has noted:

A letter written July 31, 1776, by Henry Wynkoop, a resident of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to the local Committee of Safety requested the dispatching of ammunition in order to quiet "the people in my neighborhood [who] have been somewhat alarmed with fears about negroes and disaffected people injuring their families when they are in the service." [33]


The Revolution was scarcely a decade past when the following letter, posted some months earlier from Newbern, North Carolina, appeared in the Boston Gazette of September 3, 1792:

The negroes in this town and neighborhood, have stirred a rumour of their having in contemplation to rise against their masters and to procure themselves their liberty; The inhabitants have been alarmed and keep a strict watch to prevent their procuring arms; should it become serious, which I don't think, the worst that could befal [sic] us, would be their setting the town on fire. It is very absurd of the blacks, to suppose they could accomplish their views, and from the precautions that were taken to guard against surprise, little danger is to be apprehended. [34]

Put quite another way, the southern correspondent suggests to the northern journal, in essence, "it is absurd for these negroes to think that the Revolution was about anything other than white Liberty!"

It was, in fact, a Baron's Revolt, a revolution fought for the "liberty" of deciding who would hold Africans in bondage -- Americans or the British? Who would reap the wealth from their forced labor? Who would receive the fruits of this stolen land that African labor produced?

Liberty, indeed!

It was during this post-Revolutionary era that the African people of the Americas launched massive armed rebellions that echo down the corridors of time for their sheer boldness in attempt and execution of their will to be once and forever free. Two centuries after their heroic bids for freedom, the leaders of these rebellions are still regarded with a strange American ambivalence that revolves around the crucible of race. To many whites they are seen as madmen; to some Blacks they are remembered as armed prophets of freedom. Gabriel Prosser (d. 1800), Charles Deslondes (d. 1811), Denmark Vesey (d. 1822), at Turner (d. 1831), and "Cinque" Singbeh Pi'eh (d.1839), of the mutiny aboard the Spanish schooner La Amistad, dwell in the hearts, minds, and souls of millions of contemporary African Americans, as people who fought against desperate odds, against a ruthless enemy, for a breath of freedom. Their names still live in millions of Black mouths, in stories told from generation to generation, almost two centuries after their passing.

Emblematic of this stellar and bloody period of armed Black resistance, one of that number who will exemplify how deeply this radical example has permeated Black spiritual consciousness, is Gabriel Prosser.

Deeply inspired by the biblical tale of Samson, Gabriel came to believe he had been appointed by the Lord to become the deliverer of his people. A young man of impressive physical and mental gifts, he shared his inner convictions with other captives. He interpreted the verses of the Bible with them, explaining that the tales told referred to the living present -- summer 1800 -- and predicted the deliverance of the people from a hellish bondage. He preached this verse to his fellow captives:

And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that were burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands. And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and slew a thousand men therewith .... And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines for twenty years. [35]


The cords and bands of this passage mean the bondage of slavery, Gabriel explained. And the Philistines? They were the slavemasters, of course. Gabriel and his fellow captives were to steal or make weapons -- the jawbones of an ass -- and they would judge the Philistines and erect a Black kingdom -- there, near Richmond -- and live life in liberty. [36]

His inspiring manner and his masterful interpretation of the Bible drew people to join him in this great task. Before long, he was joined by his wife, Nanny, and his brothers, Martin and Solomon. As the movement spread, 1,000 rebels joined his force.

Gabriel conducted reconnaissance in Richmond to acquaint himself with armament stores and the lay of the land. As weapons and bullets were forged, the night to strike was selected. All was in readiness.

On the afternoon of the rising, two slaves, Tom and Pharoah, broke news of the plot to their master, who promptly informed the governor (and later president), James Monroe. Monroe quickly mobilized 650 men and placed state militia commanders on alert. [37]

The early evening march on Richmond by Gabriel's 1,000- strong force got mired, literally, as rains made the roads impassable. With travel so obstructed, they decided to disperse, not knowing that the rebellion had already been betrayed. An army of bondsmen and bondswomen, wielding farm implements, a few guns, and the inspiration of their "Black Samson," melted into the steamy August night, to await a new signal, having come within six miles of Richmond.

The second signal would never come. Over the next few days, a number of rebels, including their charismatic leader, Gabriel Prosser, were caught in the net. None could be compelled to confess or provide information on the plan. Monroe met Prosser, and the governor would later note: "From what he said to me, he seemed to have made up his mind to die, and to have resolved to say but little on the subject of the conspiracy." [38]

At least thirty-five rebels, including Gabriel, were hanged.

Like his compatriots in the Grand Conspiracy of Rebellion against bondage, Gabriel did not die to millions of his fellow captives. They still live on, in blessed memory, in spirituals, in legend, in tales in the night, and in the spirit of resistance of an oppressed people.

Armed Self-Defense

We must add to the great and well-known names of revered historical figures the long and impressive history of hundreds, indeed thousands, of largely anonymous Africans who fought, sometimes armed, against the forces of white nationalism and white supremacist terrorism.

The 1763 flight of the Maroons and the abandonment of Fort Mosa did not end the use of the site. Half a century later hundreds of Africans fought a pitched battle against the Americans from the well-armed garrison, now known by all as Negro Fort. Blacks (and their "Indian" relatives) had good reason to live in an armed, well-defended fort along the banks of Florida's Apalachicola River, and it wasn't for the same reason that whites, who lived further to the west, would later live in or near forts.

The white fort-dwellers feared attacks from "Indians" who opposed encroachments upon their tribal lands.

The Black fort-dwellers feared attacks from whites (or Native Americans hired by them) who wanted to place them back in slavery.

Andrew Jackson as a Major General of the US Army, not yet president, left no doubt such a fear was justified by his communique to a Spanish governmental official in Pensacola, Florida, dated April 23, 1816:

A Negro Fort erected during our late war with Britain ... [here, Jackson refers to the War of 1812, not the Revolution] has been strengthened since the period and is now occupied by upwards of two hundred and fifty Negroes, many of whom have been enticed away from the service of their masters -- citizens of the United States: all of whom are well clothed and disciplined .... [39]


Jackson, who would emerge in his military and political careers as the worst enemy the Native people ever encountered, threatened the Spanish commandant, telling him the fort would be "destroyed" if Spain failed to "control" its residents. [40]

Herbert Aptheker calculated Negro Fort's inhabitants at roughly 300 people (Black men, women, and children), with "some thirty Indian allies." He recounts a ten-day siege of the facility by US forces, which concluded when American cannon fire struck the fort's armory stores and exploded, killing some 270 of its inhabitants. [41]

Many Americans are generally familiar with the long history of US-"Indian" warfare, but how many know that the hardest fought battles were the three US-Seminole Wars? Or that these Black, white, and red wars were regarded as essentially wars fought for Black liberation? So many Africans fought on the side of the Seminoles that US General Thomas Jesup would write: "This, you may be assured, is a negro, not an Indian war." [42]

This war was fought to re-enslave Blacks who lived in "Indian" territories and because whites feared red-Black unity. It was also fueled by the ever-present white hunger for "Indian" lands.

White American contempt for Native land possession is evinced by their rapacious craving for it, wherever it existed, and their determination, by whatever means possible, to acquire it. As an attorney, John Quincy Adams, arguing in the US Supreme Court, put the case for white seizure of Native lands in stark terms:

What is the Indian tide? It is mere occupancy for the purpose of hunting. It is like our tenures; they have no idea of a tide to the soil itself. It is overrun by them, rather than inhabited. It is not a true legal possession. [43]


In the Court's Fletcher v. Peck case, Adams's view was made into the law of the land, essentially legalizing seizure and land-theft, because ative Americans had a different cultural, legal, and spiritual relationship to the land. They didn't use paper and alphabetic formats to record their important events; they used skins or bark and pictographs to communicate ideas. They didn't inhabit land, they "overran" it.

Adams's argument of 1802 marked the legal justification for American lebensraum and expansion into "Indian" territories.

What really incensed whites, however, was the spectacle of Africans living in their own villages as nominally free people, or Africans living in maroonage as part of the Seminole tribes. To Africans who escaped from a bitter bondage in neighboring Georgia, or North Carolina, life among the "Indians" in Seminole villages in Florida must have seemed a whole lot like freedom. For, even if bought or captured by a Seminole, a captive had standing that more resembled the institution of captivity in Africa than in the Americas. One's children were born free, regardless of the condition of the parent.

Moreover, many Africans lived in perfect freedom among the Seminoles, serving as interpreters and warriors. Some even became chiefs. It was this very issue, Black freedom that led to the breakaway and formation of the Seminoles from the Creek nation. The 1796 Treaty of Colerain contained a pledge from headmen of the Creeks to return Black fugitives to owners in the United States. This pledge excluded the Lower Creeks who lived north of the Florida border and the Seminoles who lived south of it, who never felt themselves bound by the pact. This marked a permanent divide between them and their relatives to the north. [44]

Historians like J. Leitch Wright, Jr., utilize the term Muscogulges as a name for the people of this region, in part for the prominent usage of the Muskogee language. He notes that Creek is an English term applied to people living amidst the riparian regions of the Southeast. Similarly, the term Seminole is a Spanish appellation that has its roots in the term cimarron, an Americo- Spanish term for runaway. [45]

Wright reports that "Black Indians" played a pivotal role in establishing Muscogulge, or Seminole, territory as sites of resistance to white expansion and centers of Black freedom:

Blacks constituted an important component of the Muscogulges, especially of those living in Florida. For years [US soldiers and Generals] McIntosh and Jackson had persecuted them, destroying the Negro Fort, Miccosukee, and Bowlegs Town and sending off prisoners in strings to Georgia and Alabama. Even so, many had escaped and during the 1820s lived in swamps, hummocks, and islands in the vicinity of Tampa Bay. Seminole agent Gad Humphreys recaptured the fugitive Negro John, who belonged to a Saint Augustine widow, chained him first about the neck, and subsequently ordered the blacksmith to put on handcuffs and leg irons. But John escaped again ... and again ... and again, in each instance apparently aided by a black Seminole. Slave and free Negroes resided in Indian villages scattered throughout Florida, on Indian plantations on the Apalachicola River, and with whites in Saint Augustine and Pensacola, and they were variously known as Negroes, Negro- Indians, and Indians. A continuous and easy intercourse existed between black Muscogulges in Indian settlements and Negroes serving in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia on white plantations, as field hands or in Saint Augustine and other cities as domestics, artisans, and fishermen. [46]


Three wars and a number of smaller battles demonstrate a practice of armed resistance. The Seminole Wars were as much Black wars for freedom as they were Indian wars against white expansion into their lands and against their removal to reservations.

John Brown's Army

No tale of a radical people would be complete absent mention of the raid on Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, by John Brown and his small yet intrepid cadre of Black and white freedom fighters. Although presented in traditional US history as the act of a madman, little noted is the fact that Brown had, among his property when captured, a newly written Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

The documents were drawn up by Brown and a group of freedmen at the Chatham Convention, in Chatham, Ontario. Composed of forty-eight articles, the new constitution shared much in tone with the US Constitution, but it spoke out boldly and uncompromisingly on the evil of slavery. Here was none of the sweet evasion of political compromise. Drawn up by men who knew both the indignity of slavery as well as the license of liberty, the document's preamble made overt their intention to abolish the "peculiar institution":

Whereas slavery, throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than a most barbarous, unprovoked and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion -- the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude or absolute extermination -- in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence. [47]


The Declaration was a naked rebuke of the recent decision of the American Supreme Court in the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford case of 1857, which upheld slavery even in "free" states and stated, in part:

Therefore, we, citizens of the United States, and the oppressed people who, by a recent decision of the Supreme Court, are declared to have no rights which the white man is bound to respect, together with all other people degraded by the laws thereof, do, for the time being, ordain and establish ourselves the following provisional constitution and ordinance, the better to protect our persons, property, lives, and liberties, and to govern our actions. [48]


Brown and other sworn officers of the Chatham Convention did not fight for succession, but for a radical reformation of the American nation-state -- one wholly and truly dedicated to freedom from human bondage.

During the 1859 siege of Harper's Ferry, Brown and his men seized the armory in an attempt to foment a mass slave revolt and to initiate an armed retreat to a redoubt in the nearby Allegheny Mountains. From there they hoped a sustained harassment campaign could be conducted against the slavery system.

While it is obvious that the raid failed in its intended objectives, it is also true that the raid, the losses sustained, and the execution of Brown came to be seen as symbols of the antislavery, abolitionist ideal and as the first shots fired of the Civil War.

Of the seventeen rebels who were slain at Harper's Ferry, nine were Black, several of whom had joined the action on the spot. One of the Blacks who survived the action and lived to tell the tale was Osbourne Anderson. While critical of his errors, Anderson lauded "Captain Brown" for his nobility, noting, "even the noble old man's mistakes were productive of great good": [49]

John Brown did not only capture and hold Harper's Ferry for twenty hours, but he held the whole South. He captured President Buchanan and his Cabinet, convulsed the whole country ... and dug the mine and laid the train that will eventually dissolve the union between Freedom and Slavery. The rebound reveals the truth. So let it be! [50]


Many a Union soldier would sing of John Brown's body two years after his hanging, as they marched through the charred ruins of a Confederate stronghold during a bitter, wrenching war. Nearly 200,000 of the soldiers for the Union were Black men, some former slaves. Over 37,000 would die in the conflagration.

From Then 'til Now

At first blush, it appears that this discussion of radical, rebellious resistance to the American way of bondage takes place in the remote, distant past.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The writer William Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even the past." [51] Faulkner spoke of the durability of the myth of the (white) Lost Cause, an ennobled vision of the role of the South. It saw the Confederacy as principled defenders of state sovereignty and upholders of national honor against the northern invaders, carpetbaggers, and assorted scalawags.

If the past is not past to contemporary generations of white southerners, how can one presume that it is past for generations of African Americans, almost all of whom find their families little more than two generations removed from a bitter peonage in the southlands of American apartheid? For Black Americans, the unforgotten past is not a four-year war that is reflected in the ubiquitous monuments or the frequent flying of the Confederate battle flag (said to honor one's heritage).

To Blacks cognizant of history, what remains unforgotten is the unending war that has lasted for five centuries, a war against Black life by the merchant princes of Europe. Unforgotten is the man-theft, the wrenching torture, the unremitting bondage -- bondage that occurred for centuries to ensure that the Americans could sell cotton to the British, or that the British could sweeten their tea, or that the French could sweeten their cocoa, or that the Dutch could add great sums to their bank accounts.

This "past" is written in the many-hued faces in the average Black family, which may easily range from darkest ebony, to toffee, to cafe au lait, each a reflection of white rape of African women or of the tradition of concubinage exemplified by the New Orleans les gens de couleur libres. For many Blacks, the past is as present as one's mirror.

It is in this sense that history lives in the minds of Black folk. In people who draw their inspiration from the rebellious, resistant, liberational examples of people like I at Turner, Gabriel Prosser, "Cinque," Harriet Tubman, Charles Deslondes, Denmark Vesey, and Sojourner Truth.

Contrary to what is generally supposed or socially projected in an era when the civil rights model holds sway, Blacks are far more militant, and far more angry, than their "leaders" suggest.

This was realized by Donald H. Matthews, an assistant minister of the African-American Methodist Church when he began to teach Bible classes in Oakland's Taylor Memorial in the 1960s. As a Black clergyman, he attended a traditional seminary, where he studied the classic texts of contemporary Protestant thought, such as those set forth by Karl Barth (1886-1968) or Paul J. Tillich (1886-1965). Let us suppose that he diversified his scholarship with the relatively recent works of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968).

One so educated would be woefully unprepared to meaningfully address the myriad depths and scope of the social, spiritual, and psychological problems facing average African Americans. Matthews writes of the revelations that emerged when parishioners brought bitter memories and equally bitter experiences to bear as they shared their collective pain with the preacher:

I frankly never had realized the excruciating price that my elders had paid in carving out a place of dignity and humanity.

The women told their stories of having to wear dresses of extraordinarily modest length to deflect the "attentions" of white men. This solution, however, seldom was satisfactory, and girls often found themselves on northern-bound trains and buses to protect their sexual choice and bodily integrity.

The men spoke of resisting the efforts of land-owners who "suggested" that their wives should work alongside them in the backbreaking work of sharecropping with poor tools on poorer land. These acts of courage also tended to result in midnight train rides north, often just ahead of a lynch mob ....

I was startled to realize their political sensibilities were closer to Malcolm X than to Martin King and that they had Christian beliefs not to be found in Tillich's or Barth's systematic theologies. It was this combination of deep feeling, resistance, and African-based religious concepts that I could not find in my black theological texts, either. So I was left with their powerful and profound stories without a method of interpretation that did them justice. [52]


These women of Oakland, California, were poor, church-going, internal immigrants from the south. The last rivulets of the torrents that produced the great, black river that came to be called the Great Migration brought with them a searing rage that the soothing balm of Christian love and redemption could not quench. Matthews notes that his Wednesday night Bible class hailed mostly from Arkansas and Texas, with others from the Deep South, and so possessed the same history as the founders of the BPP. [53]

They spoke the deep, hidden truths of millions of women and men of their generation, of the loss of homeland that all who emigrate experience, of the anger attendant with such loss, and, undoubtedly, of the loss of hope when one learns that the new land, with its own brand of harassments, fears, insecurities, and transnational negrophobia, is not the heralded Promised Land.

That riotous, unresolved, roiling energy fed into the entity we came to call the Black Panther Party.

Armed resistance to slavery, repression, and the racist delusion of white supremacy runs deep in African American experience and history. When it emerged in the mid 1960s from the Black Panther Party and other nationalist or revolutionary organizations, it was perceived and popularly projected as aberrant. This could only be professed by those who know little about the long and protracted history of armed resistance by Africans and their truest allies. The Black Panther Party emerged from the deepest traditions of Africans in America -- resistance to negative, negrophobic, dangerous threats to Black life, by any means necessary.
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Re: We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, by M

Postby admin » Thu Jun 12, 2014 6:53 am

CHAPTER TWO: The Deep Roots of the Struggle for Black Liberation

For you are prisoners of war, in an enemy's country -- of a war, too, that is unrivaled for its injustice, cruelty, meanness....
-- Frederick Douglass (in an article urging Black captives to revolt against the slave system) [1]


THE ROOTS OF armed resistance run deep in African American history. Only those who ignore this fact see the Black Panther Party as somehow foreign to our common historical inheritance.

Many forces converged to bring about the organization bearing the name of the Black Panther Party. One of them, of course, was the powerful psychological and social force of history. In the 60s, many books began to emerge on the theme of Black history. Long-forgotten or little-mentioned figures began to come to life to a generation that, having not grown up in segregated educational environments, was less familiar with the historical currents underlying Black life.

The smoldering embers of Watts, a ghetto area in Los Angeles that burned just one year before the Black Panther Party's formation, were also bright in the minds of Huey and Bobby.

For six days in August 1965, Watts erupted in a rebellion that saw some $200 million worth of property go up in smoke. By week's end some thirty-five people were dead, most the result of police gunfire. In Watts, as elsewhere during that decade, conflict between Black urbanites and the predominantly white police was the trigger for this explosion.

For the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Watts was a profound eye-opener. The middle-class, somewhat genteel preacher seemed stunned by the sheer scope and rancor revealed by the Watts Rebellion. Watts appeared to mark a major turning point in his vision of what America was and what it could become. [2]

Post-Watts, Dr. King would speak of the Black ghetto as a "system of internal colonialism." In one speech before the Chicago Freedom Festival, he would exclaim, "The purpose of the slum is to confine those who have no power and perpetuate their powerlessness .... " He would further declare, "The slum is little more than a domestic colony which leaves its inhabitants dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated at every turn." [3]

In a word, Watts radicalized King.

If Watts had that effect on a man of decidedly middle-class orientation, what of people who came from, and saw life from, the bottom of the social pecking order? For them, Watts wasn't a shock or a surprise. It was an affirmation of the same inchoate rage that boiled in their very veins.

That radical, rebellious spirit constituted a powerful social force that would attract tens of thousands of alienated ghetto folks to either join or support the Black Panther Party. Yet that radical spirit did not begin in Watts, but came from much older, much deeper roots.

The devastation and resistance of Watts sent a powerful signal to Huey and Bobby, two men in their twenties, that Black folks were ready and willing to fight and, if need be, to die for their freedom. Huey would later write in his personal and political autobiography, Revolutionary Suicide:

One must relate to the history of one's community and its future. Everything we had seen convinced us that our time had come.

Out of this need sprang the Black Panther Party. Bobby and I finally had no choice but to form an organization that would involve the lower-class brothers. [4]


Watts raises the question of the social role of mass violence in the shaping and formation of public policy. [5]

It is, too, a measure of the power of the corporate, white supremacist media that the term riot almost invariably evokes imagery of Black folks tearing through the streets in a frenzied orgy of destruction. But in fact, most riots were the instruments of whites, who used mass violence to terrorize Blacks and deny them citizenship.

