Tag Archives: Creating Revolution as they Advance: A Narrative History of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

Why the Panther Uniform and Panther Patrols Were So Important

While developing plans for a revolutionary organization, Newton considered every detail, including the uniform his cadre would wear. The Panther leader desired for the group’s image to serve as a “plus factor” that distinguished them from an ordinary street gang. According to historian Ula Taylor, Huey P. Newton “didn’t want people to see the Panthers as thuggish, gun-toting brothers without an organized agenda. He came up with the idea that all Panthers should wear neat, polished uniform–black slacks, ironed powder-blue shirts, black tie or turtleneck, black leather sports jacket.”   Seale explains the Panther uniforms importance below.

That uniform represented a heck of a lot more to the community than just a uniform. It represented organization. The racist power structure recognized us as being organized and they hated it. But the Black community, even the elderly mother would say “Lord, them young men show is sharp. Them young men and young women sure are sharp and clean and organized.” This is one thing Black people needed. It’s a safety valve for developed consciousness. To the brother on the block, the lumpen, “Man, them dudes show is sharp. Baby, I show wish I had me some knows and some pimp socks like that,” you know what I mean? But at the same time, it gave us a chance to talk with people about the ten-point platform and program really what we were about.”

Unfortunately for the Panthers, their attempt to differentiate themselves from street gangs and hoodlums failed to increase their membership numbers significantly. Nonetheless, the moment that Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and Lil’ Bobby Hutton emerged from their vehicle, they caused a significant buzz throughout the Bay Area.

According to Elaine Brown, fear was the greatest obstacle the African-American community faced on its path to liberation.

The first question for black people is to get past fear, to see past the monolith to the man. That’s why we started using the word ”pig,” a detestable image that takes away the image of omnipotence. A pig, whether running loose in the ghetto with a gun or sitting on Wall Street or in the White House, is a man who can bleed like a man and fall like a man.

Panther leaders hoped to wield the Panther Patrols as an Excalibur that slew Bay Area African-Americans perception of law enforcement officers’ omnipotence.

Newton realized that theory alone was incapable of trumping African-Americans fear of Bay Area officers. Ironically, fear prevented local Blacks from moving toward liberation. Newton speculated that only public confrontations held the potential to remove the veneer of omnipotence that simultaneously cloaked officers and convinced Black urbanites that joining the Panther Party was suicidal.

Huey P. Newton recalls the Panther Patrols initial purpose below.

Out on patrol, we stopped whenever we saw the police questioning a brother or a sister. We would walk over with our weapons and observe them from a safe distance so that the police could not say we were interfering with the performance of their duty. We would ask the community members if they were being abused. Most of the time, when a policeman saw us coming, he slipped his book back into his pocket, got into his car, and left in a hurry. The citizens who had been stopped were as amazed as the police at our sudden appearance.

I always carried law books in my car. Sometimes, when a policeman was harassing a citizen, I would stand off a little and read the relevant portions of the penal code in a loud voice to all within hearing distance. In doing this, we were helping to educate those who gathered to observe these incidents. If the policeman arrested the citizen and took him to the station, we would follow and immediately post bail. Many citizens came right out of jail and into the Party, and the statistics of murder and brutality by policemen in our communities fell sharply. 

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017

Excerpt from Creating Revolution as they Advance: A Narrative History of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

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President Lyndon Baines Johnson Closes the Coffin on White Participation in the Civil Rights Movement

Whites’ increasing resistance to racial equality perplexed African-American moderates who looked on in horror as their former allies, who now termed themselves neo-liberals, began propagating political principles that absolved them from any responsibility for racial inequality.

Whites couched their increasingly public attacks against racial progressivism within well-worn individualistic Horatio Alger uplift stories.  Neo-liberals shifting principles dramatically altered the political landscape in regards to racial matters. Whites reasoned that their retreat from the battle for racial equality was beneficial for African-Americans as it provided them an invaluable opportunity to independently address intra-racial social vices, political inefficiencies, and economic deficiencies.

