In a recent issue of CTM we reported on the need to increase the level of educational achievement for, black and ethnic children in secondary schools, within the UK and highlighted a program in the USA with this aim. There has been an argument for some time in the UK for a more wider content of black history taught, without the sole focus being on slavery–there is more to black and ethnic history. It could be suggested that younger members of the black and ethnic community, don’t have the opportunity to learn about wider aspects of their history due to the lack of inclusivity. The month of October is Black History month in the UK. With just one month of the year dedicated to black history and culture, it’s important to focus on some of the key players in Black and Ethnic history, and increase the opportunities for members of the community to learn about key players who fought for the simple rights we take for granted, that we now have today. Voting, education, jobs, homes, basic standards of living were not basic rights for members of the Black and Ethnic community, sadly. Key players encouraged a movement so powerful there was no choice but to give basic human rights to all, not just Caucasian people.
On the 15th October 1966 in the USA in the state of California, a revolutionary black activist group was formed, The Black Panther Party or BPP by Bobby Steele and Huey Newton. The party was active from 1966-1982 across the USA. In the early 1970s the BPP’s message spread to the United Kingdom. North Africa also heard the message, activists were present in Algeria between 1962 to 1972.
For the Black and Ethnic community, the 1960s and 1970s are ear-marked as years of great revolution, empowerment and attempts to lift the oppression the community faced due to their identity–in other words, because of the colour of their skin. It was a heated time politically and socially.
What Was The BPP’s Purpose?
It has been argued, some may say evidenced, that while the BPP supported the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, and his attempts at peaceful protest to gain increased rights and equality for the community in the USA. At the same time the BPP felt his approach would take too long, and not offer the level of movement that was needed for the community. The BPP’s stance has been argued as more violent, with “revolutionary war needed.”
In Oakland, California the BPP started to patrol the law enforcement, to minimise the police brutality against the Black and Ethnic community, that was rife in the USA. Their approach was to “bear arms” with guns while on patrol, just as the law enforcement did themselves. BPP members when questioned by law enforcement would cite laws regarding their constitutional rights, and if they were violated they would pursue legal action. The BPP played the law enforcement at their own game. They educated themselves on the legal system, some would say is designed to disadvantage the Black and Ethnic community. In 2017, this argument is still heard today on both sides of the Atlantic, the Caribbean islands, south America and Africa by young Black, Ethnic and Hispanic males.
Members of the BPP party grew from 1967 onwards, they even provided protection while they escorted Malcolm X’s wife (Betty Shabazz) on her travels.
While the BPP’s stance was purely for equal rights and an end to oppression, it was often interpreted as militant, aggressive and hostile. That said, one would have to ask if a nation of people have been oppressed for some many years … would you expect anything different? The political heat at the time brought the BPP’s stance to the forefront of their attitude, with chants like “the revolution has come, it’s time to pick up the gun f*ck the pigs!” (police). This added heat to their violent reputation. Depending on which side of the fence you sit on, you decide whether this attitude was merely frustration and militancy against further oppression, playing the law enforcement of the USA at their own game or advocating violence.
The Ten Point Program of The BPP
The BPP advocated for the Black and Ethnic community ten main points:
- 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.
Think about this, Black and Ethnic people were stolen from their own islands and surroundings, their land was raped of its riches. Women were raped, men, women and children killed, they were brought to a foreign land as slaves, then fought to be treated like a human. It could argued that the Black and Ethnic race built, literally with their own hands, the USA from its foundations as slaves. To this day it could be argued that your son, your dad, your uncle, your brother are still Public Enemy No #1 in the eyes of some non-Black/Ethnic citizens and law enforcement. How can such a statement be made? The statistics from Black Lives Matter support this. You decide if after all this if the BPP’s militant approach was justified?
The Police Response:
It has been documented well, that the USA law enforcement tried to shut down the BPP movement. Dirty tricks were played, fabricating crimes and arresting BPP members for them, threats, punishment the list is endless. The law enforcement of the USA was not prepared to have the revolutionary group make a movement to secure the rights of the community they fought for. There has been a conspiracy theory that Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination on the 4th April 1968 was part of this need to take down the BPP. The response of the Black and Ethnic community was to riot over the revolutionary Dr. King’s death. On the 7th of April in the same year, a key BPP member Bobby Hutton was also killed. To this day, Dr. King we must salute, and never forget for his efforts to secure basic rights. If you are a mother of a young Black, Hispanic or Asian boy he must understand who this revolutionary was, don’t leave it to the school system to teach their watered down version of Dr King’s history, and association with the BPP.
Women’s Rights and Feminism:
The BPP had a very masculine feel to it, women were not at first major players. In 1969 the BPP officially stated that women should be treated as equals in the party, not sub-ordinates. The womanist (sexist) issue was moved up the agenda, the idea of womenism was born. The idea differed slightly from feminism, the view point was that women and men have different roles and therefore must work together, to preserve households in the Black and Ethnic community. Especially when external forces were trying to break the community down. Rather than a feminist view that women must fight to be equal to men. The BPP’s stance was unity and recognition of what each gender brings to the table, to keep the family unit strong. Women’s roles were valued, not looked down on. The BPP also highlighted the struggles that African- American women faced in this heated era.
There is a wealth of documented events and Back history on the BPP, one of the most influential revolutionary parties known. Their message spread wide, across the Atlantic as far as north Africa from the USA. We must not forget them, their importance and stance they took to fight for civil rights for the community. Recommended books are Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, The Autobiography of Dr. Martin Luther King, or The Autobiography of Malcolm X Also check out CTM’s articles on increasing education in the UK, a movement made towards this as and an educational incentive in the USA focused on this movement.