Joe R. Feagin, a past president of the American Sociological Association, has written of the white riots of the early twentieth century:

Whites sometimes used violence to enforce informal patterns of discrimination. During one white-generated riot in 1900 in New York, a mostly Irish police force encouraged whites to attack black men, women, and children. One of the most serious riots occurred in 1917 in East St. Louis. There white workers, viewing black immigrants from the South as a job threat, violently attacked a black community. Thirty-nine black residents and nine white attackers were killed. This was followed in 1919 by a string of white riots from Chicago to Charleston. [6]


This racist mass violence was an important factor in the enlistment of millions of white men (not to mention at least half a million white women!) to support the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) between 1910 and 1930. In that period, Klan affiliation was a ticket to political success, as Warren G. Harding and Hugo Black both knew well. The Klan and like-minded groups waged open war against entire Black communities, and the dead cannot now be calculated.

In Black historical literature, notably in the writings of Du Bois, 1919 is known and remembered as Red Summer, for the explosions of violence against Black life throughout the US. A similar recollection does not seem to disturb the slumber of white historians. There were twenty-six white riots in 1919 alone, with major ones in Chicago, Illinois; Knoxville, Tennessee; Longview, Texas; Omaha, Nebraska; Phillips County, Arkansas; and Washington, DC. [7] Even before this bloody period, white riots against Blacks were far from rare. In 1863, the so-called Draft Riots of New York City left at least one hundred people dead (the majority of them Black). That event, sparked by Irish who opposed both the aims and the necessity of the Civil War, marked the deadliest riot in US history.

White workers were attacking Blacks to sustain their social dominance, an assertion (and grim celebration) of their newfound status in the Americas as whites (as opposed to Irish -- a subordinate group under British domination in their homeland).

The violence of these whites may be termed reactionary violence, as their actions served to consolidate repressive social arrangements. The violence of Watts, corning as a reaction to the violence of State actors -- beating, harassing, or berating Black citizens -- is not of the same order. I t may be termed radical violence, or violence in response to the violence of, or on behalf of, the State.

Christiana Resistance

With this historical perspective on riots, we will look at an event when Blacks engaged in radical liberational violence, not to hurt whites, but to preserve their own freedom. This event also demonstrates how a term like riot can prove misleading by masking the objectives of acts of mass violence.

In most history texts, if this conflict is noted, it is usually done under the name of the Christiana Riot. Black historian Ella Forbes, who examines the conflict from an Afrocentric perspective, calls it the Resistance, to more accurately reflect the context and nature of the action and the explosive social and political impact of the armed Black resistance.

In early September 1851, Edward Gorsuch, a Maryland slave owner, backed by his family, friends, and a US deputy marshal, descended on the little hamlet of Christiana, in southeastern Pennsylvania, to seize several escaped captives and to return them to slavery. Unfortunately for them, their human prey was staying in an organized, armed community, which had no intention of allowing their people's return to bondage.

William and Eliza Parker were intrepid freedom fighters who emerged as leading members of a Black self-defense group formed to defend the growing fugitive farm community of Christiana. Their resolution and determination would be tested with the corning of the Gorsuch posse.

It is unclear why the Gorsuch posse, consisting of Edward Gorsuch, his son Dickinson, his nephew, his cousin, two neighbors, a newly appointed US deputy marshal, Henry Kline, and two other paid officers, [8] knew to target the Parker home. Perhaps he had intelligence gleaned from the omnipresent snitches in the area that steered him to the dwelling.

William Parker, through his own contacts in Philadelphia, was forewarned of the coming slave-nappers. When Gorsuch and his group arrived at the house in the predawn hours of September 11, 1851, they initially entered but were forced to retreat. William Parker's account gives us some inkling of the tone and tenor of the time:

I met them at the landing, and asked, "Who are you?" The leader, Kline, replied, "I am the United States Marshal." I then told him to take another step, and I would break his neck. He again said, "I am the United States Marshal." I told him I did not care for him nor the United States. At that he turned and went down stairs. [9]


Gorsuch, William Parker, and others present engaged in an extended discussion of the Bible, quoting passages from memory as if their recitations would dissuade either man from his deeply entrenched position. At length, they tired of the games and the true object of the meeting became plain:

"You had better give up," said old Mr. Gorsuch, after another while, "and come down, for I have come a long way this morning, and want my breakfast; for my property I will have or I'll breakfast in hell. I will go up and get it." [10]


What the old slave owner didn't know was that inside the entrance were a number of well-armed men. His son, however, standing at a point of elevation, saw into the upstairs room, sprang down, and caught his father before he went further, yelling, "O father, do come down! Do come down! They have guns, swords, and all kinds of weapons! They'll kill you! Do come down!" [11]

The nine armed whites had not reckoned on five armed Blacks who were determined to be free.

When Dickinson argued with his father to leave and hire one hundred men to return to take them by force, William Parker was unmoved, telling them to bring 500 men. "It will take all the men in Lancaster to change our purpose or take us alive," he answered.

Eliza Parker then signaled to nearby members of the community Black defense group by blowing her horn. This garnered an immediate response from the US marshal, who fired a shot at Eliza. He missed her, and she continued to sound the alarm.

Her alarm brought out some forty-five Black men and women and some neighboring white, Quaker farmers.

Eliza's horn had signaled not only the neighboring Black self-defense organization, but the next phase of the resistance. Indeed, her role, according to William, did not end with the clarion call to the community. For when some inside the house began to weaken in the face of the threats from the slave-nappers, it was she, Eliza, who scuttled the idea of surrender.

William Parker would later write that she "seized a corn-cutter [similar to a machete] and declared she would cut off the head of the first one who should attempt to give Up." [12] Parker later wrote in detail of his face-to-face struggle with the stubborn Gorsuch, who, by not leaving, apparently opted for his "breakfast in hell":

I ... struck him a heavy blow on the arm. It fell as if broken. I doubled my fists to knock him down .... Bricks, stones, and sticks fell in showers. We fought across the road and back again, and I thought our brains would be knocked out.

I caught him by the throat .... Then the rest beat him .... If we had not been interrupted, death would have been his fate.

W/e were then near enough to have killed them, concealed as we were by the darkness.

I told him we would not surrender on any conditions. I intend to fight.... I intend to try your strength. I told him, if he attempted it, I should be compelled to blow out his brains.

Before he could bring the weapon to bear, I seized a pair of heavy tongs, and struck him a violent blow across the face and neck, which knocked him down. He lay for a few moments senseless. [13]


This was a battle, one fought with fists, corn-cutters, and swords. Most battles are fought for land, for wealth, or for the whim of kings. This was a battle for freedom, and though little known, as significant as any in American history.

For those who tasted freedom, who worked their own plots of land so that their families could survive and prosper, who knew what life was worth, freedom was not to be surrendered easily.

It would be wrong to paint the Parkers as people who fought for the freedom of others who were unwilling to fight. They all fought. They had to fight.

The Christiana Resistance was waged a year after the government's ignoble passage of the Fugitive Slave Act (FSA) of 1850, which threatened the lives and liberty of all Black people whether slave or "free." As the contemporary Black nationalist Martin Delany explained:

By the provisions of this bill, the colored people of the United States are positively degraded beneath the level of whites -- are liable at any time, in any place, and under all circumstances, to be arrested-and upon the claim of any white person, without the privilege, even of making a defence, sent into endless bondage. Let no visionary nonsense about habeas corpus, or a fair trial, deceive us; there are no such rights granted in this bill, and except where the commissioner is too ignorant to understand when reading it, or too stupid to enforce it when he does understand, there is no earthly chance -- no hope under heaven for the colored person who is brought before one of these officers of the law.... [14]


Under such provisions as these, Africans had slim and grim choices: resistance or a return to bondage.

Thousands chose resistance.

From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, hundreds fled to Canada to escape the reach of the FSA. According to the Liberator of October 4, 1850, "nearly all the waiters in the hotels" left for the border. "They went in large bodies, armed with pistols and bowie knives, determined to die rather than be captured," the radical journal recorded. An entry referring to Blacks crossing the border from Utica, New York, was similar.

The revered Harriet Tubman, called "Gen'ral Moses" by her admirers for her courageous role in bringing freedom and hope to thousands of people in bondage, spoke for many when she said she could "trust Uncle Sam with my people no longer." The Fugitive Slave Act and its repressive provisions forced her to carry her charges "clear off to Canada." [15]

The Gorsuches were shot (Dickinson, although badly wounded, survived), their other relatives were beaten and driven from the homestead, and the US deputy marshal, Kline, beat a full and hasty retreat. The women, full of fury at men who would steal their people to return them to the hated slavery system, rushed from the house at the fallen Gorsuch armed with corn-cutters and scythe blades, and in Parker's words, "put an end to him." [16]

With the slave-catching posse dead, wounded, beaten, and dispersed, the Christiana rebels had to flee the area. William Parker and two of his men who began the resistance (believed to have been Samuel Thompson and a man named Pinckney) used the well-known routes of the Underground Railroad to make their way northward. They stopped briefly in Rochester, New York, at the home of the most famous Black abolitionist of the age, Frederick Douglass, himself an escaped captive from Maryland and a defender of freedom by any necessary means. Douglass conducted the harried and hunted party to their final depot: freedom in Canada. As thanks, Parker presented Douglass with Gorsuch's pistol. Although it was bent and unable to fire, the abolitionist prized the souvenir. Later, Eliza would join William, and they would raise their family there on a farm, in freedom.

Meanwhile, the armed rebellion of Christiana ignited a firestorm of controversy in the US, north and south. The Philadelphia Bulletin used the event to launch a broadside at what it perceived as the greatest evil, abolition:

The melancholy tragedy of Christiana, in this State, by which two citizens of Maryland lost their lives, has established, in letters of blood, the dangerous character of the modern abolitionists .... We have, on more than one occasion, predicted this result from the doctrines of the abolitionists -- Men who advocate an armed resistance to the law, especially in a republic, are enemies of order. [17]


Order, to the editors of the Philadelphia daily, meant legal support for slavery; any who would resist that evil, even ex-slaves themselves, were branded "enemies of order."

To Douglass, ever the radical abolitionist, the lawfulness of the Fugitive Slave Act must yield to the rightness of resistance to it. The radical journalist and editor of the antislavery journal The North Star cared little what the press said. He lauded the events of Christiana as dealing a fatal blow to an evil law:

But the thing which more than all else destroyed the fugitive slave law was the resistance made to it by the fugitives themselves. A decided check was given to the execution of the law at Christiana, Penn .... This affair ... inflicted fatal wounds on the fugitive slave bill. [18]


Indeed, Douglass argued, the Christiana Resistance came close to making the hated fugitive slave bill "a dead letter." [19] Historian Philip Foner called Christiana "one of the major harbingers" of the coming Civil War. Just over a century (and fifteen years) after the so-called Christiana Riot, another so-called riot, Watts, would spark militant movements across the nation. As Christiana signaled the coming of the Civil War, so Watts signaled a rising militance of Blacks, one expression of which was the Black Panther Party.

Beneath the fact of Watts, beyond the existence of the Black Panther Party, was a seething anger, a bubbling cauldron of Black rage, that Martin Luther King's somewhat sweet, ethereal speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, several years before, could hardly assuage.

More to Black urban appetites was the cutting, insightful, militant speech of Malcolm X, whose critique of the heralded March on Washington was widely read, and heard over Black radio:

The Negroes were out there in the streets. They were talking about how they were going to march on Washington .... That they were going to march on Washington, march on the Senate, march on the White House, march on the Congress, and tie it up, bring it to a halt, not let the government proceed. They even said they were going out to the airport and lay down on the runway and not let any airplanes land. I'm telling you what they said. That was revolution. That was revolution. That was the black revolution.

It was the grass roots out there in the street. It scared the white man to death, scared the white power structure in Washington, nc. to death; I was there. When they found out this black steamroller was going to come down on the capital, they called in ... these national Negro leaders that you respect and told them, "Call it off." Kennedy said, "Look you all are letting this thing go too far." And Old Tom said, "Boss, I can't stop it because I didn't start it." I'm telling you what they said. They said, "I'm not even in it, much less at the head of it." They said, "These Negroes are doing things on their own. They're running ahead of us." And that old shrewd fox, he said, "If you all aren't in it, I'll put you in it. I'll put you at the head of it. I'll endorse it. I'll welcome it. I'll help it. I'll join it."

This is what they did at the march on Washington. They joined it ... became part of it, took it over. And as they took it over, it lost its militancy. It ceased to be angry, it ceased to be hot, it ceased to be uncompromising. Why, it even ceased to be a march. It became a picnic, a circus. Nothing but a circus, with clowns and all....

No, it was a sellout. It was a takeover .... They controlled it so tight, they told those Negroes what time to hit town, where to stop, what signs to carry, what song to sing, what speech they could make, and what speech they couldn't make, and then told them to get out of town by sundown .... [20]


Martin's "dream" is better known to most Americans, but to Black people, especially those teeming millions barred within US ghettos, Malcolm's words were closer to the mark, closer to the heart.

When Watts erupted, it did not erupt in a vacuum. In 1964 and 1965, violent outbreaks were occurring in every part of the country. In Florida, the killing of a Black woman and the threat to bomb a Black high school caused an uproar; when a white minister who sat in front of a bulldozer to protest housing discrimination was killed, Cleveland erupted; the fatal shooting of a fifteen-year-old Black boy by an off-duty cop set it off in New York City. Similarly, mass violence (called "riots") rocked Rochester, Jersey City, Chicago, and Philadelphia. [21]

And then there was Watts. What became the most violent urban outbreak since World War II began with something that had been commonplace in African American communities -- violent police behavior.

A Black motorist was forcibly arrested, a bystander was clubbed, and a young Black woman was seized and falsely accused of spitting on a cop. Watts exploded. The uprising raged from August 11 to 16, 1965; fires swept through the neighborhoods. Some 4,000 people were arrested during the rebellion.

The summer of 1966 showed that Watts was not the end of conflict and suggested it may have been a kind of beginning. Cities burned and armed conflicts raged, some between members of Black self-defense groups and the National Guard. Firebombs were hurled in Chicago; Cleveland saw several Blacks shot by white cops and white civilians.

By 1967, rebellions were raging all across America -- 123 major and minor uprisings or "outbreaks," according to the National Advisory Committee on Urban Disorders. Some eighty-three people died of gunfire, mostly in the mass violence that occurred in Newark and Detroit. As the committee noted, "The overwhelming majority of the persons killed or injured in all the disorders were Negro civilians." [22]

It was into this social context of mass disorder and urban chaos that the Black Panther Party emerged -- as a response to the massive violence perpetrated against Blacks and as a way to focus and organize the resultant mass anger into a cohesive political movement.

Riots, by their very nature, are disorganized and incoherent. The Black Panther Party wanted to signal an end to this disorganization and introduce the revolutionary alternative: organization, discipline, purpose, self-defense.

Beginnings

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense began with books. Huey Newton had done extensive reading about revolutionary organizing and revolutionaries. He scored several hundred copies of the Red Book (Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung) from several radical Asian friends and began hawking them on the campus of the nearby University of California, Berkeley. Bobby Seale would later write that Huey came up with that idea because he suspected the very idea of "Negroes with Red Books" would spark the curiosity of Berkeley's white radicals and thereby move them to support the fledgling effort. [23]

That, however, was a tactic, not an objective. Selling the Red Book made money; and money would be used to buy what revolutionaries the world over found indispensable: guns. While the predominant civil rights groups of the era pitched their raps to the press, or the white liberal community, or the Negro bourgeoisie, Huey knew that mere words would not break through the thick shell that ghetto Blacks had to have to survive in racist America. Huey knew that guns, openly and freely displayed, would reach them.

To reach them, he had to attract their attention.

Attention would not be long in coming. The Black Panther Party started as an Oakland phenomenon, with perhaps a dozen members who could be relied upon to make meetings. Nearby Richmond was also showing a small degree of interest.

Newton had studied the California penal codes (he suggests, in Revolutionary Suicide, that such knowledge made him a better thief) and learned that weapons possession was protected by state statute, and guns could be carried in public as long as they were not concealed. The Party therefore developed the nation's first armed police monitoring patrols. Party members would be armed, with loaded weapons, cameras, tape recorders, and law books. When approaching a traffic stop, they would loudly announce state law allowed citizens to observe police stops and arrests. Huey's legal research would ensure that the proper legal distance would be kept. People would see members of the Party standing in their defense against the hated representatives of the white power structure. The Panthers would advise suspects of their legal rights. Such actions proved a powerful organizing tool in the first year of activity.

In April 1967, a twenty-two-year-old Black man named Denzil Dowell was shot and killed by a white deputy sheriff in Richmond. Some of Dowell's family members contacted the Party when local authorities ruled the killing was justifiable homicide, and the Party launched its own investigation. More importantly, for organizing purposes, the Party sent "twenty Panthers out there armed with guns, disciplined, standjng thirty or forty feet apart on every corner of the intersection" where the Black man was murdered. [24]

The Panthers announced the results of their preliminary investigation, which cast considerable doubt on the police version of the killing, and rallied in the streets against the slaying. They denounced the brutality of the cops, "in full view of the local police." 25As Seale would later write, "[W]e were educating the people that we would die for them. This was the position we always took with brother Huey P. Newton." [26] The rally was a brilliant organizing success because "just about everybody out there joined the Party that day." [27]

The Dowell case provided a further opportunity for the growing group. On April 25, 1967, the first issue of The Black Panther Community News Service came off the press, in the form of a mimeographed, four-page newsletter, edited by Eldridge Cleaver. The Black Panther's maiden edition was full of fire:

[T]he white cop is the instrument sent into our community by the Power structure to keep Black people quiet and under control ... it is time that Black People start moving in a direction that will free our communities from this form of outright brutal oppression. The BLACK PANTHER PARTY FOR SELF-DEFENSE has worked out a program that is carefully designed to cope with this situation.


Eldridge, paroled after an extended stint in California prisons, brought a bite and a wit to The Black Panther that ensured that Black folks who dared read it would be moved as by nothing they had read before. Cleaver's articulate phrasing, married with the clever artistic depictions of Emory Douglas, would make The Black Panther a reading experience that few would forget.

The Richmond demonstration, the newsletter (soon to be reborn as a full-fledged newspaper), and the armed community police patrols would prove irresistible to ghetto youth who had simmered under the glare of overtly racist cops. They longed to join the swelling Civil Rights movement, but had not because they could not bear to join any group which would meekly submit to racist violence, as demanded by some civil rights organizations. The 1967 revolts marked a rise in Black militancy, a psychic change of pace that the middle-class leaders of tl1e southern-based Civil Rights movement could not address, and word spread about the actions of the Black Panther Party. The Black journalist William Gardner-Smith remarked, "The '67 revolts marked the entry of the tough ghetto youths into the race battle, and the existing organizations, led by intellectuals or the middle-class, could not cope with them -- the Panthers had to be born." [28]

Just over six months into the Party's existence another event would push the organization into the minds and consciousness of millions around the nation. On May 2, 1967, armed members and supporters of the Party "invaded" the California State Assembly in Sacramento. The state assembly had probably never seen armed (not to mention, Black) "lobbyists" on its debate floor before, and the incident resulted in tremendous visibility for the Party.

Huey Newton, on parole for a past offense, wisely opted to sit out the event. Despite being arrested along with twenty-five other Panthers, Bobby Seale, following Newton's instructions to the letter, read the entirety of Newton's boldly penned Executive Mandate denouncing the pending Mulford Bill. The bill was a direct legislative attempt to change California gun laws in response to BPP armed police patrols. Newton wrote:

Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned and demonstrated, among other things, to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetrated against Black people. All of these efforts have been answered by more repression, deceit, and hypocrisy. As the aggression of the racist American Government escalates in Vietnam, the police agencies of America escalate the repression of Black people throughout the ghettos of America. Vicious police dogs, cattle prods, and increased patrols have become familiar sights in Black communities. City Hall turns a deaf ear to the pleas of Black people for relief from this increasing terror.

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense believes that the time has come for Black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late. The pending Mulford Act brings the hour of doom one step nearer. A people who have suffered so much for so long at the hands of a racist society must draw the line somewhere. We believe that the Black communities of America must rise up as one man to halt the progression of a trend that leads inevitably to their total destruction. [29]


While the Party's armed Black presence probably contributed to ensuring the passage of the bill, the Party's message was clearly stated in the startling photos of leather-clad Black men marching through the state's capitol buildings with arms at parade rest.

The Sacramento demonstration launched the Party into a national orbit, perhaps long before it was ready. The Party was swarmed with applications from young men and women around the nation who wanted to open branches of the new organization in their local communities.

The Party, not yet a year old, was growing at a rapid pace.

Over the next three years, the Party expanded almost exponentially. It first spread to Richmond, then over the bay to San Francisco, and then southward to Los Angeles.

It sprang out from California to every possible region where a Black community welcomed its youth and energy; north to Seattle; east to Kansas City; to the Black Mecca of Chicago; to Boston; New York's Harlem, Bronx, and Brooklyn boroughs; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Baltimore; Nashville, Tennessee; and New Orleans.

By 1969 over forty chapters and branches existed, with several thousand people sworn to membership in the Party.

In Philadelphia, the nation's former capital, a handful of young men would form the core of the Black Panther Party in that city. I was among them -- in the spring of 1969, beginning my fifteenth year of life:

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment the Black Panther Party was formed in Philadelphia, because, in fact, there were several such formations: one in South Philadelphia, one in Germantown, and one in North Philadelphia. The North and South Philadelphia formations would merge, and the Germantown group, a mysterious gathering that apparently only sold papers, would wither.