After the Watts rebellion, whites considered benign neglect their lone opportunity to aid African-Americans. From their perspective, Blacks only hope of securing respect in America was to follow the same path to politico-economic empowerment that European and Asian immigrants traveled; meaning the mobilization of and strategic utilization of politico-economic caches. Although calls for African-Americans ‘to lift themselves up by their bootstraps’ were a familiar refrain, it remained neither fair nor achievable in the mid-sixties considering their dearth of politico-economic caches. Unfortunately for African-Americans, this reality did not prevent neo-liberals from shifting the blame for persisting racial inequities to their strong shoulders. The insinuation was obvious; whites were no longer willing to aid the American Negro. Neo-liberals publicly attacked Blacks for requesting group protection by admonishing that socially responsible individualism was the only path to racial equality, not offensive rallies, marches, and speeches.

From its genesis, neo-liberalism propagated flawed theories regarding Black suffering to a gullible white populace. For example, Neo-liberals disputed their former Black allies’ assertion that institutional racism was the real catalyst to persisting racial inequities. President Lyndon Baines Johnson articulated such thinking during a commencement address at Howard University on June 4, 1965.  Johnson’s speech signals progressive whites’ abandonment of liberalism for a more conservative politic. At the addresses opening, Johnson enveloped himself in traditional liberal jargon by acknowledging the pernicious effects of racial discrimination and calling for continued diligence in the battle to subdue it. The President pointed out,

[Y]ou do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “You are free to compete with all the others,” and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus, it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates. 

However, the most significant aspect of President Johnson’s presentation occurred after these initial thoughts when he endorsed a new path to racial equality; Lyndon Baines Johnson then proceeded to blame Blacks for persisting racial inequities.

Equal opportunity is essential, but not enough. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family you live with, and the neighborhoods you live in, by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the infant, the child, and the man. Overt job discrimination is only one of the important hurdles which must be overcome before color can disappear as a determining factor in the lives and fortunes of men . . . The extent to which an individual is able to develop his aptitudes will largely depend upon the circumstances present in the family within which he grows up and the opportunities which he encounters at school and in the larger community.

African-Americans should have considered Johnson’s comments public warning that they were solely responsible for lifting themselves up by their bootstraps because neo-liberals, a population that included former allies, had abandoned the struggle for racial equality with a clear conscience, nonetheless.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017

Excerpt from Creating Revolution as they Advance: A Narrative History of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

J. Edgar Hoover Responds to Division Five’s Hesitation to Attack the Black Panther Party

Edgar Hoover considered his taking significant action against the Black Panther Party a national security issue. The disproportionate amount of Bureau resources devoted to subduing the Panthers is startling when one considers that the Federal Bureau of Investigation spent more resources upon the Panthers than all other Civil Rights and Black Power Era targets combined. Out of 295 COINTELPRO operations during the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Eras, an astonishing 233 were directed at the Panthers. Obviously, the Panthers had no way of weathering such an onslaught.

The FBI’s campaign to subdue the Black Panther Party hinged upon six points: (a) exacerbating pre-existing intra-party tensions by promoting factionalism; (b) encouraging a state of distrust within the Black Panther Party by randomly labeling key Panther leaders and members as informants; (c) utilizing agent provocateurs to exploit pockets of criminality within the Black Panther Party; (d) developing a prosecutorial campaign to incarcerate Black Panther Party members who could be baited into criminal activities; (e) exploiting structural weaknesses between the Black Panther Party Central Committee and local chapters; (f) setting the context for the Black Panther Party’s isolation from potential allies and supporters “by any means necessary” including, but not limited to, murder.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents utilized a plethora of covert activities to accomplish the above goals such as bogus letters, wiretaps, secret agent infiltration, agent provocateurs, informants, incarcerations, and murder. An internal FBI memo details the organization’s multi-pronged strategy to destroy the Black Panther Party.

[It] is essential that we not only accelerate our investigations of this organization and increase our informants in the organization but that we take action under the counterintelligence program to disrupt the group [by creating] factionalism between not only the national leaders but also the local leaders, steps to neutralize all organizational efforts of the BPP as well as create suspicion amongst the leaders as to each others sources of finances, suspicion concerning their respective spouses and suspicion as to who may be cooperating with law enforcement…suspicion should be developed as to who may be attempting to gain control of the organization for their own private betterment, as well as suggestions to the best method of exploiting the foreign visits made by BPP members. We are also soliciting recommendations as to the best method of creating opposition to the BPP on the part of the majority of the residents of the ghetto area. 

