The Black Panthers

The Black Panthers: A Social Revolution

Through out the 1960’s and 1970’s, America experienced a social revolution where many minority groups, including blacks, fought for their right to be seen as equals in American Society. The Black Panthers Party, was an organization created to fight and change the social structure in America - what Malcolm X called “America’s white power structure.”# This group rejected the nonviolent tactics of Martin Luther King Jr. viewing urban black communities as “colonies occupied by hostile white police.”# The Black Panthers are a very interesting case study while discussing the ideology projected by ethical leadership because their tactics and beliefs were opposite to those of Martin Luther King Jr. and Diane Nash. The Panthers did not believe that nonviolent protests, marches, sit-ins etc., were affective and thought that in order achieve their goals, they would have to physically take them. The Panthers believed that equality would not be given to the Blacks in America and that in order to achieve this equality, they had to fight for it - which parallels Arendts theory of political action in the city state.
The Black Panthers were founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale originally as a self defense organization against police brutality against the black community in the San Francisco Bay Area. As the organization grew in membership and popularity, their ideology and outlook changed and expanded. The group promoted gender equality among its members as well as, “interracial and international solidarity.”# These ideals of leadership and equality are also supported by philosopher Karl Marx - who inspired Newton and Seale while leading their radical leftist party.
The Black Panthers promoted equality internally and externally to their organization and aimed to protect blacks. The initial platform of the party was to; promote self-defense from police brutality, better housing, better education, higher rates of employment, and the freedom of black prisoners. The party also encouraged blacks to carry unconcealed firearms to protects themselves against persistent brutality from police.

Cleaver, Kathleen, and George N. Katsiaficas. Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party. New York: Routledge, 2001.

This source clearly outlined the ideology and beliefs of the Black Panther Party, closely relating it to the ideals of Marx and Lenin. According this this book, the Marxist theory of dialectical materialism is a very important aspect to Black Panther belief and provided the framework for scientific socialism. Although dialectical materialism was very important, this source claims that Mao Tse-Tung;s of The People’s Republic of China was even more influential. As mentioned before, the party promoted the use of unconcealed weapons in black communities to protect them from police brutality. The party funded this idea by the sale of Mao’s “little red book” to Berkeley students. Mao was so important to the Black Panthers because he had a different take on Marxism-Leninism where he applied it to Chinese peasants. Huey and Seale felt that there was a close relationship and similarities between the Chinese peasants and the oppression of blacks in America and used Mao’s “little black book” basically as a guideline for social revolution.
This source is also important in revealing leadership issues within the party which eventually led to a “split” within the party. The eventual party split was a result of overbearing egos and conflicting ideology within the group - for instance, half of the group was insistent on political action and change while the other part was interested in action through violence.

Black Panther party (reconsidered). Baltimore: Black Classic P, 1998.

“Survival Programs” were community programs introduced by Newton to address the immediate needs of black communities. A lot of these programs were political action programs to empower and organize the black community. Many members of the Panthers saw these survival programs as an abandonment of their original purpose. These programs were nonviolent and were to help people in the community voice their desires and be involved in the political upkeep of their community. They were “revolutionary community programs,” aimed at bettering the system and making it more fair and just. Many members saw these as “reform” programs, and in response to that Seale replies, “a reform program is set up by the existing exploitative system as an appeasing handout to keep them quite,” (178). This is very important because it was one of the aspects that created a divide within the Black Panthers, eventually leading to their demise.

Seale, Bobby. Seize the time the story of the Black Panther party and Huey P. Newton. Baltimore, Md: Black Classic P, 1991.

As mentioned before, Bobby Seale was one of the founders of the Black Panther party and this source is a personal account on his reasoning for its creation, action and ideology. This source reveals the role and involvement of women in the Party, an aspect which is sometimes ignored or only slightly mentioned by other philosophers and theorists. Seale, a great follower of Marxist social theory, believed that in order to attain social equality publicly, they needed to establish is privately within the party. Seale based the ideology of the Panthers on equality. The party moved to abolish the ideals of male chauvinism in society and aspired for a day when “a man and a woman could relate to each other totally on the basis of natural attraction,” (394). He wanted the party to assist black men in the community in losing their ideals of women domination and using women as a means - instead, treating them as equals. This was very important to him, the party and one of the pillars of what he hoped for the future.

Painter, Nell I. Creating Black Americans. New York: Oxford P, 2001.

This source gives a general overview of the party and how it evolved over the years. It also spoke specifically about the programs that Huey and Seale created such as the free breakfast program which was the Panthers most successful venture. It began in Berkeley and quickly spread through the community to churches and community centers. According to this source, the Black Panther Party was serving breakfast to more than, “20,000 poor children in 19 cities,” (297). They also set up free medical and dental clinics in Oakland and New Haven, CA which assisted their gain in popularity. The Panthers also gave free clothing to the inner city poor of ALL races. This source gives a good perspective of the leadership qualities held by the leaders of the Black Panthers and how they expected their followers to act.

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