As in any such political organization, there was intense jockeying for power, divided between younger and older and between north and south sections if the city. The men met each other, quietly, in a Center City bookstore, where The Black Panther and various books were sold. Some days later they met in a tiny ghetto apartment in South Philly, at 14th and Kater Streets, right over a bar. The men were to argue and debate who would lead and who would follow. An aggressive, tall, fast-talkingyoung man named Bill Crawford seemed to have the edge, with his fiery tongue and dark shades covering his strange, amber-colored eyes. His only real adversary was an older, slow-talking, darker-hued man, Terry McCarter, whose clever, patient, southern-cadenced manner had appeal.

It was decided that a phone call would be made to Black Panther National Headquarters to solve the dispute, but the answer related to us was that Oakland would choose no one. According to one caller, either David or June Hilliard, the BPP Chief of Staff or his assistant, when asked about formally recognizing the Philadelphia branch, replied, "You don't hafta be a Black Panther to make revolution."

His statement, while objectively true, did not discourage those of us who were determined to join the organization that seemed closest to our dreams. The meetings continued, as we pondered National's seeming indifference. Did they get calls like that all the time? Were they being cautious of folks they didn't know? Were they seriously trying to limit expansion? Was this a test, to see if we were serious about opening a branch?

These questions were never sufficiently answered. Or perhaps they were answered by our actions, as we stubbornly resolved to just do the work. Officers were chosen, and daily tasks were assigned. When the oldhead, Terry, was chosen for captain, the young buck, Bill, raged out of the apartment, vowing to catch the next thing smoking to Oakland to resolve this problem. He clearly felt he was the superior candidate and hinted that Oakland would change our choice. In fact, we never heard back from him.

I was chosen Lieutenant of Information, a heady role for a manchild who had barely reached his fifteenth summer, and assigned to develop propaganda for the Party -- even though no office had yet been opened. Leaflets were prepared, drawing largely from the BPP newspaper for style and tone, announcing the existence of a local branch.

How does one provide contact data on a leaflet in the absence of an office? Not to worry. I simply attached my home number to the bottom of the leaflet, which would not have been remarkable were it not for the fact that "home" was where I lived with my mother. This led to some interesting, if somewhat passionate, exchanges between us. It also led to some remarkable telephone calls.

Caller: Yello -- Is zis uh, Moo-my-uh, of the Black Gorilla Party?

Answerer: This is Mumia of the Black Panther Party -- who the hell is this?

Caller: Yeah -- This is Roy Frankhouser of the United Klan of America, headquartered up 'ere in Reading, PA. We're havin' a burn-a-nigger festival this weekend, and we wanna invite cha to come. You interested?

Answerer: I doubt I'll be able to make it, but you can bring yho ass down to Philly -- we got somethin' real nice for ya.

Caller: Well, uh -- can I ask ya a question there, Moomyah?

Answerer: What's that?

Caller: Do niggers eat shit?

Answerer: Do you?

Caller: Nah, uh -- really! I'm curious! Isn't that where yer brown color comes from?

Answerer: I can't believe you that silly, man. Ain't you got nothin' better to do?

Caller: Well, we got the kill-a-nigger festival I told ja about ....

Answerer: Man, I can't believe a grown man your age ain't got nothin' betta to do than play ona damn phone! Are you retarded, man?

Caller: Naw, I'm curious.

[The phone is hung up.]


The call probably wasn't formally reported to my captain although I'm fairly certain that we discussed it, more like -- "Man, you ain't gonna believe the nutty shit that I'm getting on my phone .... " What is memorable, however, is the distinct accent of the caller. His high-in-the-throat, almost nasal pronunciation sounded more at home in the ethnic enclaves of South or Northeast Philadelphia (pronounced "Fluffia" by them) than distant, rural Reading. Was it really the Klan; were they really so stupid, so childish, that a teenager could so quickly dismiss them as juvenile?

It may have been, but to the youth on the receiving end of the call, it sounded like a typical Philadelphia cop.

Terry, because of his low-key, laid-back approach, was incurring more criticism than acceptance in his role of captain. It did not help matters that he seemed more drunk than sober these days. Inevitably, another power struggle developed, and Captain Terry was quietly retired in favor of a younger, more aggressive (and sober!) North Philadelphian -- Reggie Schell. Captain Reg would corral the necessary resources to open the first office of the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia in late spring 1969. The site he selected at 1928 West Columbia Avenue was in the very heart of North Philly, the site of a police-sparked revolt (the city's press would say "riot") several months before. The office would become a magnet, attracting radical and revolutionary Black youth (and others) from all corners of the city.

The New York chapter, which had regional jurisdiction over the East Coast, sent its Deputy Field Marshal, Henry Mitchell, to check out the branch. With acerbic, earthy speech and arrogant, proud authority, New York gave Philadelphia its intense scrutiny.

Mitchell, his face seemingly etched with a permanent scowl, was barking like a drill instructor as he issued orders to the novice troops and the newly minted captain. But by day's end, the city was given a passing mark. We were told to strengthen and fortify office and housing, ordered to report regularly, and abruptly left alone. [30]


Thus was the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party born.
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Re: We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, by M

Postby admin » Thu Jun 12, 2014 6:57 am

CHAPTER THREE: A Panther Walks in Philly

There is not perhaps anywhere to be found a city in which prejudice against color is more rampant than in Philadelphia. Hence all the incidents of caste are to be seen there in perfection. It has its white schools and its colored schools, its white churches and its colored churches, its white Christianity and its colored Christianity, its white concerts and its colored concerts, its white literacy institutions and its colored institutions.
-- Frederick Douglass (ca. 1862) [1]


WHEN FREDERICK DOUGLASS made this comment, he had spent over two decades living in freedom. He was personally familiar with Rochester, New York, the coastal regions of Maryland, Boston, and England, where he secured the funds to legally purchase his freedom. As an editor, writer, and abolitionist speaker of some renown, he undoubtedly traveled further than many, perhaps most men, white or Black, of his time. Here was a man who was a deep thinker, a sharp speaker, and an astute observer of life, with a broad range of experience. One wonders, why would Philadelphia bring so foul a taste to his distinguished palette?

In Philadelphia one finds the perfect example of American ambivalence on race. It is formally a northern city, but as it virtually straddles the mythical Mason-Dixon line, it is, in many ways, a southern city as well. It boasts the historical distinction of being the nation's first capital, the site of the signing of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, but also of sustained racial and ethnic rivalry, conflict, and repression.

Known worldwide as an almost mythical birthplace of liberty, the hope of freedom acted as a kind of psychic magnet, drawing the poor and oppressed from the class-bound aristocracies of Europe in rivers of emigration, as well as Black captives escaping from southern bondage and Black freedmen and -women fleeing a humiliating and soul-sapping southern apartheid. The Philadelphia that the stalwart Frederick Douglass beheld with snarled contempt would more than double in size in half a century, rising from 650,000 people in 1860 to 1.5 million by 1914. [2]

It was a city of extremes, with pronounced differences in wealth, power, and influence. For although millions of Europeans came to the English colonies with visions of a land where streets were paved with gold, they found cities awash in staggering poverty, with wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. The cities of the colonial era had almshouses or poorhouses, but these were hardly sufficient. "It is remarkable," one citizen of Philadelphia said in 1748, "what an increase of the number of beggars there is about this town this winter." [3]

A century later, although the white working class could find work in cities, their standard of living was miserable. In Philadelphia, they lived fifty-five to a tenement, one room per family. There were no toilets and no garbage collection, and fresh water or even fresh air was virtually nonexistent. [4] Many whites fought against their Black contemporaries' efforts to find work and tried to ensure they would not. Edward Abdy, a British visitor to Philadelphia in 1833, described the efforts of local Irish to remove Blacks from gainful employment. "Irish laborers were actively employed in this vile conspiracy against a people of whom they were jealous, because they were more industrious, orderly and obliging than themselves." [5] While Abdy's report may be influenced by the longstanding and deep-rooted antipathy between the British and the Irish, his remarks present evidence of what seemed to be deep anti-Black feeling among the Irish both in Philadelphia and New York:

Forty years ago a colored man appeared, for the first time, as a carman in Philadelphia. Great jealousy was excited among that class of men; and every expedient was tried to get rid of a competitor whose success would draw others into the business. Threats and insults were followed by a report that he had been detected in stealing. The Quakers came forward to support him. They inquired into the grounds of the charge, and published its refutation. Their patronage maintained him in his situation, and encouraged others to follow his example. There are now plenty of them employed. At New York, a license cannot be obtained for them, and a black carman in that city is as rare as a black swan. [6]


George Lippard is now forgotten, but before the work of Harriet Beecher Stowe stole the scene, he was the best-selling novelist in America. His 1844 novel The Quaker City told of a Philadelphia that was hideously violent, racist, and proud in its ignorance. He drew characters from the streets and headlines of the penny press, and one of his most memorable was an Irish rioter called Pump-Handle, who, in Irish-accented English, explained how he got his name:

Why you see, a party of us one Sunday afternoon, had nothin' to do, so we got up a nigger riot. We have them things in Phil'delphy. Once or twice a year, you know? I helped to burn a nigger church, two orphans asylums and a school-house. And happenin' to have a handle in my hand, I aksedentally hit an old nigger on the head. Konsekance was he died. That's why they call me Pump-Handle. [7]


Lippard, although a novelist, used his skills as a radical journalist to draw accurate portrayals of the city where he lived and worked.

What were not fictional, but strictly factual, were the scores of racist riots against Black achievement, abolitionism, and Black freedmen and -women who lived in the city. Seven major mob attacks occurred between 1834 and 1838; among the most reported was the "Flying Horse Riot" of 1834. Radical and race historian Noel Ignatiev has written in his How the Irish Became White:

On a lot near Seventh and South Streets in Philadelphia, an entrepreneur had for some time been operating a merry-go-round called, "Flying Horses." It was popular among both black people and whites, and served both "indiscriminately." Quarrels (not necessarily racial) over seating preference and so forth were frequent. On Tuesday evening, August 12, a mob of several hundred young White men, thought to be principally from outside the area, appeared at the scene, began fighting with the black people there, and in a very short time tore the merry-go-round to pieces. The mob then marched down South Street, to the adjacent township of Moyamensing, attacked a home occupied by a black family, and continued its violence on the small side streets where the black people mainly lived. On Wednesday evening a crowd wrecked the African Presbyterian Church on Seventh Street and a place several blocks away called the "Diving Bell," operated by "a white man, and used as a grog shop and lodging house for all colors, at the rate of three cents a head." After reducing these targets to ruins, the rioters began smashing windows, breaking down doors, and destroying furniture in private homes of Negroes, driving d1einmates naked into the streets and beating any they caught. One correspondent reported that the mob threw a corpse out of a coffin, and cast a dead infant on the floor, "barbarously" mistreating its mother. "Some arrangement, it appears, existed between the mob and the white inhabitants, as the dwelling houses of the latter, contiguous to the residences of blacks, were illuminated, and left undisturbed, while the huts of the negroes were signaled out with unerring certainty." [8]


By midweek, when the fury had ebbed, several Blacks had been killed and two churches and at least twenty homes were destroyed. Hundreds of Blacks fled that part of town for other neighborhoods or sought refuge across the Delaware in New Jersey. This brutal violence, perpetrated by Irish gangs (many of them organized into the neighborhood fire companies), usually went unpunished. On the off chance that someone was arrested, Philadelphia juries duly acquitted them, especially when the victims were Black. [9] The bloody and bitter feuds between the largely immigrant Catholics and the so-called nativists (other non-Catholic whites) often retreated when the target of local ire was a Black person or institution (such as a church). Then the nativist-Catholic divide would dissipate into whiteness against Blackness. [10]

Three years after the terrorist violence of the Flying Horse Riot and the destruction of the Diving Bell, Pennsylvania Hall, built with Black and abolitionist money in Center City, Philadelphia, was burned to the ground by several thousand whites who disapproved of Blacks and whites coming together to meet and discuss the heated issue of the day -- slavery. The nativist commander of the Philadelphia militia, Co!. August James Pleasonton, who witnessed Pennsylvania Hall being consumed by the flames, would later note:

There are serious apprehensions that the injudicious, to say the least, but as many think highly exciting and inflammatory proceedings of abolitionists, which have recently taken place here, and the disgusting intercourse between the whites and the blacks, as repugnant to all the prejudices of our education, which they not only have recommended, but are in the habit of practising in this very Abolition Hall, will result in some terrible outbreak of popular indignation, not only against the Abolitionists, but also, against the colored people. [11]


Pleasonton's view, aside from its elegant phrasing, could hardly be distinguished from that of the most uncouth Fenian of the period.

As for the cops or firemen of the day, little help could be expected from that quarter. Both, to the extent they existed at all, were little more than the accretion of local, ethnic street gangs who used their positions to scam and threaten people for money. These street gangs, for whom the fire company or the police were but an instrument, had names like the Rats, the Bleeders, the Blood Tubs, the Deathfetchers, and the Hyenas. [12] It was for good reason that the American wit Mark Twain once quipped that people insured their homes, not against fire, but against the firemen. Failure to pay them might result in arson, a riot, or both!

This was the Philadelphia that Douglass loathed and perhaps feared.

It would be unfair and inaccurate to suggest that the anti-Black feeling in Philadelphia, or in other northern cities, for that matter, was the exclusive province of the white lower or working classes. At the highest levels of state and federal government, as well as in circles of wealth and influence, there was ample evidence of a pronounced antipathy for Blacks and of the fact that the popular rhetoric about "Philadelphia liberty" did not extend to them.

In 1837, a Pennsylvania constitutional convention overtly prevented Blacks from voting in the state.

At the time of the sensational Christiana Resistance in nearby Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Bulletin published an editorial that left no question as to whose side it defended in the conflict:

Who is to prevail, the many or the few? The Old Saxon blood, which at vast sacrifice, founded these republics; or these African fugitives, whom we Pennsylvanians neither wish, nor will have? .. Where the interests of two races come into collision, the weaker must yield, not merely as a matter of might, but, according to our republican doctrines of right also. Among ourselves, we whites understand this, and act upon this.... [13]


Nor did the official voice of the state of Pennsylvania differ, in essence, from that of the bigotry of the Bulletin on the issue of liberty for those ''African fugitives," in flight from bondage, who made their way to the "free" state. Margaret Morgan escaped from the slave system and fled to Pennsylvania in search of liberty. She found instead a state that spoke about freedom, but not for those who would seem to have needed it most -- the enslaved.

When her capture by a Maryland slave-catcher was held to violate Pennsylvania's "personal liberty" laws, Maryland's attorney general argued, that the Constitution did not apply to Blacks. For they, as slaves, he argued were not a party to the national pact and thus were not contained under the Preamble "We, the People." Pennsylvania agreed with her sister state, admitting their adversary's claims. Lawyers for Pennsylvania took what one legal scholar called a feeble position:

Pennsylvania says: Instead of preventing you from taking your slaves, we are anxious that you should have them, they are a population we do not covet; and all our legislation tends toward giving you every facility to get them; but we do claim the right of legislating upon this subject so as to bring you under legal restraint, which will prevent you from taking a freeman. [14]


As might be expected of a court composed predominantly of slave owners, the Supreme Court held for Edward Prigg, agent of the slave owner, and overturned Pennsylvania's "personal liberty" law as unconstitutional. For Margaret Morgan and her children -- including her youngest, born into a "free" state -- the Court's majority opinion meant a return to bondage.

The majority opinion in Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842), penned by Justice Joseph Story of Massachusetts, made it clear that the state's claim to "personal liberty" applied to everyone, except slaves:

The rights of the owners of fugitive slaves are in no just sense interfered with, or regulated by such a course.... But such regulations can never be permitted to interfere with or to obstruct the just rights of the owner to reclaim his slave, derived from the Constitution of the United States; or with the remedies prescribed by Congress to aid and enforce the same.

Upon these grounds, we are of opinion that the act of Pennsylvania upon which this indictment is founded, is unconstitutional and void. It purports to punish as a public offence against the state, the very act of seizing and removing a slave by his master, which the Constitution of the United States was designed to justify and uphold. [15]


The Prigg case would prove a harbinger of the judicial insults to come, among them, Dred Scott v. Sanford, decided nearly a decade later. The Prigg case was also a precursor of the infamous Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Pennsylvania's lawyers betrayed Margaret Morgan, her five children, and thousands like her throughout the northern state. Instead of defending liberty, they defended comity between sister states and, by extension, the legality of slavery. Once again, the courts favored the illusion of human beings as property, as chattel, rather than the reality of humans yearning for liberty from base tyranny.

Philadelphia Modernity

The Philadelphia of the mid twentieth century remained a conflicted, class-conscious, racially stratified city.

Black Philadelphia's population burgeoned, fueled in large part by the Great Migration which sent wave upon wave of a Black rural flood into urban centers like Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Oakland. In these centers were established de facto Black Quarters, areas of containment and isolation, policed by law and social custom to minimize and restrict Black movement, mobility, and dispersal.

Ghettos are not natural growths, like bunions; they are legal constructs that are the fruit of the long-held beliefs and practices of segregation, and they survived its alleged death through restrictive covenants that forbade the selling of millions of units of housing to African Americans. This legal restriction had its equally effective corollary in social and customary practices of pricing property at rates that were prohibitive to the vast majority of the ghetto population.

Over the generations, central North Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, Southwest Philadelphia, and, to a lesser extent, small pockets of South Philadelphia became shorthand for Black Philadelphia. This did not mean these were the only places one found Black inhabitants, but it meant these areas were ones where Blacks dwelt in predominance.

Conversely, there were areas of the city, notably Northeast Philadelphia, East Oak Lane, Kensington, and South Philadelphia, where Black folks walked, drove, or strove to live and work at their peril. To see Black homes marred by racist graffiti or firebombed by whites dwelling in neighboring homes was not an odd occurrence in the city with a name meaning Brotherly Love. Nor was it a rare occurrence for a Black pedestrian to be put to the chase for daring to walk in a "white" neighborhood.

These private, communal acts were echoed by official ones, done in the name of the city, by the police. Black Philadelphians came of age with the deeply felt knowledge that they could be beaten, wounded, or killed by cops with virtual impunity. The predominantly white police seemed like foreigners in a dark village who treated their alleged fellow citizens with the vehemence one reserves for an enemy. For ghetto youth, this took the form of the police using the maddened self-hatred and regional antipathy between youth of various gangs to foment yet more hatred and violent reprisal. One favorite tactic they routinely utilized was to pick up a few youngsters from one gang, place them in a patrol car, drive them to enemy gang turf, let them out of the vehicle, and scream curses and insults against the enemy gang. To the young men left standing as the cop car raced off at breakneck speed, their choices were few and unenviable: stand and fight against the swarm of sworn enemies or run like the devil, hoping to get to safe territory before they got badly beaten, shot, or worse.

It is into this milieu that the Black Panther Party came into being in Philadelphia. Once the chapter was formed, other questions remained.

What would this new organization do?

How would we let folks know we existed?

What would be our focus?

These were but some of the challenges facing the group and met by the late spring of 1969:

With the renting, repair, cleaning, and painting of the storefront at 1928 West Columbia Avenue, the local party would have its first formal presence (odd apartments and private homes had sufficed previously), a reliable place where people could contact us. The time could not have been more perfect for our arrival, for the clear air, the bright sky blue, the very essence of the season of new life was upon us. As soon as we had finished painting the walls (panther powder blue, with black glaze adorning the moldings), affixed a few posters to the walls (Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Huey and Bobby, armed), and used pressure-sensitive letters to inscribe the inside of the fronting glass with the black, capital gold-edged letters: Image people began appearing at our door. What drew them was the bold letters blaring from the window: BLACK PANTHER PARTY.

That seemingly simple message drew in the young, the old, and those in the middle, from the cautious to the curious. Students came in, eager to sell the paper.

Even the established, like the real estate owner who rented the property to the Party and who owned properties all around the neighborhood took pains to demonstrate his nationalist credentials. He confided to us that he went to the historically Black college, Lincoln University, with the revered Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of the independent West African nation of Ghana.

But to have an office was not enough. The fledgling organization had to do something. After much thought, and a request from the national office, the captain ordered us to assemble at the State Building, at Broad and Spring Garden Streets, near the center of the city, to demonstrate for the freedom of the imprisoned BPP Minister of Defense, Huey P. Newton, who was facing murder charges stemming from a car stop and shoot-out in Oakland. The objective was to snag some publicity for the Party, and thus to inform the city's huge Black population of our presence.

The date is May 1, 1969, and between fifteen and twenty of us are in the full uniform of black berets, black jackets of smooth leather, and black trousers. As we assemble, a rousing chant of "Free Huey!" is raised. Leaflets are distributed to passersby, and we are able to inform some people of our presence and how to contact us.

Several of Huey's articles are read over the megaphone, and, before long, we have a somewhat rousing rally on our hands. Some of the excited kids from the nearby Ben Franklin High School cut their classes to attend the rally, and several papers are sold. Captain Reggie reads from Huey's ''In Defense of Self-Defense," which noted, in part:

The heirs of Malcolm now stand millions strong on their corner of the triangle, facing the racist dog oppressor and the soulless endorsed spokesmen. The heirs of Malcolm have picked up the gun and taking first things first are moving to expose the endorsed spokesmen so the Black masses can see them for what they are and have always been. The choice offered by the heirs of Malcolm to the endorsed spokesmen is to repudiate the oppressor and crawl back to their own people and earn a speedy reprieve or face a merciless, speedy, and most timely execution for treason and being "too wrong for too long." [16]


Cameras went off like popcorn, but we had no real idea who the mostly white photographers were. We assumed they were the press, but some had the unmistakable air of cops about them. It never dawned on us that some were FBI agents building a file on us. Mostly, it was because, in an age of global revolution, it didn't seem too extraordinary to be a revolutionary. Didn't America come into being by way of the American Revolution?

