THEMES TO BE EXPLORED:
Role of Women
Coalitions with other activists
Violence vs. Self-Defense
Cult of Personality: Huey, Eldridge
Background context: Vietnam War, SNCC, RAM, Urban Rebellions
BPP Founded October 1966
Police Patrol Oct, 1966-Jan, 1967
Richmond County Rally April, 1967
Sacramento Capital Invasion
October 1967 Huey Shot
Expansion of BPP 1967-69
Illustrate Principled Positions
Adventures of Eldridge & Kathleen 1969
Huey Gets Out 1970(@ one hour mark)
Robert Webb/Telephone Call Split
George Jackson Attempted Jail Break
Overseas (BPP Intl. Section)
Travels to Foreign countries: Congo, No. Korea
Intl. impact: chapters established in foreign countries, etc.
BPP until the end
Where are they now wrap-ups
(BPP Political prisoners & overseas refugees?)
Reflections of children of BPP members
Overall impact of BPP
Continuation of BPP programs in other forms
During the so-called 60s marked by mass demonstrations for civil rights in the South, urban uprisings in the North, widespread opposition to the Vietnam War, campus rebellions and prison riots, the Black Panther Party For Self-Defense emerged as an icon of black resistance and inspiration for young white activists as well. Over the years, however, this organization has been misunderstood, misinterpreted and often reduced to cartoon-like figures.
THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY FOR SELF-DEFENSE, a proposed 4-part documentary series, will tell the complete and often unsettling story of the life and times of the Black Panther Party For Self-Defense (the symbolic successes, real failures, factional infighting, conflicts not only with the police and FBI but with the more conservative African-American politicians, etc.) through the recollections of those who were part of that movement. Our principle consultants (former BPP Chairman Bobby Seale, former Secretary of Information Kathleen Cleaver and scholar Charles Jones) will provide access to this world.
To obtain a journalistically balanced documentary series, we will also interview both former supporters and critics of this organization, former party members, former black and white activists, journalists and even former police and government agents who infiltrated the ranks of this militant organization.
The Black Panthers, dressed in black leather jackets and berets, openly carried loaded weapons in the streets as they patrolled black neighborhoods. To protest a pending bill banning them from carrying weapons, an armed delegation of 22 Panthers entered the California State Legislature building, pandemonium ensued and they were all arrested. After the California legislature passed the bill, the patrols ceased yet the small group remained. Due largely to this flamboyant defiance of the police, the organization exerted a powerful symbolic appeal to young black youth.
This movement began with two men. Huey P. Newton met Bobby Seale when they were both students at Oakland's Merritt College. In October, 1966, the two wrote the Ten Point Program for an organization they named the Black Panther Party For Self Defense. The program called for "power to determine the destiny of our black community", outlined aspirations for housing, education, employment and an end to police brutality as well as calling for black jurors for black defendants, the release for all imprisoned blacks and an exemption from military service. It concluded with a quotation from the Declaration of Independence asserting the right to revolution.
By openly advocating revolutionary changes in the relationship between poor Blacks and the larger white society, the BPP signaled the rise of a different kind of African-American leadership. This new organization did not petition powerful whites, nor did it propose a religious path for African-American aspirations. The Partys actions and programs were designed to inspire a radical interpretation of a society in which African-American people would achieved self-determination, instead of remaining trapped in a state of subjugation they claimed to be similar to colonialism.
The Black Panther Party also fused various elements within one organization as programs. Its free breakfast programs for school children and other programs provided community service. However, this organization also projected its activities as challenges to "imperialism while simultaneously pursuing legal and electoral activities, all with a flamboyant public bravado.
Co-founder Huey Newton, who often expressed the belief that it was crucial "to capture the peoples' imagination" to build a successful revolutionary movement, was effective more as a catalyst than as a traditional leader. Newton was neither as captivating speaker nor a skilled political organizer. Instead he had a talent for inspiring a small group of exceptionally talented individuals whose energies he could direct to build the Black Panther Party, people like Fred Hampton, Emory Douglas, Geronimo Pratt, David Hilliard and Kathleen Cleaver.
After being wounded in a shooting incident in which Oakland policeman John Frey was killed in October 1967, Newton was jailed and faced murder charges. During that summer, police shooting incidents had triggered major ghetto uprisings but it was always a Black youth who ended up dead. But this case, in which Newton lived and a white policeman died, gave him instant notoriety.
Newton's trial became the centerpiece of mass mobilization as Panther "Minister Of Information" ex-convict Eldridge Cleaver, generated the "Free Huey" movement. Charles R. Garry, prominent San Francisco trial lawyer, took up Newton's legal defense. Newton's 1968 murder trial was held in Oakland in the wake of the assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. Thousands of supporters flocked to rallies outside the courthouse at the opening of the trial.
Newton was convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter. Fueled by the energies set in motion by the "Free Huey" movement, the Black Panther Party rapidly expanded into a national organization during Newton's subsequent imprisonment. Newton was released in 1970 after his conviction was set aside on appeal. By then the Black Panther Party had chapters or offices in over 30 cities, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles as well as an international office in Algeria.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation joined the police departments across the country and largely succeeded in disrupting the growing Panther organization. A coordinated program referred to as COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) focused hundreds of covert actions against the Panthers and other militants. Panther leaders became the targets of constant surveillance, police harassment, frequent arrests and trials. Panther leaders in Los Angeles and Chicago were shot to death in 1969 under circumstances in which special police units secretly worked with federal intelligence agents. In numerous cities, criminal charges brought against Panthers were the product of such clandestine police-FBI collaboration.
As a political entity, the Black Panthers were not ideologically consistent over time. Their programs were influenced from an African cultural nationalism inspired by Malcolm X to Marxism influenced by Franz Fanon, Che Guevara and Mao Tse Tung. Although the Panthers remained an all-Black organization, it forged coalitions with other radical groups, including whites, Asians and Latinos. But the volatile mixture of external interference, internal dissension and the highly publicized expulsions that came to be known as the "Newton-Cleaver split", contributed to the Panthers' decline.
As an increasingly paranoid Newton consolidated his personal power, and the numbers of chapters diminished, the Panthers publicly pursued conventional political and economic activities while secretly pursuing criminal activities. Following criminal charges brought against him for assaulting several Oakland residents, Newton fled to Cuba in 1974 but returned in 1976. In 1980, Newton graduated with a Ph.D. degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz. While he still exerted a special magnetism to loyal supporters, he no longer served as the focal point for an extraordinary mass movement. The Black Panther Party became defunct.
Long term addiction to alcohol and cocaine took a heavy toll on his fortunes and private life. In the early morning hours of August 22, 1989, Newton was shot and killed on the streets of Oakland by a 25-year-old crack dealer. Even though Newtons passion, flamboyance and dreams came to symbolize an era, in the end, the same demons ravaging the everyday people he sought to transform destroyed him as well.