However, not all Bureau agents agreed with Hoover’s assessment that the Panther Party was “the single greatest threat to national security.”

The most vocal dissent to Hoover’s belief that the Panther Party was a legitimate threat to national security came from Division Five, ironically, the office not only in charge of the Bay Area but also the office with the most knowledge of the Black Panther Party. According to Division Five agents, the Black Panther Party was not a national security threat. Internal memos relate that Division Five agents considered the Panthers little more than a run-of-the-mill organization destined to decline once rationality replaced emotionalism. Predictably, national level FBI leaders rejected Division Five’s assessment and ordered all agents to increase surveillance activities against the upstart Nationalists.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017

Excerpt from Creating Revolution As They Advance: A Narrative History of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

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Eldridge Cleaver Discovers the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

From the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s inception, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale considered the African-American community to be the Panthers lone buffer against state repression. The confrontation in front of the Ramparts building reinforced that belief. Toward ensuring the Black community’s support, Panther leaders began dispensing information that delivered their perspective of American racial matters via their news periodical, The Black Panther. The Black Panther not only provided much-needed publicity but also paved the way for a significant membership increase. The newspaper was the brainchild of the newest Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver.

Eldridge Cleaver’s initial exposure to Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and the Black Panther Party came during preparation for the aforementioned Malcolm X Day Celebration. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale’s arrival at the “Black House” to receive their security assignment from the Malcolm X Day Celebration steering committee startled Eldridge Cleaver. Cleaver recalled, “I spun around in my seat and saw the most beautiful sight I had ever seen: four black men wearing black berets, powder blue shirts, black leather jackets, black trousers, shiny black shoes–and each with a gun!…Where was my mind at? Blown!” Cleaver, a communications master, eventually became the voice of Black Power. Not long after Cleaver became aware of its existence, he officially enlisted in the Black Panther Party and was appointed Minister of Information. Cleaver, a recent parolee from the California penal system after serving nine years for a rape conviction, was renowned throughout the Bay Area for his oratorical prowess and literary skill. Cleaver had much in common with other Panther leaders as many of them hailed from the Deep South; Cleaver’s roots lay in Arkansas.

Predictably, the Cleavers westward migration failed to solve their economic woes as they, like droves of other Black emigrants, landed in one of California’s housing projects. Considering his environs, it is not surprising that imprisonment was Cleaver’s inevitable destination. While incarcerated in Soledad, Cleaver honed the prodigious writing skills that facilitated his early release from prison. White Bay Area radicals became aware of his phenomenal literary skills via a series of essays that became the cult-classic best selling Soul on Ice. The aforementioned radicals diligently worked for his release and arranged employment at the leftist periodical Ramparts.

A disciple of Malcolm X, Cleaver was determined to bring Malcolm’s final secular vision, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, to fruition. Cleaver considered the uniting of African-American activists, artists, writers, and political theoreticians the initial step in accomplishing that goal. Such aspirations led Cleaver to create the “Black House” in San Francisco’s Fillmore district as a centralized location for the aforementioned individuals to assemble, strategize, and share information. The funds supporting this hub of African-American culture and politics were provided by Eldridge Cleaver’s white leftist benefactors. Newton and Seale thought that Cleaver’s most significant contributions would not be his phenomenal oratorical prowess or literary skill; rather his access to monies via speaking engagements and a network of wealthy white radicals. Indicative of such was Cleaver donating the residuals from Soul on Ice to the Panther Party. Cleaver immediately became the primary engine behind the Panthers most powerful communication tool and consistent fundraiser, The Black Panther.

Excerpt from Creating Revolution as They Advance: A Narrative History of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017

WHY DID FBI DIRECTOR J. EDGAR HOOVER ORDER HIS MEN TO ATTACK THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY FOR SELF-DEFENSE?

