Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party | Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr.
Part One. Organizing Rage
Middle to late 1960s, Black people started to become aware of the limits of the early 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
Black Panther Executive Mandate #1:
“The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense calls upon the America people in general and the Black people in particular to take careful note of the racist California Legislature which is now considering legislation aimed at keeping the Black people disarmed and powerless at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror, brutality, murder, and repression of Black people… . The enslavement of Black people from the very beginning of this country, the genocide practiced on the American Indians and the confining of the survivors on reservations, the savage lynching of thousands of Black men and women, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and now the cowardly massacre in Vietnam, all testify to the fact that toward people of color the racist power structure of America has but one policy: repression, genocide, terror, and the big stick… . 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 tat 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.” — Bobby Seale, May 2, 1967 (page 59-60)
Part Two. Baptism in Blood
Huey developed a politic to organize the “brothers on the block”: (page 66)
- “first applying Frantz Fanon’s theory of the psychology of colonization and liberation struggle to the ghettos of the United States”
- “then extending the analogy to identify the police as an occupying force”
- “interpreting U.S. urban riots as protopolitical resistance to this occupation,”
- “and asserting the role of the Black Panther Party as the legitimate representation of the black community—the vanguard party—in the struggle for Black Power.”
The foundation of the BPPSD was an all-male group which makes me think about the difficulties of adapting the foundations of anything. As women began to join the ranks more and more, it was clear that Black men were the forefront of the party, seen in leader roles and that Black women were seen in supportive roles. (page 97)
"Free Huey!" became more than whether or not Huey Newton had killed Officer Frey, and became a way to “use Huey’s trial as a forum to put America on trial, to expose its inherent racism and injustice.” (page 104)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed on April 4, 1968. two days later:
April 6, 1968 — a group of Panthers are out and about (three carloads). They pulled over because Eldridge Cleaver had to urinate and then several police cars pulled up on Cleaver and shined a light on him Words were exchanged then gunfire. Cleaver and Bobby Hutton ran into a nearby building. Hour and a half later, Cleaver emerged, naked, and was taken into custody. Bobby Hutton emerged from the baseman and the police shot him dead. (page 118-119)
Many people attended the funeral of Bobby Hutton on April 12th, likening his murder to that of Dr. King.
“The murder of King changed the whole dynamic of the country. That is probably the single most significant event in terms of how the Panthers were perceived by the Black community.” — Kathleen Cleaver (page 159)
“By framing this practice of armed self-defense as part of a global anti-imperialist struggle, the Panthers were able to draw broad support both from other black political organizations and from many nonblacks. These allies provided crucial financial, political, and legal support that enabled the Panthers to mount top-notch, unprecedented legal defenses against many charges they faced, and they often won their cases in court…” (page 160)
Part Three. Resilience
The Breakfast program not only fed kids, they shed light upon the government’s lack of action surrounding feeding children. This is true of a lot of the Black Panther Party service programs; shedding light on the lack of care the government has for the Black community.
“The Party’s advocacy for health care for blacks revealed the group’s deep commitment to a holistic view of health that was both environmental and physical. For the Party, the well-being of individual black bodies and the collective black community reflected the overall welfare of the larger black body politic. Improving the health status of blacks thus went hand in hand with improving their political activism and black public health activism were interwoven.” (page 189)
“The gendering of the Party’s community programs as female and the public face of the Party as male became entrenched for two major reasons.” (page 194)
- “First, the Party’s continuing masculinism and the society’s deeply ingrained gender norms undercut women’s serious battles against sexism within the Party.”
- “Second, even as women’s participation became increasingly central to the operation of the Party and questions of gender equity loomed large, the Party had no formal and effective mechanisms to root out sexism and misogyny.”
Panther pads or Panther cribs — Panthers tried to reflect their communal living and make it possible for all people to live a freer life; but often these communal living arrangements perpetuated the same gender inequity and patriarchy that it was said to extinguish. (page 194-195)
“A revolutionary program is one set forth by revolutionaries, by those who want to change the existing system to a better one” whereas “a reform program is set up by the existing exploitative system as an appeasing handout, to fool people and to keep them quiet. Examples of these programs are poverty programs, youth work programs, and things like that.” — Bobby Seale (page 195)
Through direct service to the community: (page 196-197)
- “the services provided concrete aid to an impressive number and cross-section of folk…materializing the notion of service to the community.”
- “these programs accomplished crucial educational and political work within communities, conveying the insufficiency of the capitalist welfare state to meet eve the most basic needs of its citizens, especially its black citizens.”
- “the Panthers’ programs expanded communities’ understanding of the process of grassroots institutional development—how to create and sustain their own much-needed institutions from the ground up.”
- “these programs not only kept the Party alive in the face of awesome state repression, they also initially enabled it to grow during these trying times.”
November 5, 1968 — Nixon was elected the 37th president of the united states. This led to a law and order stance by Nixon. He set his eyes on repression of the Black Panther Party and the year to come (1969) was filled with raids on Black Panther establishments.
The Murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark:
Fred Hampton was trying to merge with the largest and most powerful gang in the Chicago area, the Blackstone Rangers, with leader Jeff Fort. However, Fort wanted the BPP to become Rangers, not the other way around (page 228 - 230)
The FBI tried to exploit this disagreement by sending a letter to Jeff Fort, hoping he would turn violence, but neither Hampton nor Fort took the bait.