Here we were, reading the hard, uncompromising words of the Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party at the State Building in the heart of the fourth largest city in America, while red-faced, nervous, armed cops stood around on the periphery of our rally ... what did we think would happen? We thought, in the amorphous realm of hope, youth, and boundless optimism, that revolution was virtually a heartbeat away. It was four years since Malcolm's assassination and just over a year since the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Vietnam War was flaring up under Nixon's Vietnamization program, and the rising columns of smoke from Black rebellions in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and North Philly could still be sensed -- their ashen smoldering still tasted in the air.

Huey was our leader, and we felt, with utter certainty, that he spoke for the vast majority of Black folks. He certainly spoke for us. We loved and revered him and wondered why everybody else didn't feel the same way. Our job was to make all see this obvious truth. His work moved us all deeply, and we believed we could in turn move the world. This feeling motivated us to sell The Black Panther newspaper with passion and spirit, for Huey himself had written that "a newspaper is the voice of the party, the voice of the Panther must be heard throughout the land." [17]

We struggled daily to make it so. We got up early and didn't go to sleep until late. For most of us, Party work was all that we did, all day, into the night.

Our little branch blossomed into the biggest, most productive chapter in the state and one of the most vigorous in the nation.

A year after our rally, our branch sold 10,000 Party newspapers a week and had functioning Party offices in West Philadelphia and Germantown. The Party nationally sold nearly 150,000 papers through direct street sales and paid subscriptions per week. The Party was literally growing by leaps and bounds, both locally and nationally. From our original fifteen-odd members in the spring of 1969, a year later virtually ten times that number would call themselves members of the Black Panther Party of Philadelphia.

We spoke at antiwar rallies. We attended school meetings. We met with high school students. We met in churches. We worked with gangs and provided transportation to area prisons. Everywhere we went, we brought along the 10-Point Program and Platform of the Black Panther Party, as a guideline for our organizing efforts.

By any measure, we made an impressive beginning.

It was May 1969.

A young man named O.J. Simpson had just been named the number one NFL draft pick by Buffalo, a year after winning the Heisman for his performance as running back for University of Southern California.

The album Blood, Sweat and Tears (by the group Blood, Sweat and Tears) would win the best album Grammy.

The Oscar for Best Picture would be awarded to Midnight Cowboy.

The great Muhammad Ali had been stripped of his heavyweight boxing crown two years previous, and the championship was vacant.

The number one first-round draft pick for the NBA was a lanky, Afro-coifed youth named Lew Alcindor of UCLA, who went to Milwaukee.

In April, the US military had mobilized its biggest troop deployment of 543,400 soldiers.

In just three months, half a million young folks would gather in a remote corner of New York called Woodstock.

Shortly thereafter, a quarter million people would march in front of the White House demanding an end to the Vietnam War.

Before the month of May ended, a police raid in New Haven, Connecticut, would threaten the very stability of the Party.

Chairman Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins would face murder charges. In all, eight Panthers would be arrested, and at least one would agree to turn state's evidence. If convicted, Seale would face the electric chair.
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Re: We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, by M

Postby admin » Thu Jun 12, 2014 7:00 am

CHAPTER FOUR: The Black Panther Party

We had seen Martin Luther King come to Watts in an effort to calm the people and we had seen his philosophy of nonviolence rejected. Black people had been taught nonviolence; it was deep in us. What good, however, was nonviolence when the police were determined to rule by force?
-- Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide [1]


THE FIRES OF the Watts Rebellion did far more than destroy; like flame in the kiln of a potter, the reddish-orange, hungry tongues of combustion are capable of creation.

As suggested earlier, the fires of Watts differed in significant ways from the many "riots" that had ravaged American cities for the better part of a century before. Those previous riots were often mass upheavals of whites attacking Black life or Black property. They therefore served the needs of white nationalism.

Watts was different in that it reflected Black urban anger at the white power structure and was a rebellion against a racist status quo. Eldridge Cleaver wrote in his first book, Soul on Ice, that before the revolts, young men in prison regarded Watts as a place of shame, or worse, an epithet. After the rebellion, Cleaver noticed a marked difference among "all the Blacks in Folsom [prison]." They were going around proclaiming, ''I'm from Watts, baby ... and proud of it." [2]

Watts took on a meaning to Black Americans that symbolized a kind of resistance that was anathema to the likes of Dr. King or his co-integrationists of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The Black Panther Party came into existence, not to support or supplement the major civil rights organizations, but to supplant them.

The major civil rights groups were shocked and stymied by the outrage revealed by Watts. Those who would organize the Black Panther Party looked to Watts as inspiration and an ashy harbinger of things to come.

That is because, at its deepest levels, overtly and covertly, the Black Panther Party believed in revolution -- the deep, thoroughgoing transformation of society from the ground up. It did not believe that the country would, or ever could, embrace the claims of its Constitution.

Although it has rarely been observed in these ideological terms, the Black Panther Party was a Malcolmist party far more than it was a Marxist one. Though all Panthers owned and were required to study Mao's Red Book, and the Party claimed to adhere to the principles of Marxism-Leninism, few Panthers actually pored through turgid, laborious translations of key Marxist texts. These were not required reading, although some advanced cadre chose to do so.

But few Panthers had failed to read (or, if illiterate, failed to hear) the speeches of Malcolm X. For Huey and Bobby, the admiration and almost quiet reverence for Malcolm is abundantly clear:

We read also the works of the freedom fighters who had done so much for Black communities in the United States. Bobby had collected all of Malcolm X's speeches and ideas from papers like The Militant and Muhammad Speaks. These we studied carefully. Although Malcolm's program for the Organization of Afro-American Unity was never put into operation, he had made it clear that Blacks ought to arm. Malcolm's influence was ever-present. We continue to believe that the Black Panther Party exists in the spirit of Malcolm. Often it is difficult to say exactly how an action or a program has been determined or influenced in a spiritual way. Such intangibles are hard to describe, although they can be more significant than any precise influence. Therefore, the words on this page cannot convey the effect that Malcolm has had on the Black Panther Party although, as far as I am concerned, the Party is a living testament to his life work. I do not claim that the Party has done what Malcolm would have done. We do not say this; but Malcolm's spirit is in us. [3]


Malcolm was a hard-core Black nationalist, and the early BPP was a hard-core Black nationalist organization. But Malcolm also represented more; his extraordinary life demonstrated the power of growth, of development, of personal transformation, and, indeed, service to one's community. His personal voyage from criminal, from thief to militant minister had tremendous appeal to many Panthers. It especially resonated with those whose earlier careers took them through the State's penal institutions, and those who would be sentenced there for Party work.

Community Service

From the Party's earliest days, the organization took community service seriously. It was seen as a way to demonstrate to Black folks that the Party was serious about defending the Black community, even against the cops, the most hated and feared figures imposed upon the community. It is fitting that one of the Party's first programs was the Police-alert Patrols, where members trailed cop cars in the Black neighborhood, armed with guns, tape recorders, cameras, and law books. Newton knew that this program had very serious risks, given the nature of the police. These risks were outweighed by gaining the trust of the people of the Black community, who had been betrayed by virtually every previous political incarnation:

With weapons in our hands, we were no longer their subjects, but their equals.

Out on patrol, we stopped whenever we saw the police questioning a brother or a sister. We would walk over with our weapons and observe them from a "safe" distance so that the police could not say we were interfering with the performance of their duty. We would ask the community members if they were being abused. Most of the time, when a policeman saw us coming, he slipped his book back into his pocket, got into his car and left in a hurry. The citizens who had been stopped were as amazed as the police at our sudden appearance. [4]


For Huey, the patrols were meant for the people, to give them a real, live demonstration of what the Party was about -- and also for the police, who were used to harassing and brutalizing Black citizens with impunity. While the weapons and the patrols were perfectly legal under California law, he knew that many of the Oakland police, who, like many of Oakland's Black community, were natives of southern states, would be livid because they no longer possessed a monopoly on violence.

''A law book, a tape recorder, and a gun" were all that were needed, Huey explained. "It would let those brutalizing racist bastards know that we mean business." [5] In accordance with Huey's study of the law, BPP patrollers agreed to accept arrests nonviolently -- to a limit. Newton and Seale promised to "do battle only at the point when a fool policeman drew his gun unjustly." [6]

[W]e had hit on something unique. By standing up to the police as equals, even holding them off, and yet remaining within the law, we had demonstrated Black pride to the community in a concrete way. Everywhere we went we caused traffic jams. People constantly stopped us to say how much they respected our courage. The idea of armed self-defense as a community policy was still new and a little intimidating to them; but it also made them think. More important, it created a feeling of solidarity. When we saw how Black citizens reacted to our movement, we were greatly encouraged. Despite the ever-present danger of retaliation, the risks were more than worth it. At that time, however, our activities were confined to a small area, and we wanted Black people throughout the country to know the Oakland story. [7]


The Police-alert Patrols were a hit with Black Oaklanders and undoubtedly led to increased membership in the Party. Yet this was just one program out of many that the organization established.

By 1968 the Seattle chapter had instituted its Free Breakfast for Children Program, where Panthers gathered food (often from supportive neighborhood merchants), assembled the necessary personnel, and cooked breakfasts for neighborhood kids. The average breakfast, though nothing fancy, filled the belly and was far more than most could find at home. It consisted of fried eggs, toast, a few slips of bacon, and grits. Oftentimes, community members would volunteer to help with these efforts. Due to its popularity in the community and strong support by the Party, demonstrated by an order issued by Chairman Seale, every chapter or branch had a breakfast program by 1969.

The Free Breakfast for Children Program was, by far, the most popular of all the Party programs. It also served as a unique opportunity for the secular BPP and the Black church to establish a working relationship since most breakfast programs were situated within neighborhood churches and staffed by Panther men and women. Father Earl Neil, a Black priest assigned to Oakland's St. Augustine Episcopal Church, was an early and vocal supporter of the Black Panther Party and made some interesting comparisons between the Party and the traditional church:

Black preachers have got to stop preaching about a kingdom in the hereafter which is a "land flowing with milk and honey" ... we must deal with concrete conditions and survival in this life! The Black Panther Party ... has merely put into operation the survival program that the Church should have been doing anyway. The efforts of the Black Panther Party are consistent with what God wants ... [8]


The Breakfast Programs had other less obvious yet equally beneficial effects. Getting up early to serve neighborhood kids and spending some time with them before they were bundled up for school gave many Panthers a real example of what we were working for -- our people's future. Most Panthers, fresh out of high school, didn't have children and thought of them, if at all, abstractly. The program, filled five days a week with smiling, sniffling young boys and girls, lifted our hearts at the beginning of the day, steeling us to hit the streets to sell The Black Panther or enabling us to go to other community programs with a bounce in our steps. One may not spend time around children and not be lightened by the experience.

As the Breakfast program succeeded so did the Party, and its popularity fueled our growth across the country. Along with the growth of the Party came an increase in the number of community programs undertaken by the Party. By 1971, the Party had embarked on ten distinctive community programs, described by Newton as survival programs. What did he mean by this term?

We called them survival programs pending revolution. They were designed to help the people survive until their consciousness is raised, which is only the first step in the revolution to produce a new America .... During a flood the raft is a life-saving device, but it is only a means of getting to higher ground. So, too, with survival programs, which are emergency services. In themselves they do not change social conditions, but they are life-saving vehicles until conditions change.


Among these programs were the Intercommunal News Service (1967); the Petition Drive for Community Control of Cops (1968); Liberation Schools, later called Intercommunal Youth Institutes, (1969); People's Free Medical Research Health Clinic (1969); Free Clothing Program (1970); Free Busing to Prisons Program (1970); Seniors Against Fearful Environment (SAFE) Program (1971); Sickle Cell Anemia Research Foundation (1971); and Free Housing Cooperative Program (1971).

In later years, the Party would initiate other programs including Free Shoe Programs, Free Ambulance Services, Free Food Programs, and Home Maintenance Programs.

While clearly every branch of the Party didn't offer all of these programs, most did operate the basics: a free breakfast program, a clinic, and a free clothing program. The bigger chapters, such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, tended to provide the widest range of community services, while smaller branches tended to concentrate on the most popular programs.

While these programs were definitely political, they were conceived of as instruments to promote the political development and radicalization of the people, Newton understood that they had practical applications as well: serving human needs. As one who grew up in the ghetto, Newton understood the very real poverty and subsistence issues affecting many in the community:

The masses of Black people have always been deeply entrenched and involved in the basic necessities of life. They have not had time to abstract their situation. Abstractions come only with leisure. The people have not had the luxury of leisure. Therefore, the people have been very aware of the true definition of politics: politics are merely the desire of individuals and groups to satisfy first, their basic needs -- food, shelter and clothing, and security for themselves and their loved ones. [10]


In Kansas City, Missouri, the Black Panther Party opened its Free Community Clinic and named it for the slain Bobby Hutton, the Party's first martyr, killed by Oakland cops as he surrendered with Eldridge Cleaver on April 6, 1968. BPP affiliates in Brooklyn, Harlem, Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, and Rockford, Illinois, followed suit. Members of the Health Ministries received rudimentary health care and first aid training in order to staff the clinics, but professional help was necessary also. In many cities, community-minded physicians were found who opened up their offices in our clinics, donating time and services to the most depressed communities. Dr. Tolbert Small, for example, contributed his time and efforts to the Oakland clinic. [11] In Philadelphia, a kind, thoughtful, and gentle man named Dr. Vaslavek staffed the clinic.

For most Panthers, our lives in the Party were dedicated to community service. That meant long, sustained work to keep our community programs running, but it also meant battling the State when it came at us with paramilitary attacks, unjust arrests, and, perhaps most often, legal battles in which the State attempted to utilize its judiciary machinery to destroy or disrupt Party organizing efforts.

Sometimes, however, community service meant trying to push the revolutionary struggle further, to create beachheads of focused communal resistance, to create a climate conducive to change. One of those attempts was the Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention.

An Attempt at Freedom in Philadelphia

In the American myth of nation-building, Philadelphia looms large as the birthplace, or cradle, of liberty. The icons of the Liberty Bell, the Constitution, and various places of residence of prominent American revolutionary figures provide a lucrative tourism industry and also serve as a touchstone for many Americans when they think of American colonial history.

When leading Party members began organizing and agitating for the Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention (RPCC) to be held in Philadelphia, it was, in a sense, a very real, conscious attempt to subvert the history of the colonials, by creating a new historical icon: A constitution in which all ignored segments of the American polity could be heard, and be represented. A way of developing a revolutionary superstructure that would be the groundwork of a new society.

It was not envisioned as a BPP project, per se, but as an effort of people from various movements on the so-called left, who would meet and contribute to the building of this infrastructure, to help bring both a constitution and a resistant entity into existence. Contacts were made to the various student groups, the socialist organizations, women's groups, Native groups, and gay and lesbian groups to come together to contribute to this framework. The Party wanted to initiate a process to draft "a constitution that serves the people, not the ruling class." [12]

The convention was set for September 1970, but initial approval from Temple University to host it was rescinded after Philadelphia's police pressured them. Finally, a tall, slim-faced, bespectacled priest whose diocese covered North Philadelphia would agree to the convention and allow his manorial buildings to be used for the event.

I met with Rev. Paul Washington, and he could not have been more gracious, nor more supportive. He calmly explained that his buildings had been used by the Black Power Conference back in 1966, when radicals and nationalists from throughout the country had gathered to hash out movement objectives. He didn't see how this could be much different.

Not content with forcing a scramble for a new venue, the police, as armed agents of the ruling class, went out of their way to sabotage the event by raiding three local Panther offices less than a week before the convention was to begin. This was classic Frank Rizzo. But the bombastic Philadelphia police commissioner, an acolyte of the sinister J. Edgar Hoover, had badly miscalculated. His troops raided local offices and busted top-level and rank-and-file Panthers all around the city, blaming them for the shooting of a cop several nights before. Within hours, not only were all of them out of jail, but the arrests, done in traditional Rizzo overkill with cops stripping people, only served to fire up people and make them more, not less, supportive of the Party.

On September 4, 1970, the convention went off without a hitch, with at least six thousand participants (far more than in 1787!) from all across the country. As Rev. Washington recalled:

On September 4, registration for the convention began at the Church of the Advocate. Everyone who lined up to register was frisked by members of the Black Panthers -- a strange experience for some, who had never before been searched for weapons on their way into a church building. The search did have the effect of establishing who was responsible for law and order at this event -- the Panthers, not the police. The weekend was not only peaceful, but extraordinarily so. The streets of North Philadelphia seemed for once to belong to the people of North Philadelphia. It was Huey Newton's and not Frank Rizzo's time to be center stage. [13]


It was, truth be told, a remarkable time to be a Panther, for the outpouring from the dozens of communities who attended and supported the convention seemed to suggest that the hour of revolutionary unity and promise had come. Willie thousands attended these plenary (or planning) sessions at the church, and the various meetings held elsewhere on planning and policy in furtherance of the new Constitution, thousands of other well-wishers gathered outside, on the streets, Black, white, Latin@, [14] some merely gawkers, but most overtly supportive.

While various workshops hammered out the language and platform planks, the high point would be the appearance of Huey P. Newton, the revered Minister of Defense, newly freed from prison after the May 1970 reversal of his manslaughter conviction. While most Panthers would never admit it, many of us were nervous. The ever-present threat of cops attacking or even the underlying threat of being in Rizzo's Philly wasn't the source of the nervousness.

The source was Huey.

While many of us had never met him and certainly had never sat down and talked with him, all of us had seen the grainy, black-and-white films produced by Newsreel, a radical youth film collective. We were singularly surprised to actually hear the voice of the Minister of Defense -- high, nasal, twangy with a twist of California-country.

Huey, whom we all would have died for in a heartbeat, was not a good public speaker. If you loved him, or revered his courage and sacrifice, it didn't matter. But this was not a Black Panther convention; it was peopled by folks from across the country, from all walks of life.

The time came for Huey to take the platform; a phalanx of Panthers swooped to the stage, in protective position up front. Huey, short, muscular, his Afro picked to perfection, wearing a resplendent soft black leather jacket, strolled to the lectern, and a swell of applause hit the room, a vast auditorium that the Party had successfully negotiated from Temple. There was great applause, ovations, huzzahs, and hosannas ... and then Huey spoke:

Friends and comrades throughout the United States and throughout the world, we gather here in peace and friendship to claim our inalienable rights, to claim the rights bestowed us by an unbroken train of abuses and usurpations, and to perform the duty which is thus required of us. Our sufferance has been long and patient, our prudence has stayed this final hour, but our human dignity and strength require that we still the voice of prudence with the cries of our sufferance. Thus we gather in the spirit of revolutionary love and friendship for all oppressed people of the world, regardless of their race or of the race and doctrine of their oppressors.

The United States of America was born at a time when the nation covered relatively little land, a narrow strip of political divisions of the Eastern seaboard. The United States of America was born at a time when the population was small and fairly homogenous both racially and culturally. Thus, the people called Americans were a different people in a different place. Furthermore, they had a different economic system ....

The sacredness of man and of the human spirit require that human dignity and integrity ought to be always respected by every other man. We will settle for nothing less, for at this point in history anything less is but a living death. We will be free, and we are here to ordain a new constitution, which will ensure our freedom by enshrining the dignity of the human spirit. [15]


There was applause, sometimes spirited applause, but it was applause for the presence of Huey P. Newton, not his ideas. Huey was not fooled by the subtle difference:

As I talked, it seemed to me that the people were not really listening, or even interested in what I had to say.

Almost every sentence was greeted by loud applause, but the audience was more concerned with phrasemongering than with ideological development. I am not a good public speaker -- I tend to lecture and teach in a rather dull fashion -- but the people were not responding to my ideas, only to my image, and although I was very excited by all the energy and enthusiasm I saw there, I was also disturbed by the lack of serious analytical thought. [16]


Huey, unfortunately, wasn't the only one "disturbed."

Captain Reggie was perhaps a bit more laconic, but his observation was apt. Huey, he reasoned, "just lost people." [17]

Huey, brilliant, brave, and bold as he was, didn't understand that politics is often "phrasemongering" and that those who can successfully master that skill can also successfully mobilize powerful social forces.

He did not.

He could not ... and a powerful moment was lost.

David Hilliard and many other Party members from the period remember the Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention as an abject failure. The RPCC, for all intents and purposes, dissolved, and a secondary, working session, planned for Washington several months later, never really took off. They also look to Huey's poor performance at the Philadelphia plenary session as a nadir of the Party's attempt to institutionalize a truly revolutionary movement in the US.

Time may mellow that assessment somewhat.

The Party did indeed attempt something massive and, perhaps with the exception of John Brown's Chatham Convention in Canada, something almost unprecedented. It tried to erect a revolutionary institution that would formalize a truly multicultural, multiclass, multigendered revolution against the repressive status quo. While the Party dared greatly, it was not, in truth, a failure of the Party so much as it was a failure of the movement entire.

