The Mancunion

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The marvel of the real Black Panthers

“I do not expect the media to create positive black male images” – Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party


Possibly what is already the blockbuster of the year is out: Marvel’s Black Panther. It’s a film chronicling comic book hero Black Panther, also known as T’Challa, King of Wakanda.

Black Panther was the first black superhero, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. And as we reach the end of Black History Month, it is T’challa’s namesake this article wishes to address: the Black Panther Party.

The first appearance of Black Panther in Fantastic Four #66 predates the founding of the Black Panther Party by only a few months. However, it is clear that he has been treated better by history over the years than the revolutionary political party of Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale.

The Black Panther Party has been vilified ever since its inception as a result of disinformation operations at the behest of the state. It’s often being touted as a black KKK, or a violent gang. This could not be further from the truth. 52 years after their founding, it’s high time we learnt about the marvel of the real Black Panthers.

The party was founded in Oakland, California by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966, as the Black Panther Party for Self-defence.

Although California was not a Jim Crow state such as Alabama or Mississippi, the problems African-Americans faced there were just as real. Often black people found themselves to be living in the poorest neighbourhoods with the least government support and the most crime.

Tensions between the urban African-American populations and police in cities such as Compton, Harlem, and Detroit were high, as a number of high profile police shootings of unarmed black men raised public consciousness. Just 16 out of the 661 police officers in Oakland were black, which exacerbated this divide.

Newton and Seale were both former students of Merritt College, and had studied the works of influential black figures such as Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael.

They saw the teachings of figures like these and wanted to create a way for urban African-Americans to defend themselves in the wake of police brutality, and to organise their own communities in the wake of government neglect.

They drew upon far-left socialist and Marxist theory and combined that with black power thought to develop a 10-point plan in which they called for an end to police brutality, adequate housing for all, black pride, black participation in politics, and (famously) calling for black people to arm themselves in the face of oppression from the police, the KKK, and other white supremacist groups.

Some of their most remarkable work was their Community Survival Programmes in which they provided free breakfasts to school children, free adult education, free clothing, healthcare, transport, and self-defence classes, amongst a myriad of other social programmes. The Panthers were stepping in where the government had consistently failed black people.

Unfortunately, however, not everyone was comfortable with black people exercising their second amendment rights in the same way a white person could. Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, passed the Mulford Act of 1967, banning open carry in California in response to the Black Panthers.

Yes, you heard that right, a Republican hero enacting gun control – all because those who had the guns were black and wanted to defend themselves, just as anyone of any other race would. But the organised disruption of the Black Panthers by the establishment did not end here.

The most consequential was the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation, a covert, and often illegal operation designed to discredit and dismantle the Black Panthers. The operation sought to, in their own words, “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralise the activities of the Black nationalists.”

One of the most shocking incidents were the deaths of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, who were asleep in their apartment when they were killed by Chicago police officers.

The police claimed that it was a heavy gun battle in which more than a hundred rounds were fired. Later inquests indicated that only one of these bullets were fired from the side of Hampton and Clark, and that the FBI had a significant role in leading up to the raid.

The COINTELPRO operation is where many of the myths surrounding the Black Panthers came from. They were not a hate group, and although they had revolutionary ideas, the closest they came to a revolution was to give school children free food.

They were a reaction to the oppression of African-Americans at the hands of an institutionally racist state, and sought only to uplift the downtrodden in society and to build up their own forgotten communities. The price they paid for this was vilification. In 1982, after years of disparagement, the party finally disbanded.

They were not perfect by any means, but as black people all over the globe rejoice as the first black superhero film tops the box office, let us not forget the black superheroes of the past.

  • AtheistRight

    The black panthers are a anti-white racist organization. Anyone from any race can be racist unless you subscribe to the post-modern definition that it requires power as well. The only reason it was invented was to give cover to non white racists and support the ridiculous marxist concept oppressed and oppressor (AKA nonsense). Anyone saying it’s impossiblefor then to be racist certainly sounds like a racist.

    • Mohsin Uppal

      The black panthers were a reaction to years of racism and oppression. I admitted in the article they were not perfect but this article was particularly about showing their good side as this has been erased by history due to the actions of the US govt through COINTELPRO

      • AtheistRight

        I know the black panthers your reaction to years of racism. Hate to be cliche here but 2 wrongs don’t make a right. You could come up with a list of good things that the Ku-Klux Klan did to help their local communities. None of this changes the fact that they are racist monsters who deserve to be held in contempt just like the black panthers. I will not give it a rest I will not stop fighting racism, real racism not just someone calling someone else a racist.

        • Mohsin Uppal

          I never claimed anywhere black people cannot be racist, but thanks for making a big assumption. The black panthers are not in any way comparable to the KKK. To even compare them is just historical revisionism on the rankest of scales. One was formed as a reaction to years of brutal oppression, and the other was formed in order to continue that oppression. Look up the aims of the Black Panthers, no where does it ever say any race is superior to another, and then look up what the KKK believe. If you equate those two then I really can’t get through to you.

          • AtheistRight

            You’re right I assumed you didn’t think that black people can be racist. So do you? You haven’t said. You’re also right that the KKK was a murderous hateful racist organization that did many worse things then the black panthers. But to claim that the black panthers aren’t a racist organization is to deny public statements made by them throughout the course of their existence. That’s like saying the nation islam or south africa’s economic freedom fighters aren’t racist hate groups (the latter literally singing kill the white people) . Black panthers use the same kind of racial superiority arguments that the KKK does. The KKK is far more brutal and evil but that doesn’t excuse the racism coming from the black panthers.

            • Mohsin Uppal

              Yes, anyone can be racist, regardless of their race.

              Also interesting you provide quotes for groups not being even discussed… But honestly mate, you can believe that the KKK, who lynched hundreds of people, are just as bad. That’s up to you. It seems a waste of time trying to argue about racism with someone who has a fucking Pinochet quote about how certain groups of people aren’t humans on their profile…

            • AtheistRight

              My Pinochet quote is to upset Communist because I believe communists or worse the nazis. I don’t actually support Pinochet its irony. I do appreciate you saying that anyone could be racist way too many people deny this. There isn’t much more to be done with the conversation anyways I just want to say thank you. With no irony or sarcasm I appreciate the back-and-forth few people are even willing to talk anymore.

    • Mohsin Uppal

      Furtheremore, give it a rest lad

      • AtheistRight

        “The Black Panther Party has been vilified ever since its inception as a result of disinformation operations at the behest of the state. It’s often being touted as a black KKK, or a violent gang” They should be villified. I don’t like people apologizing for racists Or making excuses for them like you do in this article.

      • AtheistRight

        But you know what I’m willing to wager that there was no point in me even giving these responses. You probably don’t think that black people can be racist.

  • Black Knowledge Power

    Thank you for this excellent article on the Black Panther Party. They were true humanist who formed alliances with white groups such as the Peace and Freedom Party and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). An all-white group, the White Panther Party modeled their organization after them, as well as the Young Lords, a Chicano revolutionary party. They were true multi-nationalist who supported the Vietnamese, the Cuban, the Algerian, the Zimbabwean, the Palestinian and so many others peoples. Even the US government learn from them and funded the school breakfast and lunch programs which the Panther created. Being human, they made mistakes but the US government’s COINTELPRO program used their weaknesses and errors to eventually crush them. The party may be gone but it’s legacy remains a beacon of hope firmly etched in history.