Black nationalist groups and other Black groups came to the aid of the BPP because they saw the repression they faced, and believed what could happen to the BPP, could happen to the rest of the Black community.
Coalition Rally on November 3 1969 — united protest against the government repression of the BPP (page 235)
- P. Stone Nation
- Conservative Vice Lords
- Black Liberation Alliance
- Jesse Jackson
- Many more…
After the killing of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, Bobby Rush gave tours of the apartment to reporters and community members. No bullet hole marks in either of the doorways the SPU entered through. (page 239)
Before May Day (May 1, 1970) had arrived, the Panthers had won the support of Yale, in New Haven, CT. (page 262)
Yale students striking, and the president of Yale, Kingman Brewster, Jr. saying he is “skeptical of the ability of black revolutionaries to achieve a fair trial anywhere in the United States.” (page 261)
“Officers instructed soldiers, “You will not be successfully prosecuted if you shoot someone whole performing a duty… . there is nothing to fear concerning your individual actions.” (page 262)
May 2nd creation of the National Student Strike Committee; students across the country should boycott classes until three demands were met: (page 264)
- “The United States must end its “systematic oppression” of all political dissidents, such as Bobby Seale, and all other Black Panthers.”
- “The United States must cease “aggression” in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and unilaterally and immediately withdraw its force.”
- “Universities must end their “complicity” in war by ending was-related research and eliminating Reserve Officer Training Corps activities.”
May 1970 — “more than four million students at 1,300 colleges across participated in campus protests that month. One and a half million went on strike, shutting down at least 536 college campuses—many for the remained of the academic year” (page 266)
Part Four. Revolution Has Come!
Out of the Black Panther-sponsored United Front Against Fascism Conference in Oakland, California (July 18-21, 1969) came the creation of National Committees to Combat Fascism (NCCFs) (resource #3, page 301)
- The NCCFs would work under a BPP umbrella but would allow nonblack membership
- Originally focused on two issues: “local campaigns for community control of police and the development of legal teams to defend political prisoners” (page 302)
The formation of revolutionary motherhood around having babies. This is not only for the revolutionary nation, but for the revolutionary men, constructing firm patriarchal norms and heteronormativity. (page 305)
“Our men need, want and will love the beautiful children, that come from our fruitful wombs… . We are mothers of revolutionaries, with us is the further of our people.” — Candi Robinson (page 305)
“I had three babies because I thought that it was my revolutionary duty to do that. I … wasn’t thinking of what I wanted for me.” — Malika Adams (page 305)
Part Five. Concessions and Unraveling
“In noninsurgent organizations, established laws and customs are assumed and largely respected. Maintaining organizational coherence may be challenging, but transgressions of law and custom are generally outside of organizational responsibility. Within insurgent organizations like the Black Panther Party, law and custom are viewed as oppressive and illegitimate. Insurgents view their movement as above the law and custom, the embodiment of a greater morality. As a result, defining acceptable types of transgression of law and custom, and maintaining discipline within these constraints, often poses a serious challenge for insurgent organizations like the Black Panther Party. What sorts of violation of law and custom are consistent with the vision and aims of the insurgency?” (page 342)
“The survival of the Party depended on its political coherence and organizational discipline.” (page 344)
One of the major tools to maintain this discipline was the threat of expulsion from the Party.
“The resilience of the Black Panthers politics depended heavily on support from three broad constituencies: blacks, opponents of the Vietnam War, and revolutionary governments internationally.” (page 346)
The deescalation of the Vietnam War and the draft caused those who supported the Black Panthers because of this to view the Black Panthers revolutionary tactics as unnecessary because they no longer had a stake in the actions.(page 348)
“Increasing access to mainstream institutions undercut the basis for blacks’ support of the Panthers’ politics.” (page 349)
The international support for the BPP started to deteriorate as these nations began to come to better negotiations and started doing more business with the United States. (page 350-351)
“Tensions developed between the necessarily independent activities of the local chapters, some of which bordered on open insurrection, and the Central Committee’s efforts to maintain allied support.” (resource #3, page 365)
“Between 1968 through 1970, three factors exacerbated these tensions.
- "First, counterintelligence activities by the federal government worked to vilify the Party.”
- “Second, the success of the Party created a conflict between promoting insurrection and maintaining the Party’s image.”
- “The third factor that made Black Panther politics unsustainable was the establishment’s decision to offer political concessions to Panther allies, thereby shifting the political context and cutting into the Panthers’ ability to maintain allied support.” (page 366)
By 1970, the Party had opened offices in 68 cities, annual budget reaching $1.2 million, and circulation of the Black Panther reached 150,000.
classic sociological perspective:
“When repression is light, people tend to cooperate with established political authorities and take less disruptive action; when repression is heavy, the costs of insurgency are too large, causing people to shy away from radical acts. But, according to this view, it is when authorities are moderately repressive—too repressive to steer dissenters toward institutional channels of political participation but not repressive enough to quell dissent—that people widely mobilize disruptive challenges to authorities.” (page 396)
Relationship shaped like an “inverse U”
The Black Panthers defy this perspective
for the BPP: “potential allies’ political reception of the Panther insurgent practices determined the effects of repression on mobilization.” (page 397)
“We have found that the political context, rather than independently determining the extent of mobilization, determines the efficacy of particular insurgent practices.” (page 397)
“any revolutionary theory consciously separates the world into two camps: those who seek to reproduce the existing social arrangements and those who seek to overthrow them.”