Were millions of white youth, no matter what they claimed their political or ideological persuasions, really ready to embark on a revolution, one that did not prize whiteness?

Were millions of feminists ready to join in working coalition with men and women of color, to destroy white supremacy as a binding stitch for the White Nationalist (Herrenvolk) Republic?

Were millions of mostly white gays and lesbians willing to join a political entity where, though represented, they were not in the ascendancy?

It is indeed possible that the Black Panther Party, which saw itself as profoundly nonracist, could not appreciate the deep levels of white supremacy that lay subsumed within much of the white left. They opposed the war in Vietnam -- yes; they opposed the excesses of the Nixon/Mitchell regime -- yes; they may have felt an ideological affinity with the Civil Rights movement -- yes; but were they ready to do all that was necessary to break asunder from their Mother Country -- White America?

While Huey's speech was lackluster, dry, academic even, he and other Panthers did articulate a new constitutional arrangement that transformed power relations in a new nation. They did that.

Moreover, if the will was present in the hearts and souls of those thousands assembled to truly support the vision, then it would not have been abandoned to the dust of history. It would not be hidden, as was the Chatham Convention, to the realm of patient scholarship, instead of the realm of our dreams.

What was not lacking in that small, sweaty room in Philadelphia in 1787, where men gathered to draft the US constitution, windows barred from the angry throng outside, was will.

Again in Philadelphia, nearly 200 years later, with thousands inside, thousands outside, with throngs praising their presence and their mission, a new constitution did not emerge. It is not logical to solely blame those who brought them together. Nor is it fair.

It may be argued that the Black Panther Party, to the extent that it was possible, performed in the role of a shadow state -- with its Ministries, its uniformed personnel, its soldiers, and its persistently independent voice that spoke in sharp opposition to that of the US government. [18] Professor Nikhil P. Singh has argued that the Party's actions, indeed, its very existence, posited an alternative that called into question the very existence, or authority, of the US nation-state. In Singh's analysis:

The Panthers, then, were a threat to the state not simply because they were violent but because they abused the state's own reality principle, including its monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Patrolling the police armed with guns and law books was in this sense a form of mimicry in which the Panthers undermined the very notion of policing itself by performing, and in effect deforming, it themselves. Here, we must grasp the fact that the police themselves are among the most important of the state's "actors." The continued, repeated performance of the police function is crucial to the institution of the everyday fantasy of being subject to a national, social state. By misrecognizing the status of policing as it operated within Black communities, the Panthers effectively nullified this fantasy and substituted a radical alternative. By policing the police, in other words, the Panthers signaled something far more dangerous than is generally acknowledged: the eruption of a nonstate identity into the everyday life of the state. That such a small and relatively poorly equipped band of urban Black youth could demand so much attention from federal and local police only attests to the tenuousness of the state itself and the degree to which it depends upon controlling and even silencing those who would take its name in vain. [19]


If actions that marked the Party's daily life in forty-four communities across the nation presented such a challenge, what of the proposed Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention, which by its very existence, pointed to the defective nature of the original convention of 1787, with its coterie of racists, slave owners, misogynists, and wealthy landowners?

Which constitutional convention was, indeed, far more representative of the masses of people in America? Which was more racially mixed? Which more culturally mixed? Which more reflected the average guy or gal in the cities or towns across America?

Researcher Jerry Fresia, in his remarkable Toward an American Revolution, paints a picture of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as something far removed from the people. This was an assembly of opulence, of means, and of men who, in fact, deeply trembled at the thought of the mob -- the many, unhappy poor who populated the colonies. It was not for naught that Gouverneur Morris, a co-author of the Constitution and Pennsylvania delegate, noted, "I see and see with fear and trembling, that if the disputes with Britain continue, we shall be under the domination of a riotous mob. It is in the interest of all men therefore, to seek reunion with the parent state." [20] Fresia's notes on the convention are indeed telling:

The series of meetings that led to the convention were engineered by men who did not like the Articles. They were part of an elite consensus that was forming in reaction to the many rebellions (black and white) and democratic tendencies among excluded people and it was their private meetings that led to the initiative for the Constitutional Convention. At every turn, the popular voice was absent, and elites were increasingly empowered. No special popular elections were held to select delegates. Instead, delegates to the Convention were selected by the state legislatures, who were already once removed from the limited electorate. Moreover, the Constitutional Convention had been called to amend the Articles only and any proposed changes had to be approved by all the states before they were adopted. But the Framers defied these legal stipulations, abandoned their authorization to amend the Articles only, designed an entirely new centralized national government, and inserted in the Constitution that it should go into effect when ratified by only nine states. J.W. Burgess has stated that what the Framers "actually did, stripped of all fiction and verbiage, was to assume constitutional powers, ordain a constitution of government and liberty and demand a plebiscite thereon over the heads of all existing legally organized powers. Had Julius or Napoleon committed these acts, they would have been pronounced coup d'etat." [21]


In historical retrospect, which convention was more representative of the people of the nation?

The Black Panther Party, at this "Convention from the Bottom," had hundreds of committed activists, from a variety of movements, sitting down and convening workshops, where a wealth of ideas was discussed. Various workshops developed reports. According to the Party:

Taken as a whole, these reports provided the basis for one of the most progressive Constitutions in the history of humankind. All the people would control the means of production and social institutions. Black and third world people were guaranteed proportional representation in the administration of these institutions, as were women. The right of national self-determination was guaranteed to all oppressed minorities. Sexual self-determination for women and homosexuals was affirmed. A standing army is to be replaced by a people's militia, and the Constitution is to include an international bill of rights prohibiting U.S. aggression and interference in the internal affairs of other nations .... The present racist legal system would be replaced by a system of people's courts where one would be tried by a jury of one's peers. jails would be replaced by community rehabilitation programs .... Adequate housing, health care, and day care would be considered Constitutional Rights, not privileges." [22]


This was the fruit of the Party's call for a convention of the many, not the few.

It reflected the Party's understanding (perhaps influenced by the perceptions of its California founders, who lived in small Black communities, relative to their eastern, or southern kin) that we all live together in this vast land, and, as such, none of us could do all that was necessary alone.

The Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention manifested a distinct tendency within the BPP that distinguished it from its contemporaries, and left it, especially within nationalist circles, subject to some criticism. The very framework of the RPCC conflicted with the norm of the more insular nationalist groups of the era. This meant that although the Black Panther Party did not have non-Blacks in its ranks, it did think about and act upon the idea that coalitions across lines of race and ethnicity could prove effective in reaching broader segments of the US and global polity.

Internationalism = "Intercommunalism"

In the beginning, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was, for want of a better term, a Malcolmist party. As early as 1967, under seven months into the Party's existence, Newton would speak of the BPP as "the heirs of Malcolm." [23] The influence of Malcolm X permeated early BPP thought, rhetoric, and self-perception. In this formative period, the BPP used language and themes that did not significantly differentiate it from other Black nationalist groups of the period, such as the Revolutionary Action Movement and the Black Liberators (of St. Louis, Missouri). Such groups drew their inspiration from Malcolm X, and his speeches, tapes, and articles were sources of ideological positions and purity.

This meant, in practical terms, that whites were anathema to any organizational or political work. In his earliest incarnation, Malcolm, as a young NOI minister, referred to whites as devils, and many nationalists held similar views, even if they did not embrace his pre-hajj Muslim ideas.

Because Newton read widely in the years prior to the development of the Party, he did not limit himself to Malcolm as an inspiration, or as source material, for either his or the Party's ideology. He was a perceptive reader. He was original in his thinking. He read, not to consume the quantity of words as they rushed across the page, but to gather, question, challenge, and deconstruct ideas. He read, and was influenced by, writings on the Algerian, Kenyan, Russian, Chinese, and Cuban revolutions. These studies influenced him, as did spiritual and philosophical texts, like works on Buddhism and by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Newton's intellectual development, and as a direct correlate, the Party's intellectual ideas came from a range of sources, and the Party was therefore open to a variety of influences.

Because Huey was a preacher's kid, he developed early on a skepticism toward religious dogma, and, as he quite easily questioned the existence of a god, he could not abide the existence of a devil. Whites were not gods, nor were they devils, he reasoned. They were but human beings who, because of the mind-bending toxin of racism, often behaved badly when it came to people of color. Therefore, the enemy is racism, the toxin, not whites, who were intoxicated.

It is largely under Newton's influence that the Party emerged as an antiracist group and opened the door to interactions with those whites who would not try to undermine the Party's platform. From this, a working alliance with the largely California-based Peace and Freedom Party (P&F Party) emerged. This coalition would launch the Black Panther Party deeply into the consciousness of many Californians, through the posters and campaigns of the P&F Party, which ran various Black Panther Party members for state and regional offices. Perhaps the most renowned was the candidacy of Eldridge Cleaver for president of the United States in 1968 (he polled some 36,000 votes in perhaps half a dozen states). Cleaver, a brilliant orator, could rock a crowd with his quick wit and colorful language. One of his albums, Soul on Wax, was a big seller in Panther offices, and his speeches would play (or blare through neighborhood loudspeakers) for hours throughout the day. On the record, he moved a group of nuns to chant "Fuck Reagan."

Yet for the BPP internationalism didn't just mean Black/white interactions; it meant working with Chican@s, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and others. If the revolution were to be successful, it needed the participation of all in the creation of a new society.

This was the essence of Newton's idea of intercommunalism. He reasoned that interactions across communities were the primary connections for building a new society and that, in an age of empire, nations could no longer exist and, therefore, neither could true internationalism. He coined the term intercommunalism to describe this new relationship. [24] As Newton explained it:

We found that because everything is in a constant state of transformation, because of the development of technology, because of the development of the mass media, because of the firepower of imperialism, because of the fact that the United States is no longer a nation, but an empire, nations could not exist, for they did not have the criteria for nationhood. [25]


Nations, thought Newton, were far more than flags, embassies, or even standing armies. If the imperialists could penetrate a given nation-state's economy, culture, airwaves, and, indeed, consciousness with relative impunity and impose its will, that imposition is imperial. The recipient, while certainly a geographical, ethnic, linguistic, and perhaps cultural community, is not a nation in the classical sense. It is the shell of a nation, at best.

Thus, the Black Panther Party inaugurated the Black revolutionary political practice of working closely with disparate and diverse ethnic and racial groupings, and it influenced the development of similar political formations in other non-Black communities.

For Black Americans, however, Newton diverged from his colleagues in the nationalist community further when he split from their almost iconic fascination with ancient Africa. Again, using an intercommunal analysis, Newton would explain:

The economic power of the US. rulers is so great that there is no denying its effect upon the rest of the world. This economic power is manifested in the concentration of production capabilities and raw materials in the hands of American forces. What the United States cannot obtain and develop, it can synthesize in its technological laboratories.

Looking further at the situation, let us consider black Americans. Tied only historically to Africa, they can lay no real claim to territory in the US. or Africa. Black Americans have only the cultural and social customs that have evolved from centuries of oppression. In other words, US. blacks form not a subjugated colony but an oppressed community inside the larger boundaries. What, then, do the words "black nationalism" concretely mean to the US. black? Not forming anything resembling a nation presently, shall US. blacks somehow seize (or possibly be "given") US. land and expect to claim sovereignty as a nation? In the face of the existent power of the United States over the entire world, such a nation could only be a fantasy that could lead to the extinction of a race.

What does "Pan-Africanism" mean to the black African who did not live Nkrumah's dream, but lives in the real nightmare of U.S. economic/ military might? For what does a national flag actually mean when Gulf Oil is in control? Or if Gulf Oil is expelled, what happens to the "nation" that cannot supply for its own needs?

The oppressed people of the world face a serious dilemma: the Chinese people are threatened by the American Empire, just as blacks globally and people in South America are similarly threatened. Even Europe bends to the weight of the United States, yielding theoretical, national sovereignty. [26]


Huey and the Party founded by him were iconoclastic. Both tried to demolish old ideas and notions that dwelt deep in consciousness. To say that both were controversial is an understatement. They were both projected as so far from the so-called mainstream as to be aberrant. Newton, who loved the struggle for ideas, would perhaps relish the claim, but would equally challenge the definition of mainstream as a creation of upper class, bourgeois culture.

To Newton what was perhaps an aberration was the set of social relations handed down to us, for they were based not on rationality or humanity, but on violent repression and malevolent conditioning, like racism, classism, and chauvinism.

Yet ideas do not change simply because some social actors come up with better, or even more logical, ways of looking at the world. It can scarcely be argued that freedom was better than bondage, yet abolitionists had to fight for over a century, and a war divided the nation, before this idea prevailed.

Similarly, it can be said that the notion of women's equality seems so obvious to us now. However, it took 200 years and tortuous, dangerous, much-damned organizing for that idea to prevail in the nation's political psyche. These ideas prevailed because people fought for them, and did so against terrible odds.

In short, it took deeply committed people, organized into movements, to force these changes.

The same could be said about some of the ideas promoted by the Black Panther Party decades ago. While practiced in that time and place, these ideas have not found purchase in the American political economy. Moreover, a changing political environment has made many of those ideas, such as socialism and the working alliances of people across race, ethnicity, and gender, not as popular today. We live in an era when reactionary nationalism seems to prevail, when the very notion of white (or other) Americans interacting in Black affairs seems like anathema. The relatively new, New Black Panther Party, formed by people raised in the Nation of Islam, seems to reflect this shift.

There are other reasons why this is so; principally among them is a history that breeds deep distrust between African Americans and European Americans.

Downside of "Intercommunalism"

The Black Panther Party, as perhaps the most influential exemplar of the Black revolutionary ethic of the latter twentieth century, had serious barriers to its expansion and the continued development of its ideas. It could analyze ideas and promote the seemingly correct ideological solutions to social conflicts and crises. Yet it had to contend with the deep and, perhaps, at the time, unarticulated white nationalism that pervaded consciousness during the period.

Some social scientists contend that this tendency is deep within American consciousness and colors all it perceives. One scholar has likened America's addiction to whiteness as a way of thinking closely akin to that of South African apartheid (which in turn drew many formative lessons from the US). Scholar George Fredrickson has described both the United States and South Africa as Herrenvolk states:

More than the other multi-racial societies resulting from the "expansion of Europe" that took place between the sixteenth century and the twentieth, South Africa and the United States (most obviously the southern United States during the era of slavery and segregation) have manifested over long periods of time a tendency to push the principle of differentiation by race to its logical outcome -- a kind of Herrenvolk society in which people of color, however numerous or acculturated they may be, are treated as permanent aliens or outsiders. [27]


Fredrickson drives the historical analogies further to reveal the roots of both societies in racial conflict and bitter, often archviolence:

The basis for our first comparison, therefore, is the common fact of a long and often violent struggle for territorial supremacy between white invaders and indigenous peoples. Starting from the small coastal settlements of the seventeenth century, the whites penetrated into the interior of North America and southern Africa; by the end of the nineteenth century they had successfully expropriated most of the land for their own use by extinguishing the communal title into private property within a capitalistic economy. The indigenes were left with a collective ownership of only a small fraction of their former domain in the form of special reserves. Divesting the original inhabitants of their land was essential to the material success of these settler societies. [28]


What Fredrickson argues is that the very notion of American nationhood is interlaced with the notion of whiteness, as it is in South Africa. It will take generations of discrete experiences to disabuse these notions. (Indeed, in the American historical experience, not even a ruinous civil war, where some 600,000 people perished, successfully transformed the American mind, as the post-Reconstruction-era pogroms and lynchings of Blacks proved.)

The upshot of this Herrenvolk history is that white radicals of the 1960s were ill equipped to respond to the challenges of a Black revolutionary formation that claimed primacy of the revolutionary movement. In essence, they could not truly follow Black leaders.

Newton later recognized another reason for the failure of Black Panther efforts of the period; the radicals led no one:

Our hook-up with White radicals did not give us access to the White community because they did not guide the White community. The Black community did not relate to them, so we were left in a twilight zone where we could not enter the Black community with any real political education programs; yet we were not doing anything to mobilize Whites. [29]


These are concrete reasons why racial politics remain atomized in the dawn of the twenty-first century. People live, think, struggle, and die in different worlds, where their experiences, not to mention consciousness, rarely, if ever, mingle.

We live in a world that Huey saw decades ago, when he advanced his notion of "intercommunalism" amid the ridicule and derision of his contemporaries. He foresaw an era of "reactionary intercommunalism" when the US Empire strode the world largely unhindered.

The key to this US imperial expansion, Newton wrote in 1972, the year of Nixon's remarkable Beijing visit, would be the capitulation of the Soviet Union, an event that would have far-reaching impact:

Russia's first mistake came in the form of an incorrect analysis: that socialism could co-exist peacefully with capitalist nations. It was a blow to the communities of the whole world that led directly to the crippling of the people's ability to oppose capitalist/imperialist aggression and aggression's character. Remember, the capitalists claim that as soon as you agree to accept their trade and fall under their economic ideology, then they will agree to have peaceful co-existence.

The Russians allowed this to happen through naivete or treachery. Regardless of how this came about, they damaged the ability of the Third World to resist. They could have given the Third World every technique available to them long ago. With the high quality of Soviet development at a time when the United States was less advanced than it is today, the Russians could have built up the necessary force to oppose imperialism. Now, all ... they can do is whimper like whipped dogs and talk about peaceful co-existence so that they will not be destroyed. This presents the world with the hard fact that the United States is the only state power in the world. Russia has become, like all other nations, no more than a satellite of the United States. American rulers do not care about how much Russians say they are the Soviets, as long as Ford can build its motor company in their territory. [30]


According to Newton's analysis, both Vietnam and Russia amounted to "the overexpansion of capitalism, which turned into imperialism and then into an empire with its reactionary intercommunalism." [31] In essence, he concluded, it meant ''Americans themselves enjoying a higher quality of life than everybody else, at the expense of everybody else." [32]

The world that he foresaw is now upon us.

Panther Loose on the Coast

For white Americans, Philadelphia represents liberty's cradle; for Panthers, it was Oakland.

It was the homeland, the birthplace of the Black Panther Party. For a fifteen-year-old from Philly, it was almost like going to heaven:

Although National Headquarters was in the tony town of Berkeley, the gritty port city of Oakland was the real shebang. That was where Huey grew up, it was where the Party came into being, and where most of the dirtiest fighting took place in the formative experiences of the organization.

I longed to go there and, one day, was sent there to sell some papers. I was thrilled.

When I got to West Oakland, I was struck by several things: first, the ordinariness of it; second, I was again amazed at what folks considered ghetto, and how that term is often relative. Their houses, semi-detached and surrounded by green carpets of grass, closely resembled the houses in Philadelphia's West Oak Lane neighborhoods, which were seen by the ghetto residents of Philly as good living. Compared to the fine homes in the nearby hills, they were, of course, of lesser quality. Third, I was struck by the quiet level of hostility I sensed when I tried to sell the newspaper around the community. I had sold papers in Philadelphia, in the Bronx, in Queens, and in Harlem, yet this was the first time I sensed such resistance. Nobody verbalized anything, but it was written on too many street faces to ignore. Why? I never learned why, but in retrospect, one wonders, was this an early reaction to an emergent "black ops" phase of the Party underground? No one spoke about it, but there was something there, quiet, yet discernible.

However unremarkable it seemed to me, it reminded me that, relatively speaking, ghettos still possess a certain sameness about them; there is an unmistakable psychic aura of funk about them.

It was indeed in Oakland that I received my introduction to the local constabulary; but it was not in the green ghetto of west Oakland.

As the next week's issue of The Black Panther had been laid out and was en route to the printers, a Panther sister named Sheila and I were sent out to hawk papers. We opted to hit downtown Oakland. She took one side and I took another. When I crossed the street, I did so in the middle of the block instead of at the crosswalk, where a lonely light stood. I didn't hesitate to scoot across the street, as I had all my life in Philly if the traffic were light.

No sooner had I crossed when a cop car rolled up. Two dark-uniformed cops exited the sedan and explained that I had violated an Alameda County ordinance against jaywalking.

Jaywalking?! I was dumbfounded. I was under arrest for jaywalking. Moments later so was Sheila because she had crossed after the cops pulled up to see what was going on.

I had yearned to see Oakland, I thought, now I'm gonna meet the most vicious, racist pigs in America. I expected to get whipped unconscious by these creeps in black uniforms.

The cops handcuffed me and Sheila, as I braced for a pummeling or a rain of racist insults. The cops spoke with such politeness that I was indeed shocked. "Sir," this; "Sir," that; "Ma'am," this; "Ma'am," that; I had never heard cops talk this way, either in Philadelphia, or in the Bronx. "Watch your head, sir " as I was placed in the vehicle, cuffed.

I looked at Sheila, and I just knew that when we got to the station, or precinct, or whatever they called it out here, the blackjacks, the kicks, the punches would rain like water.

To my utter surprise, they never came.

Our newspapers were seized, and, as we were juveniles, we were taken to the Alameda County Juvenile Hall.

It was then that the real meaning of what had happened dawned on me. What does it matter how polite the cops are when they lock you up and put you in jail -- for jaywalking!?

If we were not selling copies of The Black Panther, would this have happened?

I don't think so. They were beating us, softly.

We were placed in small rooms; while not classic, barred cells, they were clearly rooms constructed for restraint. We signaled to each other that we would agitate for a phone call and when we were able, she called her mother who lived in Berkeley and could come to pick her up.

