In late October 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Searle, who had met at Merritt College, a public community college in Oakland, California, founded the Black Panther Party. Originally the Panthers were more about community organisation and could almost have been described as a neighbourhood watch scheme (the original name was the Black Panther Party of Self-Defence) although this one was designed to protect black Oaklanders from police brutality. A notice in the first issue of The Black Panther, the Panthers’ newspaper, applauded the Panthers as “the cream of Black Manhood … there for the protection and defense of our Black community” By 1969, however, the Black Panthers had established free health clinics, a credited elementary school, and fed 10,000 hungry kids breakfast every day. Well-known celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Marlon Brando and Jean Seberg supported their cause. Fonda at one point said:
Revolution is an act of love; we are the children of revolution, born to be rebels. It runs in our blood.” She also called the Black Panthers “our revolutionary vanguard … we must support them with love, money, propaganda and risk.
J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI, thought the Black Panthers “the biggest threat to the national security” and Jean Seberg was actually kept under surveillance and her telephone tapped. The FBI found out Seberg was pregnant and a rumour was planted approved by Hoover himself, that the father of the child she was expecting was ‘a black militant.” Seberg was devastated and at the end of the month she gave birth to a premature baby girl who died two days later. At the funeral in Marshalltown Seberg opened the coffin to show that the baby was white. Seberg never really recovered from the shock and with the exception of the TV movie Mousey never worked in the US again.
The Black Panther’s first publicised their “What We Want Now!” Ten-Point program on May 15, 1967 in the second issue of The Black Panther newspaper.
We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
We want full employment for our people.
We want an end to the robbery by the Capitalists of our Black Community.
We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
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 want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
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 want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.
Black Panther Party membership reached a peak in 1970, with offices in 68 cities and thousands of members, but it began to decline over the following decade. Black Panther leaders were denigrated and belittled by the mainstream press and support for the party waned amongst the wider public. In-fighting amongst the Party leadership encouraged by the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation, led to expulsions and defections that decimated the membership.
In 1980 Huey P. Newton had earned a Ph.D. in social philosophy from the University of California, Santa Cruz’s History of Consciousness program. Nine years later he was dead, murdered in Oakland by Tyrone Robinson, a member of the Black Guerrilla Family.