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Eyes on the Prize
The Story of the Movement — 26 Events

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The Black Panther Party

1969

"...these racist Gestapo pigs [the police] have to stop brutalizing our community or we're going to take up guns, we're going to drive them out."
—Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther spokesman

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In the late 1960s, black protesters show a new militancy, very different from the nonviolence activists originally adopted. In 1966, the Black Panther Party forms in Oakland, California. Armed with law books, breakfast programs, and guns, the group aggressively monitors police actions in the black community, serves the poor and needy, publishes a newspaper, and earns a following. Its founders, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, present a ten-point program for improving social and economic conditions for African Americans. Soon, their movement spreads to 25 cities across the nation.

As they question and monitor police actions, the Panthers' boldness and militancy make many in the white and the law enforcement communities nervous. Carrying loaded weapons in public is legal in California, where Ronald Reagan is governor. But the Panthers' appearance, fully armed, makes lawmakers rush to ban the practice. In 1969, the F.B.I. names the group the number one threat to the nation's internal security. Some law enforcement officials feel this gives them justification to break the law and destroy the Panther organization.

In Chicago in December 1969, two Black Panther Party leaders are killed in a pre-dawn raid by police acting on information supplied by an FBI informant, William O'Neal. The men, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, are executed and four of the seven other people in the apartment are wounded. All surviving Panthers are charged with assault and attempted murder. Though the police insist they shot in self-defense, a controversy grows when activists present evidence that the sleeping Panthers put up no resistance. Although the police are never tried, the charges against the Panthers are dropped, and later the families of the dead win a $1.8 million settlement from the government. The extent of the FBI's counterintelligence program, COINTELPRO, will be uncovered by activists in 1971.

Context

Other Events: 1969

"Sesame Street" debuts on television.

During the Apollo 11 mission, American astronauts walk on the Moon.

A measles vaccine becomes available.

The UCLA basketball team wins its third straight NCAA championship. Star center Lew Alcindor converts to Islam and becomes known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Cult leader Charles Manson and his "family" are charged with grisly murders in California.

A rock concert in Woodstock, New York draws half a million people to see The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Joan Baez, and others.

A concert at Altamont Raceway Park in California featuring the Rolling Stones ends in tragedy when an African American teenager is killed by Hell's Angels acting as security guards.

Press

The Milwaukee Courier, May 10, 1969

From the Other Side of the Tracks

by Julius Lester

...By now we are quite conversant with the theater of revolution. We have memorized the script and know that the U.S. is an "imperialist war-monger" and that those who actively defend the U.S. are "pigs" and that we must seek solidarity with the "third world" and we use these key phrases and many others to identify ourselves to each other. We use the same words and assume we are communicating. That is not necessarily a safe assumption...

...Sometimes we play at revolution because we don't as yet know how to make one. We aren't always conscious that we're playing, because in many instances we are our own best audience. But it is not ourselves we must involve or convince. It is the spectators -- the factory workers, secretaries, truck drivers, longshoremen, etc., whom we have to convince, because it is they, the workers, who hold the instruments of power in their hands....

...There is no doubt that we must fight the government, but if we have to fight the people, also, then there can also be no doubt that we are in a losing war... Therefore, the translation of our actions into terms which are relevant to an ever-increasing number of people becomes a priority of the first degree...

...We will never be able to make the revolution as long as we play at it. Playing at revolution creates disruption, but disruption is not the essence of revolution...

...He who plays at revolution ultimately plays with his own life and the lives of others. And this makes him no better than those who play with our lives every day, those we say [we] are trying to destroy.

The Boston Globe, early December, 1969

In the past several years, at least since the first violent racial demonstrations hit Rochester, New York, and New York City in the summer of 1964, City Fathers of Boston had been warned that the predominantly Negro populated Roxbury section of their city was a prime location for a violent explosion...

...Yet little has happened to alleviate the conditions or to solve the major perplexing problems which the city faces as far as racial tensions are concerned...

...Although fairly forewarned that trouble is brewing in the ghettoes, Caucasians seem thunder struck when it actually happens.

My remarks are in no way meant to be taken as support for violence...

...My remarks are meant to emphasize to those of white America that it is not morally or logically right to condemn a people; a people who have been and are being denied their rightful equality of opportunity when, after every seeming avenue of hope has been closed to them, they take what is the only choice left to them in an effect to gain what is rightfully theirs.

The question is: who is the cause of the violence. The young Negro who cannot find a job and who is not given an opportunity to find one, or, [those] who deny him that right?

The Chicago Defender, December 6-12, 1969

Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton was murdered in cold blood while he slept in bed, two Panther officials asserted at week's end...

...Police said a group of Panthers inside the apartment opened fire on them when they sought to enter with a search warrant to investigate a report of unlawful weapons...

..."Why in the world... would they try to serve a warrant at 4 a.m... They think people are going to fall for that -- but we're going to educate the people about how the pigs are going around masquerading as law but what they're really doing is eliminating, killing and trying to wipe out black people," [Panther deputy minister of defense Bobby Rush] declared...

..."Black people better get it through their heads that this isn't just a terrorist act against the Panthers. It's directed at us but it means that every black person better get himself together and arm himself against the pigs..." [said Rush].

The New York Times, December 17, 1969

Police and Panthers

The police raid on the Black Panther headquarters in Chicago, during which two leaders of the Negro group were killed, has raised anew the question whether the authorities there and elsewhere are engaged in a search-and-destroy campaign rather than in legitimate law enforcement...

..The doctrine and tactics of the Panthers are offensive, provocative and neofascist; their members have on occasion engaged in acts of violence and intimidation, particularly within the black community; but none of this would excuse lawless, punitive measures on the part of the police...

...the first order of business in the effort to protect the rights of all citizens is to curb any abuse of their privileged position by public officials and attorneys. The Chicago case underscores the need for relentless investigation by the Justice Department and by the nongovernmental inquiry in order to halt the erosion of fair trial, safeguard civil liberties and protect the judicial process itself.

Video

The Black Panther Party
Duration: 11:12 min
Watch the Video

The first clip is of imprisoned Panther leader Huey Newton saying America treats blacks like the Vietnamese.

He is followed by Panther spokesman Eldridge Cleaver blaming "pigs" and white businessmen for civil unrest.

Newton then talks about Panther efforts to monitor police.

Footage of a Panther rally is shown: recruits marching in formation and holding Panther flags, followed by various speakers addressing them.

The next clips are of a rally on the steps of a courthouse, with the crowd chanting slogans while police watch.

Then white students marching in solidarity with the Panthers are shown, followed by Bobby Seale narrating the Panther platform while images of the inner city are shown.

The final montage juxtaposes images of police with items of Panther propaganda, including depictions of armed people.

Footage courtesy of The National Archives and Records Administration, Special Media Archives Services Division, College Park, MD.

Select an image to open the gallery.

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