Sheila's mom appeared shortly thereafter, a small bespectacled white lady (it was a day of shocks!), who nervously hustled her baby out of the clink. Sheila looked guilty as she left, as if she didn't want to leave her Panther brother behind. But there was little choice. She bravely curled her fingers into a Black Power salute and raised it to her comrade.

I smiled and returned it.

I would miss her, but I was glad to see her escape the pig's clutches.

Sheila went home.

I went to jail.

It was a juvenile jail (as I was under twenty-one), but it was a jail nonetheless.

I was remanded to the juvenile authority, because, unlike Sheila, I was some 3,000 miles away from home. There was no way my mom would, or even could, come pick me up.

For starters, she hadn't the slightest idea where I was.

While I called home occasionally, and even came ny the house as often as I could, I lived with the Party and was cautious about breaking security by letting her know my every move. It would only worry her, which I didn't want to do unnecessarily.

I loved her like crazy.

But I also loved life in the Party.

As Sheila lift, and I went through the processing stage, I was placed in a single-cell-like enclosure.

I thought about all the other Panthers in cells all across the nation, Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins, facing death in New Haven; the Panther 21 facing centuries in New York s gulags; the Panthers who were recently busted in a southern California shoot-out at the LA chapter; brothers and sisters like me; and thoughts of them warmed me like a campfire near the soul.

They were facing real drama! Here I was, for jaywalking! I had nothin' to holler about. I stretched out on the cool, plastic-covered mattress and slept.

I had just lain down and shut my eyes, it seemed, when I heard the sounds of the door being opened. I forced myself awake and stood up, feeling that an attack could come at any moment.

A big dude appeared at the door and began barking orders at me. I looked at him like he was speaking Korean. The only word I understood was "strip," and I certainly wasn't going to do that. I had heard about prison rape.

"Strip," he said again, to which I again replied, "No!"

He returned five minutes later and seemed genuinely surprised that I hadn't removed a single stitch of clothing. "Boy, didn't I tell you to strip?" he thundered.

"Man, I ain't doin' a damn thing! We gon' fight!" I answered.

"Well, you ain't gettin' no shower then!" he announced angrily and slammed the door shut.

Shower? What was this dude talkin' about? It never dawned on me that he worked there. He wore regular clothes. I just thought he was a guy.

Several days later, I was taken to the counselors office at the center, and a man began asking questions about who I was, why wasn't I in school, and so forth. I explained to him that was working for the Black Panther Party.

At one point he said, "Young man, don't you know that we can keep you here until you're twenty-one years old?"

I looked him in the eye and said, "So what? When I get out, there'll still be a Black Panther Party!"

He shook his head.

Moments later, he was dialing the phone to my mother's house in Philadelphia, asked to verify her name, and passed the phone over to me.

"Mama?"

"Wes -- Is that you?"

''Yes, Mama --''

"Boy -- What did I hear this man sayin' --? Where are you?"

"I'm in Alameda County, Califor --"

"Cali -- what? Boy, what are you doin' --? You better carry yho narrow behind -- Boy! What in the Sam Hill -- Cali-What?!?!?!"

"Mama -- mama -- I'm workin' out here ona paper, for the Party -- you know --"

"Boy -- How long you been out California?"

''Yeah, Mom -- I'm OK --"

"OK? -- Didn't I just hear this man say you was callin' from some kinda jail --?"

"Mama -- Mama -- I'm in heref or jaywalkin'- -- jaywalkin'! Out here they real strict about traffic laws ... I just crossed the street, and --"

"'Crossed the street?' -- Boy, you done crossed the whole country! -- Wes -- mph! Boy, if you don't get yho bony behind back here --"

'Mama -- Mama! I can't, Mom -- I can't -- I'm doin' important work, Mom."

"Like gettin 'yhoself locked up, boy? How important is that?"

"Mama -- It's gonna be alright -- we got lawyers out here that are real good -- This ain't nothin' but harassment -- when the last time you heard about somebody gettin' busted for jaywalkin: huh, Mom?"

"Boy -- umph, umph, umph! Boy you somethin' else, boy -- I'm tellin, you, Califor -- ! -- umph, umph, umph! Boy, you are crazy, you know that, donchu?"

Her maternal fear was melting to pride that her boy was so aggressively doing something for our people. She was afraid. She was angry. But she was pleased as well. I could hear it in her voice, her high country laugh. She knew that I felt deeply about what I was doing.

As I listened to her pride and love override her fear, I thought about the many good, church-going (or temple-going) folks who were probably simpatico with the sweet teachings of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but who, deep down, were proud if the moxie shown by the Panthers. They might not help with the Breakfast Program. But when they read of us, or thought of us, in the private chambers of the heart, the mind, the soul, they admired us. Once I heard that tone in her voice, her deep sense of humor, I knew I was alright. Unlike perhaps thousands of youth throughout this vast state, I wasn't here for robbery or rape, I wasn't here for hurting my people; I wasn't here for "crime." I was here for defending my people. I was here because I was a member of the Black Panther Party.

Within a few weeks, I was back out, no worse for wear.

I was out if jail and back in the swing of things. I was working on the paper, selling them and editing stuff coming in from all the branches and chapters across the country.

My boss, editor Judi Douglass, seemed pleased with my work, and that pleased me. We worked hard to make the paper the best it could be.

This young Panther was home. [33]


The days were long.

The risks were substantial.

The rewards were few.

Yet the freedom was hypnotic. We could think freely, write freely, and act freely in the world.

We knew that we were working for our people's freedom, and we loved it.

It was the one place in the world that it seemed right to be.
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Re: We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, by M

Postby admin » Thu Jun 12, 2014 7:07 am

CHAPTER FIVE: "Huey's Party" Grows

The main function of the party is to awaken the people and to teach them the strategic method of resisting the power structure.
-- Huey P. Newton [1]


UPON REFLECTION, IT would appear somewhat unlikely that Huey P. Newton would be the prime mover in the formation, development, and construction of a revolutionary group like the Black Panther Party.

An intense, shy, small-framed man, preacher's son, small-time thief, street tough, pretty boy, illiterate, and, years later, Ph.D., and, still later, drug addict, Newton was a man of endless complexity whose character oscillated between the brilliant and the nihilistic.

As a youth, Huey hated to leave his house, because older boys would pick on him and call him names. In a revealing discussion with his former partner and one-time head of the BPP, Elaine Brown, the private Huey emerges as a man consumed with fear:

"A lot of what I am has to do with fear," he said to me out of nowhere one of those first nights I came to see him in Oakland. ''And what I understand about fear. I wasn't afraid only in the Soul Breaker. Like you, I've been afraid much of my life."

"You know, niggers on the street don't like 'pretty niggers,'" he continued, making me wonder whether he was speaking about him or me.

"They called me 'pretty' and 'high yellow nigger' and other motherfuckers. The problem with niggers on the street, of course, is that they don't know what to hate for their oppression." [2]


To conquer his profound fear of the streets, Huey sought the counsel of his older brother, Walter, who schooled him with valuable insights into both street and life realities. Walter explained that the guy who seemed like the biggest bully was often the guy with the biggest fear. "He was probably more afraid than you," Walter reasoned.

The older Newton taught the younger how to walk, how to talk, and how to fight. In essence, he taught him to confront and to overcome his fear.

It worked, to a degree, but Huey would confide to Elaine, "I was still scared every day." [3]

He countered that fear by becoming the aggressor:

Every blood on the street was a potential threat, unless I knew he was a friend. After my first fights, though, I recognized that they bled like me .... By the time I became a teenager, I was challenging the first fool that looked at me wrong, and walking around with an ice pick in a paper bag. [4]


Youngsters on the street were forced to look at the skinny pretty boy differently -- as "Crazy Huey." [5]

Those preteen rites of passage sank deep roots in the man, who learned important lessons about how the world worked. These terrifying yet trans formative years and core experiences may have taught Huey that things are not always what they seem: bullies are often cowards, fear must be confronted, force yields to force, and if one isn't a friend, fight him.

While Newton graciously credits his friend Bobby Seale with the co-founding and development of the Black Panther Party, it seems self-evident that the intense, driven, acutely brilliant, self-conscious, and mercurial Newton was the motivating force. Seale seems more peripheral in the endeavor.

To state the case quite another way, Huey was the active principle in their partnership. Huey was fire; Bobby was smoke. It seemed that while Bobby encouraged Huey, Huey inspired Bobby. Bobby may have acted as stable foundation for the fiery youth known as Crazy Huey. But if Huey had not existed, it seems unlikely that the Black Panther Party would have become the revolutionary, hard-edged, aggressive entity that it became, or perhaps even come into existence at all.

One of the first things done was to set forth a program, a statement of objectives for the group. With little variation, the set of objectives would remain in the form written by Newton in the first two weeks of October 1966. There is no question as to who wrote the lion's share of the text, for as Seale relates:

From the first of October to the fifteenth of October, in the poverty center in North Oakland, Huey and I began to write out a ten-point platform and program of the Black Panther Party. Huey himself articulated it word for word. All I made were suggestions. [6]


This short set of ideas would be memorized, recited, and taught by tens of thousands of Party members, across the nation and around the world, for over a decade.

The 10-Point Program

The list of ten major objectives was split into two sections, in a form that brought to mind the long printed section of the Nation of Islam's newsweekly, Muhammad Speaks, entitled "What We Want -- What We Believe." In it we see the thought process and concerns of the twenty-four-year-old Newton, as well as his hoped-for objectives:

October 1966 Black Panther Party Platform and Program What We Want What We Believe

1. 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.

2. We want full employment for our people.

We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the white American businessmen will not give full employment, then the means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community so that the whole of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.

3. We want an end to the robbery by the capitalist [*] of our Black Community. (*in the original text, the term "white man" was used; it was changed shortly thereafter to "capitalist"]

We believe that the racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules was promised 100 years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass murder of black people. W/e will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities. The Germans are now aiding the Jews in Israel for the genocide of the Jewish people. The Germans murdered six million Jews. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of over fifty million black people; therefore, we feel this is a modest demand that we make.

4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.

We believe that if the white landlords will not give decent housing to our black community, then the housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that our community, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for its people.

5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.

We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.

6. We want all black men to be exempt from military service.

We believe that Black people should not be forced to fight in the military service to defend a racist government that does not protect us. We will not fight and kill other people of color in the world who, like black people, are being victimized by the white racist government of America. We will protect ourselves from the force and violence of the racist police and the racist military, by whatever means necessary.

7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of black people.

We believe we can end police brutality in our black community by organizing black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our black community from racist police oppression and brutality. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States gives a right to bear arms. We therefore believe that all black people should arm themselves for self-defense.

8. We want freedom for all black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.

We believe that all black people should be released from the many jails and prisons because they have not received a fair and impartial trial.

9. We want all black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.

We believe that the courts should follow the United States Constitution so that black people will receive fair trials. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives a man a right to be tried by his peer group. A peer is a person from a similar economic, social, religious, geographical, environmental, historical and racial background. To do this the court will be forced to select a jury from the black community from which the black defendant came. We have been, and are being tried by all-white juries that have no understanding of the "average reasoning man" of the black community.

10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace. And as our major political objective, a United Nations-supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony in which only black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national destiny.

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.


This simple list of objectives gave Panthers in whatever part of the country they found themselves, the basis for organizing and working with a broad cross-section of the community-for students, the platform's point five would apply; for prisoners, point eight; and so on.

The full platform and program, usually accompanied by a photo of Newton bearing a shotgun, would be reprinted in every issue of The Black Panther newspaper and would be foremost in the minds of every person who joined the Party.

Beyond Program

The 10-Point Program, required to be memorized by people joining the Party, reflects the nationalist origins of the Party and the positions articulated by Malcolm X before his assassination. Many of the points also reflect Huey's intense study of and fascination with the law, as evidenced by his citations of the US Constitution, a verbatim excerpt of the Declaration of Independence, and his call for a UN-supervised plebiscite.

But the program, while central to the Party, was not the ideology of the Party; it was more of an organizing tool. It was a way of getting folks to think about change, and it proposed solutions to problems faced by Black folks across the nation.

What was the ideology of the Black Panther Party?

It depends on which period of its existence, for the Party was always in a process of development and change.

While the Party, as we have seen, began as a staunchly nationalist formation, following in the footsteps of Malcolm, other external influences forced a re-evaluation of those earlier positions.

Cultural Opponents

In the Party's earliest days, the opponents of the Newton-led Black Panther Party for Self-Defense came from the Black Panther Party -- of Northern California! This formation was a nationalist one, but opposed the BPPFSD's stance on weapons on the grounds that the Oakland group was prematurely paramilitary. It proposed a more political, as in electoral, orientation. The Oakland group replied with Mao's dictum, "Political power grows out of the barrel of the gun." [7] Oakland confronted the San Francisco-based group, and by the end of 1967, the Frisco group dissolved. Some joined their former rivals. Others simply ceased their activities. [8] Another San Francisco-based group, Black House, co-founded by the well-known, newly sprung Eldridge Cleaver, was more attracted to cultural affairs than political affairs. Among its most prominent supporters were Black playwrights Amiri Baraka and Ed Bullins. Another playwright, Earl Anthony (who later admitted he was a snitch!), noted that the Black House was "most critical" of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and opposed their politics. [9]

The Black Panther Party confronted their opposition with its usual audacity. Armed Panthers entered the Black House headquarters and ordered its members evicted. They left the premises, and the BPPFSD "occupied" the site. [10]

The Party's early conquests made it ill equipped for the conflicts with the United Slaves (US) organization, headed by the Black scholar Maulana "Ron" Karenga. While the Party had easily absorbed or neutralized opposition in the Bay Area, it had trouble when it tried to expand into Los Angeles. The US organization had grown in the wake of the Watts Rebellion and had assembled a group of young men trained in self-defense techniques, called Simba Waehuka (Young Lions in KiSwahili, an Eastern and Central African language). The young men were fiercely loyal to Karenga and even dressed in imitation of their leader, with bald heads and clistinctive Fu Manchu-style mustaches. Earl Anthony, who had joined the Party in Oakland, was invested with the rank of captain and sent to Los Angeles to organize a BPP chapter. Unknown to the Party however, Anthony was a paid informant for the FBI. In fact, in furtherance of the Bureau's mission, he worked feverishly to sabotage and worsen relations between the newly emergent Los Angeles Panthers and the US organization. While posing as a loyal captain of the Black Panther Party, Anthony was reporting to his FBI handlers every conversation of consequence and providing valuable intelligence about the inner workings and weaknesses of both the BPP and the US organization. The FBI wanted conflict between the two groups, and Anthony slavishly complied.

Despite Anthony's duplicity and due in a large part to the work of Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter, a native of Los Angeles and the Deputy Minister of Defense of the city's chapter, who relied upon his old ties with the notorious Slauson street gang, the Panthers were soon able to organize a strong chapter.

What began as a territorial conflict quickly developed into an ideological one.

The US organization had developed a significant power base in both the Black Congress (a gathering of black groups in LA) and at the University of California at Los Angeles, where a struggle was brewing over who would be named director of the new Black Studies Program. Carter and his Panther ally, Deputy Minister of Information Jon Huggins, were both students of UCLA's High Potential Program, and both were angling to have influence on the choice of director of the Black Studies Program. The director could become a powerful source of political and ideological influence in the Black intellectual community. Karenga, however, was equally determined to have a say in the outcome.

Despite the Party's relative novelty in the city, and perhaps because of it, the Panther delegates were gaining influence and support both on campus and in the greater community. When meetings offered no solution that the two groups could agree on, two US members opted for the final solution to the persistent Panther problem. They shot Bunchy and Jon to death on January 17, 1969.

M. Wesley Swearingen, an FBI agent who worked in the Los Angeles racial squad, was told that the FBI used t\vo of its informants, George and Larry Stiner, who were members of the US organization, to kill Bunchy and Jon. Swearingen has written about the informant who made this data public:

Darthard Perry, a self-admitted and publicly acclaimed informant for the FBI, flied an affidavit in a Black Panther Party lawsuit against the government charging that he knew that the United Slaves members who were responsible for the murders of the Panthers were FBI informers. Perry claims that the murders committed by the Stiner brothers, who were convicted and sent to jail in 1969, and their subsequent escape in the 1974 prison break from San Quentin, were engineered by the FBI. I then discovered the unthinkable, that FBI informants had actually been instructed by FBI agents to assassinate several other Black Panther members.

As of 1992, the Stiner brothers were still listed as fugitives. Either the FBI has disposed of the Stiners or they are in the FBI's Witness Protection Program. I know that Darthard Perry was an FBI informant and that he is telling the truth about the FBI. [11]


The slaying of Bunchy and Jon left the field open for the US organization to control the UCLA post. It left it also with considerable political problems, as both slain Panthers were seen popularly as martyrs who gave their young lives in defense of the Revolution and the Party. The US organization won the battle, so to speak, but lost the larger war, as the Party grew in the hearts of people, both in Los Angeles and across the nation.

The assassinations of Bunchy and Jon condemned the very notion of cultural nationalism for the Party; it became anathema. The Party tried to purge old ideas that seemed similar to it. In the newspaper, adherents were derided as "pork chop nationalists." The Party suspected members of the US organization were paid agents of the State, and opposed both their ideological positions and their political stances. Huey would be critical of the tendency, calling it:

[R]eaction [to] instead of responding to political oppression. The cultural nationalists are concerned with returning to the old African culture and thereby regaining their identity and freedom. In other words, they feel that the African culture will automatically bring political freedom. Many times cultural nationalists fall into line as reactionary nationalists. [12]


What the conflict also did was serve as a catalyst for further thinking and ideological development. The US organization conflict was a spur for the Party to look at alternatives to the empty Africanisms that were expressed by the cultural nationalists' wearing of African dress, the adoption of African names, and the acquisition of a smattering of KiSwahili. While the idea of revolutionary nationalism held sway for a time, it had to give way to a kind of revolutionary internationalism. This was only logical, given the persuasive international and ideological influences that the Party leadership was exposed to.

Revolutionary Internationalism

The Party, and its top leaders, influenced as they were by the West Indian psychiatrist Dr. Frantz Fanon; modern China's revolutionary founding father, Mao Tse-Tung; Latin America's martyred "Che" Guevara; Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah; and others, saw internationalism as a natural, logical development from the increasingly co-opted nationalism of the period. This co-optation could perhaps be best seen in Richard Nixon bizarrely proclaiming "Black Power!" as he endorsed his notion of Black capitalism. [13]

The Party looked to liberation struggles and revolutions around the world as inspiration and guidance for the Revolution that would one day emerge in the heart of the United States. All around the world, people were fighting for their freedom from foreign, usually colonial, domination. Africa, Asia, and Latin America were ablaze with the fiery light of rebellion. They seemed like external counterpoints to Watts and Newark. In the so-called First World, students, veterans, women, and Blacks were loudly and openly challenging the repressive and well-oiled machinery of the status quo.

As campuses became places of challenge and as the antiwar movement began to swell in the streets with the well-to-do and white working class, the Black Panther Party heard echoes of anti-imperialist resistance from almost every quarter.

The Revolution seemed as inevitable as tomorrow's newspaper headlines.

As a direct result of its increasing internationalism and the heightening conflicts with State forces, many of the Party's leading members sought refuge abroad. Eldridge Cleaver, facing attempted- murder charges stemming from the April 1968 shoot-out in Oakland in which Party treasurer Bobby Hutton was killed and fearing certain assassination in prison, clandestinely made his way to Cuba. Captain Bill Brent, an associate from Cleaver's prison days, would hijack a plane to Cuba where he remains to this day. National Field Marshal Don Cox would arrive at the Party's international headquarters in Algiers in March 1970. Shortly thereafter, his pregnant wife would join him there. New York Panthers Sekou Odinga and Larry Mack, escaping the mass arrests crippling New York's leadership through the infamous Panther 21 case, would hijack a plane to Guinea and then make their way to Africa's northern coastal city of Algiers by June 1970. Odinga would later welcome his bride and twin sons to the offices there. Former Panther 21-accused Michael "Cetawayo" Tabor, and his wife, Newton's personal secretary, Connie Mattl1ews, went to live in Algiers in spring 1971.

By the fall of 1974, even Huey ewton himself would begin his life in exile, as he fled the threat of several outstanding felony charges by making a new home in Cuba's countryside. The founder of the Black Panther Party would not return to the US for three years.

For many Panthers, revolutionary internationalism meant the option of refuge from the repressive apparatus of the State.

But revolutionary internationalism was more than securing a safe haven. This ideological stance meant supporting liberation movements in their struggle against the US imperialists. For the Party's information chief, this meant communicating, as directly as possible, with those fighting for the Empire, and trying to convince them to battle against US imperialism.

The Party's paper ran a provocative letter penned by Eldridge Cleaver entitled, "Letter to My Black Brothers in Vietnam." In it the Minister of Information appealed to Black soldiers directly, explaining that they shouldn't fight against the Vietnamese, who weren't the enemies of Black folks. Rather, Black soldiers sent to Vietnam should "start killing the racist pigs who are over there giving you orders." [14]

This internationalist stance perhaps saw its most extreme expression in the controversial "Pilots for Panthers" program, when the Party offered to trade imprisoned Panthers for captive US Army soldiers and officers in the custody of the National Liberation Front of Vietnam (NLF). A famous photo was published in The Black Panther featuring a well-tanned BPP Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver, accompanied by four members of the NLF above the caption: "In Solidarity Against A Common Enemy-the NLF of South Vietnam and the Black Panther Party FF [Freedom Front] Babylon." [15] It was classic Eldridge.

