The Black Panther

The Black Panther Party was a radical, revolutionary political group formed in October 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. The Black Panther symbol had been used previously by the Lowndes County Freedom Organization which fought for black voting rights in Alabama.

The Party's founders were motivated by a number of factors: disillusionment with the non-violent direct action of the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the assassination of Malcolm X in February 1965; and the riots in the Watts neighbourhood of Los Angeles in August 1965. These riots are considered to have been a turning point in Black American politics. They lasted six days, during which thirty-four people were killed and more than a thousand people injured. The immediate cause of the riots was the mishandled arrest of a black motorist but an official investigation revealed the deeper causes to be poverty, inequality and racial discrimination.

Each edition of the Black Panther included the Ten Point Platform and Program, the Party's manifesto which set out its demands for the end of the oppression of black people in America.

The Party was originally called the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in order to signal its distance from the non-violent ethos of the Civil Rights movement. It had a mixed and controversial image: Black Panthers campaigned for their right to carry weapons of self defence and organised armed patrols of black neighbourhoods to protect residents. At the same time, they set up community support schemes to provide poor black people with free health clinics, education, clothing and food parcels and free breakfast for children.

This article was written by Huey P Newton on his release from jail after a sentence for manslaughter was reversed in 1970. This was a time of internal division within the party; one of its leaders, Eldridge Cleaver, advocated racial separatism and violent direct action whilst Huey P Newton proposed to reject violence, mend division and strengthen its focus on community support.