Yet their revolutionary internationalism wasn't always on the receiving end. Newton did more than offer a POW exchange with the Vietnamese. He offered an undetermined number of Black Panther troops to aid the Vietnamese in their struggle against the US Empire. Indeed, the Deputy Commander of the South Vietnamese People's Liberation Army, Nguyen Thi Dinh, accepted the offer and, in a letter to BPP leadership, wrote: "With profound gratitude, we take notice for your enthusiastic proposal; when necessary, we shall call for your volunteers to assist US." [16]

This revolutionary internationalist position was echoed in other work done by Cleaver, who announced BPP support for the Palestinian struggle, and, in response to a query about the Party's position on Al Fatah, declared, "We support them. Absolutely! And revolutionaries all over the world. We see our battle as one and the same -- a fight against imperialism and capitalism -- and that fight can't be divided." [17]

Weeks later, Cleaver would appear publicly with Al Fatah's head, Yasser Arafat, at a support conference. [18]

While Al Fatah and BPP officials took advantage of this powerful propaganda opportunity, it was but another expression of revolutionary internationalism. In an interview with CBS news reporter Richard C. Hottelet, Fatah's Algerian representative, Abu Bassem, announced that Ai Fatah's high command accepted his recommendation to train Black Panthers in urban guerrilla tactics and sabotage. According to Hottelet, Bassem said, "When the time comes, the Panthers will carry out quick and deep strikes in the United States, assassinations of men responsible for the policy of discrimination from high levels to low, and sabotage to factories and capitalist institutions." [19]

Although it is doubtful that this training ever occurred, in this era of revolutionary internationalism such rhetoric didn't seem extraordinary.

This revolutionary internationalism was more than merely skin deep, as may be seen in the educational materials that every Party member was expected to study. Panthers were expected to read these materials so that they could intelligently discuss issues at weekly Political Education (PE) classes and also to simply learn the science of revolution from those people who had lived it. Thus, almost every Panther had a personal copy of the Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, known colloquially as the Red Book for its bright red plastic slipcover, and its Marxist-Leninist-Maoist (that is, red) orientation. The Red Book, featuring brief excerpts from the lengthy writings of Mao, was translated from Mandarin Chinese into clear, accessible English and thus had an enormous impact on the political development and ideological perspective of those Panthers with little formal schooling. A more challenging and perhaps even more significant text was Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth.

While Mao was influential, Fanon was inspirational, for we knew he was, above all things, a Black man, from the Americas, who was an integral part of a real-life revolution. Fanon, this son of Africa, was a Black man waging a war against imperialists in North Africa, with his mind and his hands. His words had a deep and abiding resonance for us. The importance of Fanon to Party members can be seen in the observations of a leading Central Committee member, Kathleen Neal Cleaver, who served in the Party's International Section in Algiers for several years. She termed his influence "profound":

The crucible of civil war forged the writings of Frantz Fanon, the Black psychiatrist from Martinique who fought alongside Algerian revolutionaries for independence from France. His books became available in English just as waves of civil violence engulfed the ghettoes of America, reaching the level of insurrection in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. Fanon died in 1961, a year before Algeria obtained the independence he had given his life to win, but his brilliant, posthumously published work The Wretched of the Earth became essential reading for Black revolutionaries in America and profoundly influenced their thinking. Fanon's analysis seemed to explain and to justify the spontaneous violence ravaging Black ghettoes across the country, and linked the incipient insurrections to the rise of a revolutionary movement. [20]


In explaining the power of Fanon's analysis, Cleaver illustrates why the Black Panther Party was not a civil rights organization, but a liberation organization, dedicated to revolutionary transformation rather than reformist window-dressing (otherwise known as the installation of "black faces in high places"):

The opening sentence of The Wretched of the Earth said, "National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to a people ... whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon." Fanon's penetrating dissection of the intertwining of racism and violence in the colonial scheme of domination was compelling to Blacks fighting in America; it provided a clearly reasoned antidote to the constant admonition to seek changes peacefully. Fanon explained how violence was intrinsic to the imposition of White colonial domination, and portrayed the oppressed who violently retaliate as engaged in restoring human dignity they were stripped of by the process of colonization. His analysis of the tortured mentality of the colonized person and the therapeutic nature of fighting to destroy colonial domination provided radical Blacks in America with deep insights-into both their own relationship to a world-wide revolution underway and to the profound kinship between their status in America and that of colonized people outside America. [21]

"Huey's Party"?

True to the patterns of Huey's youth, the Party chose to concentrate on the biggest bully on the block -- the United States. The Black Panther Party opposed the war, as did many, many others. Yet none of the antiwar groups went as far as to offer troops to the Peoples Republic of Vietnam, as did the Black Panther Party.

As the Party began to oppose nationalism, it took positions that reflected that perspective. If nationalism, per se, is wrong, then allegiance to the US nation is also wrong. Many of those in the antiwar movement were unprepared to take that next step.

That said, the antiwar movement was a burgeoning one that members of the government and the administration took seriously. Nixon aide Alexander Haig commented in an interview with the French journal Politique Internationale that, "There is a Jane Fonda on every doorstep." [22] Fonda, at the time a popular Hollywood actress, was reviled by some Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) types as "Hanoi Jane" because of her antiwar activism and trips to Vietnam. Haig's comment may reflect a governmental paranoia, but among activists the FBI was intentionally stoking paranoia. The FBI directed agents to "enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and ... get the point across that there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox." [23]

The term "Huey's Party" arose when Big Bob Bay, one of Huey's personal bodyguards and a former Captain from West Oakland, became a personal emissary from Newton to the New York branch in the Bronx. Big Bob, as his name suggests, was a mountain of a man. He stood well over six foot four and tipped the scales at around 300 pounds. He didn't walk; he lumbered, from side to side, like a grizzly.

As one of Huey's oldest friends, and a dyed in-the-wool Panther, Big Bob regarded any deviation from proper Party ideology or form as more a personal than a political affront.

He became well-known among New York Panthers and dreaded for his fits of temper. He reflected an unbending allegiance to the Minister of Defense, and his countrified Californi-ese could be heard bellowing in offices throughout the five boroughs: "Nigga, I ain't lettin' you do nuthin' that'll fuck up this Party! Uh-Uhn! Not this Party, not Huey P. Newton's Party!"

Big Bob's reference was more than rhetorical, for, in fact, in essence, in people's heads, it was Huey's Party. He was the first Panther in the hearts and minds of his comrades.

We were molded in his image.

We read his words and tried to emulate his resistance.

This held true from members of the highest Party body, the Central Committee, to the lowest-level Panther-in-Training.

While this was not the Party's official position, it was how it lived in the real world.

That meant that Huey's political insights and developments became ours, to the extent that we could follow and understand them. When a major ideological shift was taking place, we followed it, even if we didn't particularly agree with it.

Huey had spoken -- period.

That almost-blind faith in the guidance of Newton would have serious and long-lasting repercussions.

People read The Black Panther extremely closely to follow ideological developments.

When papers came in from the airport, fresh from the Party's printers, we would take the time, either in the office or in the field, to read the paper so that we wouldn't be caught sleeping. We never knew when a political opponent would try to engage us in ideological argument, so we had to be ready to defend the Party's positions. That meant we had to read our paper, preferably before we sold it to others. It also meant that we should read the publications of other groups to allow us to see where they were coming from. That habit came in handy to one young Panther assigned to paper-selling duty in a bustling section of the Bronx:

The 3rd Avenue El in the Bronx was a major thoroughfare in the borough, and as such was a prime site for one trying to sell The Black Panther. I had recently been assigned to the Bronx office and in an attempt to sell my fifty copies, I chose a stop on the line where the foot traffic would be quite heavy, as people descended from the elevated train ride. At roughly the same time, another young Black man elected to stop at the busy corner with the intention of selling his wares.

His wares were essentially the same as mine -- newspapers. There, however, the similarity ended, for it was clear from his product that competition was inevitable.

The young man wore a dark-green iridescent suit and a brightly colored bow tie. His hair was cut close to his scalp in the "hustler" style, with a thin part cut in, his face shaved hairless. He carried with him a multi-colored plastic shopping bag that appeared to be filled with copies of Muhammad Speaks.

As I surveyed his wares, he was surveying mine. We looked at each other and understood that neither would relinquish the corner to the other. And so, we began selling in earnest. Shouts of 'Help us Free Huey!" mingled with "Salaam Aliekum, brother!" as we struggled to sell our product.

"Yho, brother! Find out what's happenin' that the white power structure ain't gonna tell ya! Check out The Black Panther -- only a quarter!"

"Salaam Aliekum, Sister! Come on back to your own! Read Muhammad Speaks! Twenty-five cents!"

For nearly an hour the sales continued, fed and famished by the flow of passersby debarking from the trains hissing to a stop overhead. After a while, we got into a conversation:

"Brother, you got to get with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and stop following those devils like Marx and Lenin and 'em. "

'Well, bro ' -- you should get with the Minister of Defense, Huey P. Newton, and the Black Panther Party."

"You should follow a Black man, brother, not some Jews like Marx and Lenin!"

'We revolutionaries, brother, and we study about revolutionaries from around the world. We don't care what race they is."

"I can see that, brother," glancing at a copy of The Black Panther, pointing to the cover picture of an Asian, full-haired man, "Who is that, brother?"

"That's Kim Il-Sung, the leader of North Korea, and a revolutionary."

"You see what I'm saying, brother? Here you go talking 'bout another guy! He ain't got nothin' to say to Black people, brother!"

"Well, if that's so, brother, why he in yho paper Muhammad Speaks?"

"What you talkin' 'bout, brother?" he asked, seemingly stunned by the question. I read and studied his paper quite regularly, for its layout, news, and commentary, but I doubted if he ever read any of ours. This seemed only logical for someone assigned to the East Coast Ministry of Information office, and I remembered reading this week's issue of Muhammad Speaks.

"Check it out, brother, in yho international news section."

In disbelief, he turned the pages until, sure enough, an article appeared bearing a photo of Kim Il-Sung. He looked at it, and then turned to me smiling.

"Yes, sir, brother. Yessir. Um-humm."

"And what we learned from him was the idea of Juche, a Korean word that means self-reliance!" [24]


To the average Panther, even though he worked daily in the ghetto communities of North America, his thoughts were usually on something larger than himself. It meant being part of a worldwide movement against US imperialism, white supremacy, colonialism, and corrupting capitalism. We felt as if we were part of the peasant armies of Vietnam, the degraded Black miners of South Africa, the fedayeen in Palestine, the students storming in the streets of Paris, and the dispossessed of Latin America. As Huey Newton refined the ideology from revolutionary internationalism to intercommunalism these feelings of solidarity continued.

More than any other Panther, the work of Eldridge Cleaver seemed to prove this theory beyond question.

The BPP Abroad

In July 1969, leading members of the Black Panther Party, led by Minister of Information Eldridge Cleaver, attended a Pan-African Cultural Festival in Algiers. Algeria would become home for the beleaguered Cleaver, who fled the US a year before to avoid a return to prison that he was convinced would result in his assassination. Out on bail for charges stemming from the April 6, 1968, shoot-out (which left the teenage Hutton dead and Cleaver wounded), the Party's information chief had traveled around the world, his FBI wanted poster his initial "passport," in his lonely exile from his American homeland. On behalf of the Party, Eldridge went to Beijing and to North Korea's spartan Pyongyang with a media delegation.

The Algerian government, its memory still fresh of its own brutal struggles under French colonialism, looked on the Cleaver delegation with favor. An official international headquarters was established in 1970 which had all the trappings of an embassy. An embassy not on behalf of the US government, or even the American people, but a symbol of an independent Afro-America with the Black Panther Party in a representative capacity for the growing Black liberation movement.

Kathleen Neal Cleaver, Party Communications Secretary and Eldridge's wife, would later write of the office's impressive functions and scope:

When the delegation returned to Algiers in September, the International Section of the Black Panther Party was formally opened. The Panthers invited representatives of all the liberation movements and socialist states to their villa, inaugurating their official establishment within the revolutionary diplomatic community in Algiers. The villa became a kind of embassy of the American revolution, receiving visitors from all over the world. Bur the Panthers found themselves essentially limited to serving as an information center, conveying news about revolutionary developments within the United States to their associates in Algiers and receiving information from all the movements represented in Algiers. The International Section of the Black Panther Party, however, turned into a magnet for an increasingly diverse crop of fugitives from the United States. [25]


The establishment of the international section in Algiers marked a coup for Eldridge just as the release on bail of Huey P. Newton on August 5 marked a major victory stateside. These events were high points of the Black Panther Party as a bona fide revolutionary organization of global import, and were the high watermark, too, of the American Black liberation movement. But all the news wasn't golden for Huey's Party. In July of 1969, the deeply negrophobic director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, called the Panthers "the greatest threat to internal security of the country" [26] and those words were having a chilling effect.

The comments came from a man now known as a virulent, racist anti-Semite, for his career was based on deep, perpetual fear-mongering that played quite well among American nativists. Hoover's almost half-century of dominance by fear, subterfuge, and official criminality, reflected his powerful status as head of a de facto "ministry of internal security" that routinely ran roughshod over a slew of criminal and constitutional laws. [27]

When he spoke those words, however, they were far more than the dark obsessions of one old, somewhat twisted man; they reflected the aims of a powerful government agency that was created in his narrow and white supremacist image -- the FBI.

Things were going well for the Party, and it was growing by leaps and bounds.

Things were going so well that they had to get worse.
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Re: We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, by M

Postby admin » Thu Jun 12, 2014 7:11 am

PART 1 OF 2

CHAPTER SIX: The Empire Strikes Back: COINTELPRO

History should teach us ... that in times of high emotional excitement, minority parties and groups which advocate extremely unpopular social or governmental innovations will always be typed as criminal gangs and attempts will always be made to drive them out.
-- Hugo Black, Associate Justice, US Supreme Court [1]


IF THE BLACK Panther Party was a Black rebel band (and it was), the State would, as has historically been the case, respond with repression (and it did). From the highest levels of government came threats of destruction and wild, exaggerated claims of the violence posed by the Black Panther Party. The incoming US Attorney General, John Mitchell, a law partner of the persnickety Richard M. Nixon, vowed to "wipe out the Black Panther Party by the end of 1969." [2] Mitchell was the head of the government department encompassing the FBI, and his threat was not empty. The longtime head of the nation's premier law enforcement agency, J. Edgar Hoover utilized the enormous powers of his agency to put meat on the bones of Mitchell's threat.

Hoover skillfully utilized not only the powerful bureaucracy that he built and controlled, but also the vast powers of the predominantly white corporate press to demonize the Black Panther Party in the eyes of most of America. This clever, cunning, and quite bigoted man used one of the most powerful weapons ever in the scabbard of a politician -- fear. The Black Panther Party, Hoover claimed, "represents the greatest threat to the internal security of the country." [3] Why did he claim this?

If Hoover was to be believed, the Black Panthers were "the most violent of all" the Black militant groups, and he lamented "that the Communist Party has not been able to control" them. What peeved the "minister of internal security" was his observation that "black militants are more or less a law unto themselves and want no leadership other than their own." One wonders why Hoover, an ardent anticommunist, would decry the lack of control by the Communist Party, or their self-leadership? Moreover, he testified, "leaders and representatives of the Black Panther Party travel extensively all over the United States preaching the gospel of hate and violence, not only to ghetto residents, but to students in colleges, universities and high schools as well." [4]

What seemed to bother the pugnacious Hoover most, then, was the political independence of the Panthers (and other "black militants") and his inability to use them to prove his long-held pet theories of communist infiltration and foreign control of Black revolutionary political movements. What angered him further was the Party's growing influence, not over "ghetto residents" but on white youth in the nation's educational institutions.

Which was the real "greatest threat"?

For, if the FBI chief was correct that the Black Panthers were teaching a "gospel of hate," isn't it unlikely that such a doctrine would find support on college campuses, which in the late 1960s were certainly overwhelmingly white institutions? There is then, clearly, something else that motivated the State in its scorched-earth campaign against an entity it deemed the greatest threat to internal security.

The problem wasn't that the Black Panther Party was a "hate-based group," but that it was not.

It wasn't that the organization had an ideological affinity to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. It wasn't that the Party was (in FBI-speak) "violence-prone."

These were mere pretexts.

Much to the chagrin of their nationalist contemporaries, the Black Panthers viewed themselves as internationalists and worked with people from a wide range of racial and ethnic groupings. Through the offices of its National Fronts Against Fascism, the Party had information and propaganda centers functioning in white communities. People who were reticent or afraid about going into the Black community could visit to read or purchase firsthand accounts of the revolution being waged in other parts of the Empire.

If you "hate" someone, you don't work with him.

One case study should give us some telling insight into whether it was the Black Panther Party or the groups that targeted them, the FBI and other government agencies, that operated as hate groups. Let us examine the remarkable career of Chairman Fred Hampton, the brilliant Chicago Panther and organizer of the Illinois chapter who, while barely twenty, had built one of the most impressive branches of the BPP in the nation.

As youth leaders in the Chicago NAACP, Hampton and his boyhood friend, Bobby Rush, felt that the integrationist, assimilationist-type group did not address sharply enough the challenges faced by the Black community. They were drawn to the open militance of the Black Panther Party, and that attraction would set the stage for a drama and political tragedy of epic proportions.

By all accounts, Hampton was a revolutionary who submitted his whole being to the ideology of the organization and the revolution. A gifted, engaging, and passionate speaker, Hampton's country-cadenced speech touched listeners with his own enthusiasm and youthful brio. He would organize, if given the opportunity, everybody, everywhere within earshot. He worked with the Young Lords, a street gang in Chicago, and inspired the young Puerto Ricans to organize into a collective, political organization. The Young Lords Party was born. He did similar work among other ethnic groups.

Elaine Brown, with all her sophistication and worldly wisdom, found herself moved to tears when she and Chief of Staff David Hilliard saw this young Panther leader in action:

Hundreds of Panthers were lined up in a West Side Chicago schoolyard, ready to start the day's work. "Chairman Fred" was making sure his chief of staff would see the good work the Illinois chapter was doing. Chicago Panthers, Fred explained, lined up that way every morning. It was a demonstration of discipline and commitment. Fred felt it was an inspirational way to get the day started. It was.

"I ain't gon' die slippin' on no ice!" Fred shouted into a bullhorn, walking up and down the aisles of Panthers like a Baptist preacher.

"I ain't gon' die slippin' on no ice!" Panthers shouted back.

"I ain't gon' die in no airplane crash!"

"I ain't gon' die in no airplane crash!" they responded in unison.

"I'm gon' die for the People!" the chairman continued, his fist high, the steam of his breath bursting into the bitter early morning cold.

"I'm gon' die for the People!" came the echo.

" 'Cause I live for the People!"

" ... live for the People!"

" 'Cause I'm high on the People!"

" ... high on the People!"

" 'Cause I love the People!"

" ... love the People!"

"Power to the People! Power to the People! Power to the People!" [5]


The legendary Chicago wind -- the chilling, mighty Hawk -- was cutting through the West Side at seven a.m., freezing Brown's cheeks, she recalls. But her cheeks were warmed by her tears as the surge of revolutionary love went through her like a wave.

But the FBI was also watching and listening. The organizing abilities of Hampton would fill them with alarm. Hampton worked with Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Asians, even poor white greasers -- anybody, everybody -- to build revolution. He worked with Black apolitical gangs, such as the notorious Blackstone Rangers, and had almost effected an alliance, until their leader, Jeff Fort, had misgivings. Perhaps Fort felt Hampton was a challenge to his power; perhaps he intuited that a political affiliation would pose serious dangers to his organization. Perhaps it was the influence of letters like this one, sent, unbeknownst to him, from the FBI and authorized by J. Edgar Hoover on January 30, 1969:

I'm not a Panther, or a Ranger, just black. From what I see these Panthers are out for themselves, not black people. I think you ought to know what they're up to, I know what I'd do if I was you. You might here [sic] from me again. [6]


At the same time that Fort was getting fake, FBI-generated brownmail, Panthers were getting mail from the same anonymous source, suggesting that Fort was planning to "off" Hampton.

To their credit, neither Fort nor Hampton reacted badly in response to these perceived provocations. Indeed, Hampton's courageous response was to go to Ranger headquarters to discuss this matter with Fort, and even though they discovered that neither had written the other, the damage was done. For, although this specific FBI brownmail attempt did not end in violence, it frustrated Hampton's objective of politicizing the Rangers and thereby bringing them, en masse, under Party discipline. Had he succeeded, over three thousand young men would have joined the Black Panther Party, and gangsters would have begun the transition to revolutionaries.

Both Hampton and Fort were the unwitting targets of the nefarious FBI COINTELPRO (COunter INTELligence PROgram) operation, ordered and authorized by Hoover.

While neither Hampton nor Fort were aware of the government activity tainting the wellsprings of their relationship, this was, in fact, one of hundreds of such operations occurring across America, designed with an overt political, and indeed racial, objective: to prevent Black unity and to prevent Black self-determination. In essence, the FBI functioned as political and race police -- agents for the preservation of white supremacy.

What were the FBI's written, declared objectives?

... to prevent the coalition of black nationalist groups ... prevent the rise of a "messiah" who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement ... prevent violence on the part of black nationalist groups ... prevent black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability ... prevent the long-range growth of militant black nationalist organizations especially among the youth. [7]


Under declassified government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act in the mid 1970s, it was learned that the FBI began its intrusive spying, interference, and destabilization of Black groups before the founding of the Black Panther Party, and even the period of ascendancy of the Black Liberation movement. Although it used the lie of investigating hate groups to justify its efforts, the FBI also snooped on those Black leaders who were sworn to nonviolence, like the Rev. Martin Luther Kings (Junior and Senior!). According to the FBI's own records, they taped Dr. King's personal calls, sent him fake letters, threatened his life, tried to blackmail him, and even wrote him suggesting he commit suicide.

COINTELPRO, between 1956 and 1971, engaged in 295 actions against Black groups, most of them against the Black Panther Party. [8] The FBI engaged in covert criminal activities, according to FBI veteran Wesley Swearingen, who participated in illegal break-ins of properties owned by the members of the Nation of Islam. On the basis of Hoover's pretextual claim that the NOI "disavow[ed]" allegiance to the US, the Attorney General approved wire-tap surveillance. In December 1956 this was taken by Hoover as a green light to run bag jobs, that is, illegal break-ins. Swearingen tells us:

[T]he only plausible reason for the FBI to break into the homes of members of the Nation of Islam was Hoover's hatred for African Americans and Hoover's desire to keep Elijah Muhammad from becoming a messiah for African Americans.

We bagged the residence of two Nation of Islam members and photographed membership lists and financial records, even though the Nation of Islam was not a threat to the U.S. government. I acted as the lookout for the bag jobs on members of the Nation of Islam while fellow agents broke into their homes. [9]


Let us not engage in the delusion that this action was undertaken by government agents who were performing a valuable national service for the greater good. Swearingen leaves no room to doubt whether he or his colleagues were knowingly ordered to violate the law against fellow American citizens:

We had no authority for the bag jobs we did, and so we in the FBI were the ones who violated the Constitution. When we started bag jobs on a black religious organization, I knew then that the FBI was out of control, but I could not stop it because no one would have believed me -- not even Hoover's most severe critics. If I had said anything, Hoover would have had me prosecuted for violating local burglary laws. [10]


The nation's premier law enforcement agency, one said to be investigating hate crimes, had itself been committing crimes motivated by hatred against Black Americans for decades. These crimes would pale beside other actions that the State would take against such alleged "citizens" in the years to come.

War Against the People

In 1919, the first director of the Bureau of Investigation (the forerunner of the FBI), J.W Flynn, aptly described his agency's objectives when he noted, "[the Bureau] required a vigorous and comprehensive investigation of anarchists and Bolshevists, along with kindred agitators -- advocating change in the present form of government." [11] In the government's own terms, those who advocated change in government were perceived as enemies, and actions were taken against them as if they were such. Through intimidation and the fear of incurring the subtle wrath of the unsleeping State, the history of governmental crime against its own citizens has been allowed to be buried in the dust and detritus of time.

When such crimes perpetrated by the government do reach the light, they are quickly plunged into darkness. They are hidden in thick government tomes of roughly a thousand pages that the average American, much less the naive youth under the tutelage of a harried, overworked, and underpaid history teacher, will never read and perhaps will never know exist. These sources provide telling and damning evidence of the depths of the government's secret wars against its own civilians. They also testify to the abject impotence of the political branches, notably the US Congress, to take meaningful action to stem the crimson tide of criminal practices conducted by the government itself! In this light, one sees the real structure beneath the apparent one: a police substructure that acts as a social and, indeed, political power unto itself, without even a hint of control by the political branches, despite public protestations and claims to the contrary.

Bold though they may be, these facts can be supported by a simple reading of documents produced by the US government, made public in hearings before Senate subcommittees, or made public by citizens' groups who acted on their own to "blow the whistle" on this intolerable state of affairs. [12]

Let us examine the evidence.

The year was 1922, and a freshman senator, Burton K. Wheeler, was on his way to Washington from Montana, partly due to the campaign efforts of the Non-Partisan League, a left-leaning coalition of Montanans who stood for good government. Senator Wheeler, truly new to the ways of Washington, criticized the corruption of the US Department of Justice (DO]) in speeches on the Senate floor. The Republican National Committee, apparently incensed at the whippersnapper's impertinence and armed with data supplied by the FBI, launched a series of attacks on Wheeler, among them the claim that while he was a US Attorney he had allowed Montana to become a "hotbed of treason and sedition." Meanwhile, G-men spied outside his home, while other FBI agents ransacked his offices on the Hill. Others tried to set him up with a pretty young trap in an Ohio hotel room. When these efforts failed, the DOJ launched a federal grand jury at him, and the freshman senator was indeed indicted for influence peddling to gain oil and gas leases for a friend.

It is worthwhile to note and here remember that this was a US senator, one of the most powerful figures in the pantheon of State power. Wheeler was eventually acquitted, and subsequent Senate hearings turned up the sources of the anti-Wheeler plot. The Bureau's director at the time, William J. Burns, testified that the Bureau was used in a vendetta against Wheeler because he criticized the Justice Department. Another witness told the committee that FBI agents openly acknowledged they wanted to "frame" the senator. [13] Members of Congress held hearings, several prominent people in the Bureau resigned, and all seemed right with the world. Yet the real question remained: what would have happened if the accused was not a member of the US Senate, but an average Joe? What if the FBI had been adroit enough to engineer a conviction in the senator's case? Indeed, what made the FBI and DOJ think they could do this, with virtual impunity, but their prior practice?

The powerful have resources that the powerless do not. The powerless suffer silently and often alone, and their hearings result in stone-faced denials or meaningless platitudes that preserve the prerogatives of power.

Preschool teacher Evelyn R. Sell was described by those who knew her as an intelligent, excellent teacher who was well qualified for her job. She also happened to be a socialist. She joined the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the late 1940s and had even run for various political posts under the banner of her group. This was a perfectly legal activity and a public one.

When she moved from Detroit, Michigan, and sought work in Austin, Texas, little did she know that the FBI and the Austin Police Department had engaged in an interstate, interagency conspiracy against her to ensure that she would not be hired for a job that even the FBI admitted she was "well qualified" for.

As documented in her FBI file of March 31, 1970, under the subtitle, "Evelyn Rose Sell, SM-SWP," which incidentally means, Subversive Matter-Socialist Workers Party, the Bureau comes to the following conclusion:

The decision not to issue a new contract or consider the subject further for employment after the termination of her current contract is based upon information received from [deleted] the Austin Police Department. [14]


Austin's School Board president at the time, a Mr. M.K. Hage, Jr., said that knowledge that someone was a socialist was sufficient grounds to fire them. [15]

When Mrs. Sell had the good luck to be hired elsewhere in the same field, the FBI strenuously sought to have her dismissed, visiting her supervisors at least three times, according to her file entries. Sell would later explain that her employers resented the heavy-handed tactics of the Bureau. "The HOC (Human Opportunities Corporation, a Head Start-like agency) directors were outraged by the visits." Sell added, "One of them told me that he was seriously considering filing a lawsuit against the FBI because of the harassing visits." [16]

In her personal files sat a letter from the parents' council of the program, which read, in part:

We wish to commend Mrs. Evelyn Sell ... for a job well done! The fairness and efficiency in her willingness to always make herself readily available if she could be of any help in any situation was quickly recognized. [17]


Mrs. Sell was seen as so much of an asset to the HOC that it was in their interest to ignore the whisperings of the FBI.

There were others, however, who were not as lucky as 1,Irs. Sell.

Morris Starsky was a professor of philosophy at Arizona State University. When a faculty committee at ASU met to consider whether to renew his teaching contract, the committee was influenced in its deliberations by the unseen presence of the FBI which sent an anonymous letter rife with slander against the educator.

An FBI memo of the period finds it "pretty obvious" who the target of their COINTELPRO ire in the area should be: "It is apparent that New Left organizations and activities in the Phoenix metropolitan area has received their inspiration and leadership almost exclusively from the members of the faculty in the Department of Philosophy at Arizona State University (ASU), chiefly assistant Professor MORRIS J. STARSKY." [18]

Without a doubt, Starsky was an outgoing, and active, activist. He helped organize ASU's first antiwar teach-in; he helped lead campus recognition for SDS (Students for a Democratic Society); he joined campus efforts to support the formation of a union for Chican@ laundry workers; and served as the faculty adviser for the Young Socialist Alliance and the Student Mobilization Committee (MOBE).

Members of ASU's administrative committees received slanderous letters signed by ''A Concerned Alumnus" that were actually sent from agents of the FBI and personally approved by J. Edgar Hoover. Notwithstanding this heavy-handed and duplicitous activity, the committee recommended unanimously that Starsky not be dismissed, but the state's Board of Regents had other ideas and refused to renew his contract.

In July 1970, Professor Starsky was out of a job. He subsequently lost two teaching posts in California for political reasons. Starsky would later describe his experience as "sort of like being found innocent and executed anyway." [19]

He asks, "What teacher is safe? What ideas would not subject a teacher to this kind of attack? Only U.S. government-approved ideas." [20]

In such a climate, in such a world, how can it be said that there was even the merest shadow of academic freedom -- or freedom period?

Cliff DeBerry was a Black laborer who was attracted to the socialist movement because he felt their ideas made sense. He was an average guy with high hopes for the future. What he didn't reckon on was the FBI.

When he joined the Socialist Workers Party and began speaking on their behalf in Harlem and in other communities, the agents of COINTELPRO took note and began to devise ways to scuttle his efforts, destabilize the growing coalition between Blacks and members of the SWP, and discredit the man.

When DeBerry became active in the labor movement and entered electoral politics in the SWP's name, the Bureau launched a self-described disruption program in October of 1963. Once again, an anonymous letter was prepared; this one revealed DeBerry had a prison record. The objective of the FBI is clearly reflected in a memorandum from the Director, to New York's Special Agent in Charge (SAC):

On 10/14/63, the anonymous letter authorized in relet was prepared on a manual typewriter utilizing commercially purchased stationery. The letter was mailed 10/14/63 from a suburb of NYC.

The Bureau will be advised if any tangible results are noted from this disruptive tactic.

The NY Local of the SWP is presently running a candidate for the position of Councilman-at-large in the borough of Brooklyn. A review is being conducted of CLIFTON DE BERRY's file to determine if there is anything derogatory in his background which might cause embarrassment to the SWP if publicly used. It is noted that on a previous occasion it was possible to have printed in a daily NY newspaper the prison record of an SWP election candidate.

If a review of DE BERRY's file reflects a disruptive move is possible, the Bureau will be advised. [21]


The anonymous letters were routed to news media in New York in an attempt to scuttle the DeBerry /SWP campaign. DeBerry lost the election.

Nor was the FBI interested only in disrupting the political career of the candidate, but also his economic life. As he told fellow SWP members, "I would get a job, and it would only last three days. I would go from one job to another, and it would be the same story. The FBI would visit my boss, and I would be fired." [22]

Only when he found a stubborn employer, who refused to be cowed by the FBI, did DeBerry manage to hang on to a job. He learned the craft of painting, which became his lifelong trade. Still the Bureau snoops would turn up every three or four days to "check up" on him. He worked with Malcolm X during his Harlem years, as the radicalized minister tried to develop his political and religious organizations (the Muslim Mosque, Ine. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity). The FBI tried a number of tactics to divide DeBerry's group from the followers of Malcolm X.

A final example which examines a COINTELPRO attack on a Black nationalist group apart from the Panthers, reveals the breadth and depth of the State's reach. Having learned that the head of the Black Liberators, a Black nationalist group in St. Louis, was physically separated from his wife, the FBI prepared a macabre Valentine's Day present. The FBI memo of February 14, 1969, sets forth the following insidious COINTELPRO action:

Enclosed for the Bureau are two copies and for Springfield one copy of a letter to "SISTER [rest of name deleted].

The following counter-intelligence activity is being proposed by the St. Louis Division to be directed against [Name Deleted]. He is former [deleted] of the BLACK LIBERATORS (Bufile 157-10356), [rest of sentence, roughly page in length, one line deleted]. The activity attempts to alienate him from his wife and cause suspicion among the BLACK LIBERATORS that they have a dangerous troublemaker in their midst.

BACKGROUND:

[Name of target deleted] is currently separated from his wife, [name deleted] who lives with their two daughters in [deleted]. He occasionally sends her money and she appears to be a faithful, loving wife, who is apparently convinced that her husband is performing a vital service to the Black world and, therefore, she must endure this separation without bothering him. She is, to all indications, an intelligent, respectable young mother, who is a member of the AME Methodist Church in [the rest of the page, except for routing notations at the bottom, is deleted and blanked out]. [23]


The rest of the memo is as remarkable, and as unseemly, as the foregoing. It dictates the text of a letter, to be inscribed with sloppy handwriting, intentional misspellings, and grammatical errors to "imitate that of the average Black Liberator member," and to be mailed to the leader's wife. It is intended to evoke jealousy in his wife by stating that the leader was cheating on her with other women. This COINTELPRO goes further as the St. Lows office recommends that the fake letter be photocopied and sent to the Liberator's office, to ensure that the leader knows it was written and that he suspects he was betrayed by one of his subordinates.

There is no reason to wonder as to what the objectives of the operation were. The proposal from the SAC in St. Lows to Hoover in Washington leaves little to speculation.

The following results are anticipated following the execution of the above-counter-intelligence activity:

1. Ill feeling and possibly a lasting distrust will be brought between [blank] and his wife. The concern over what to do about it may detract from his time spent in the plots and plans of [deleted]. He may even decide to spend more time with his wife and children and less time in Black nationalist activity.

2. The Black Liberators will waste a great deal of time trying to discover the writer of the letter. It is possible that their not-too- subtle investigation will lose present members, and alienate potential ones.

3. Inasmuch as Black Liberator strength is ebbing at its lowest level, this action may well be the "death blow." [24]


The shortest month in the year would not pass before a letter was routed from the doddering Director of the FBI to the Special Agent in Charge of St. Louis, giving his baronial blessing to the enterprise. Hoover's approval for the operation warns the local office to be careful and use "precautions" to ensure that "this cannot be traced back to the Bureau." [25]

His only other substantive recommendation was that the local FBI office wait ten days between letters (apparently to make it appear that the letters were indeed mailed through the postal system by the people they appeared to come from).

There is little indication in these flies, published as exhibits of the legendary Church Comrnittee [26] hearings by the US Congress, whether the FBI succeeded in its ''Anticipated Results" or whether they exceeded their expectations. What is clear is that the State, utilizing crude, incredibly slimy methods, came between man and wife, father and child, to cause marital and familial discord, because a man believed in Black nationalism.

In present day America, the charge that one is an enemy combatant results in the shackled, blindfolded, tortured, and denationalized captives of the US military base and mass outdoor brig at Guantanamo, Cuba. Yet decades before the USA PATRIOT Act, the assistant director of the FBI made plain his feelings about the tactics to be used, in a contemporary sounding phrase, against American citizens who "sought change in the present U.S. government."

William Sullivan, the number two man at the FBI and COINTELPRO chief, responded to the charge that the Bureau was "using techniques designed to destroy a person's family life." [27]

[T]his is a common practice, rough, dirty, tough, dirty business .... We are in it. To repeat, it is a rough, tough, dirty business and dangerous. We have used that technique against foreign espionage agents, and they have used it against us." [28]


A US senator questioning Sullivan seems incredulous at what the FBI Assistant Director is telling him:

Q: The same methods were brought home?

A: Yes; brought home against any organization against which we were targeting. We did not differentiate. This is a rough, tough business.

Q: Would it be safe to say that the techniques we learned in fighting Bundists and Silver Shiners, true espionage in World War II, came to be used, the techniques came to be used against some of our own American citizens?

A: That would be the correct deduction. [29]


If the tactics used against foreign nationals and enemies of the United States were utilized against American citizens, what does that say about the meaning of American citizenship? What does it say about the meaning of the State? The nature of the government? The nature of the security apparatus?

Senator Walter Mondale, a vocal and active member of the Church Committee, speaking for the record on the tactics used against the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., seems particularly disturbed by the actions of the FBI. This series of questions and responses between Mondale and the committee's Chief Counsel, Frederick A. O. Schwarz, Jr., goes to the very heart of why the hearings were held in the first place -- COINTELPRO's excesses and constitutional violations.

Senator MONDALE. Would it be fair to say that the tactics used against Dr. King had been borrowed from tactics used against foreign risks, spies, agents, and the rest, who could and did pose a threat?

Mr. SCHWARZ. Mr. Mondale, your own examination of Mr. Sullivan seems to have brought home that point as clear as it could be ....

Senator MONDALE. I raised the Dr. King example because I think that is the classic example which shows all of the elements and the dangers involved in this tactic.

When did counterintelligence programs stop?

Mr. SCHWARZ. Well, that is in question.

In 1971, after they had been exposed through the media, there was an instruction that they would stop. The instruction says, however, "If anything like this is really important, please advise headquarters." And as I think some of the witnesses indicated, the line between counterintelligence and intensive investigation is one that really can not be drawn and has not been drawn.

Senator MONDALE. So are you saying we cannot be sure that COINTELPRO, in all of is [sic] elements has terminated?

Mr. SCHWARZ. I would not want to use that label, Senator, and I think that is a matter directed to the FBI witnesses. But it is a problem when you have a Director of the FBI who declines to say that the activities were improper, as he did when he testified in 1973. [30]


In 1943, during the later years of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's term, Attorney General Francis Biddle wrote a memorandum commanding his young subordinate, J. Edgar Hoover, to cease compiling security classifications of American citizens, asserting that the agency had no legal basis to prepare such lists. Biddle also called the records unreliable.

In clear, unambiguous terms, the Attorney General directed the Bureau's director to cease and desist from such record-keeping. Words like "compiling" and "records" serve to obscure the true nature of the activity whose initial use was the basis for determining whether to place people in secret internment camps during WWII.

Biddle, examining the program, found there was no statutory basis for it. Biddle's edict removes any serious question of the clarity of his cease and desist order:

I am satisfied that they serve no useful purpose .... There is no statutory authorization or other present authorization for keeping a "custodial detention" list of citizens. The Department fulfills its proper functions by investigating the activities of persons who may have violated the law. It is not aimed in this work as to classifying persons as to dangerousness. [31]


What was Hoover's response? He directed his underlings to simply change the labels on the "Custodial Detention" files to "Security Matter" files. He issued a directive to his agents that the fact that the agency kept such files was "strictly confidential" and not to be disclosed to those outside of the Bureau.

Even his "superiors" in the Attorney General's office were not to be informed. Hoover directed his subordinates to only share security index data with authorized agents of military intelligence groups, who were known for their ability to keep secrets (even from other sectors of the executive branch).

This account just skims the surface of the history of a long-running, repressive regime established in the shadows of the US government. The government, armed with all the awesome powers at its command, destroyed the lives and livelihoods of thousands, nay, tens of thousands of people, who simply opposed the status quo and wished to change the way things were done in this country. We have only the haziest insight into the true scope of this program, for, as has been suggested, Senate hearings into the problem did not meaningfully resolve the problems. Indeed, at the time of the hearings, some five years after the startling revelations of COINTELPRO became public, senators and Senate staffers could not say with any degree of confidence that it had ended. It is easy therefore, to view the hearings themselves with a certain degree of cynicism. While they provided a riveting show, a thrilling political performance, a scripted pantomime of the workings of democracy, they remained, after all was said and done, mere performance. When the curtain came down on the show, the real world, with its painful ambiguities and chilling truths about power, race, and violent white supremacy, remained unchanged. Revelation is not transformation -- it only looks like it.

After the revelations, the exposures, the hearings, what happened to those people who committed crimes against their fellow American citizens?

The department of the US government that calls itself Justice decided, some four years after the scandal broke, that no one would be held liable "in connection with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's fifteen-year campaign to disrupt the activities of suspected subversive organizations." [32] J. Stanley Pottinger, head of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, reported to the Attorney General that his office had found "no basis for criminal charges against any particular individuals involving particular incidents." [33] The government that murdered people, that hired others to murder people, that drove people into poorhouses, that split marriages asunder, that destroyed scores of livelihoods, had violated no "civil rights." The hearings were "punishment enough," the elite sniffed.

The efforts of the FBI against teachers, professors, workers, socialists, Black nationalists, and others (such as antiwar/peace activists) reveal the deep political nature of the agency, the Justice Department, and the United States government as a whole. Their objective was to criminalize dissent, and to instill the numbing fear of poverty into activists by running people out of their jobs solely on the basis of their political ideas. They were agents, neither of order, nor of law, but of capital. Anyone who merely questioned that arrangement, who thought that society could be organized on a more fair, rational basis, was seen as an enemy; in the words of the FBI itself, no holds were barred. [34]

The Bureau used its enormous power, influence, and contacts to intimidate politicians. It used the omnipresent press to hound people out of their jobs. It sabotaged allegedly free elections. It destroyed marriages. It shattered families. It fomented violence between political and social adversaries. And this is but the tip of the iceberg. If this is a law enforcement agency one shudders to think what a hate group would do.
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