We were saying that poor people should rally and organize against an oppressive government which oppressed us because we were poor, not just because we were black, but because we were poor. See, they could hear all the buy black, do black, think black, be black, black on, and black power. They could hear that, they didn’t care about that part. It was when poor niggers started talking about class struggle that they got frightened. And not just talked about it, but did something…No. They were worried about ignorant, poor niggers on the streets with guns talking about the haves and the have-nots.

(Ericka Huggins)

It is most certainly a daunting proposition to be born black in a schizophrenic nation whose creation was made possible by the enslavement of stolen Africans yet steadily reminds its citizenry that racial matters are relatively inconsequential. Despite what American powerbrokers have repeatedly attempted to assert over the past several centuries, race still somewhat matters.

In many ways, it is surprising that in a nation where an elite class of white power-brokers has risen to power by exploiting all non-elites regardless of racial classification or ethnic identity that racial struggle and pride has not been abandoned by all. Nonetheless, Race remains the rallying point for American groups. Considering the overwhelming influence of Race in America, one is hard-pressed to dispute one of Malcolm X’s most truthful assertions of U.S. racial matters. In an often forgotten moment of commentary regarding the melting of new immigrants into the American fabric of whiteness, Malcolm X remarked that “the first word that European immigrants learn when they come to Ellis Island is Nigger!” From the perspective of Black America, “Nigger” was the secret password that allowed the Irish, Polish, and every other new immigrant group to cloak themselves in a socially constructed and politically expedient cover of bland whiteness. Unfortunately, whites have much company in allowing Race to serve as a rallying point for politico-economic solidarity.

Consider for a moment that racial matters are so central to the vision of black leaders’ that their followers would certainly abandon their camp if they ever de-emphasized racial issues for another variable such as Class. Put simply; within the African-American freedom struggle, any discussion not exclusively focused on Race is not only ridiculed but also dismissed as utter foolishness by an unproductive revolutionary cadre fixated on Race. Black America’s so-called revolutionary class fails to realize that their obsessive focus on Race significantly marginalizes their status as revolutionaries seeking to liberate their person from the misery and sorrow that attaches itself to the economically exploited in any Capitalist nation. Although Black revolutionaries must for their mental comfort resist the insinuation that their efforts to liberate Black America from its centuries-long marginalized status are not only futile but also poses no threat to power-brokers, the fact that power-brokers rarely respond to their efforts should serve as a major indicator of they being on the incorrect path. If they were engaged in the revolutionary process, power-brokers would react in a real manner to their activities. Just ask the remaining leadership of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense if my words are correct.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of my having studied the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense for the past twenty years has been the internal angst that occurs when I engage groups and individuals who have convinced themselves that they are some way a continuation of the original Panthers that Huey Percy Newton and Bobby Seale co-founded on October 15, 1966, in Oakland, California. After the publication of my book on the Black Panther Party titled Creating Revolution as they Advance was completed, I received the honor of being invited to participate in panel discussions and deliver lectures over the Black Power Era and the vaunted Panther Party; the Vanguard of America’s highly-volatile sixties protest culture.

Although I wish that I could say otherwise, the vast majority of the panel discussions that I have participated in have only highlighted how little many of the individuals who have desperately attempted to seize the Panther’s revolutionary mantle know about organizational principles and philosophies.

One of the most telling signs that many of the modern reiterations of the Black Panther Party are uninformed regarding Panther philosophies is their disproportionate focus on racial matters and utter silence regarding far more impacting class issues. This current cadre of Panthers fails to realize that the path to revolution is not found in the arena of Race, rather class warfare. Despite their inability to recognize it, the poverty that has enveloped so many Americans should be the rallying call to action, not a clumsy attempt by one group of poor people to take the limited resources that other poor people have gained temporary access to.

The failure to accentuate Class over Race reveals present-day Panthers as intellectual lightweights who have yet to find their way to the revolutionary road; such individuals remain mesmerized by icons and symbols such as guns, leather jackets, and berets that mean very little in regards to revolutionary struggle. Contemporary Panthers are seemingly enchanted by the seductive siren known as Race.

Consider for a moment why J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, directed the overwhelming majority of Bureau resources toward the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s destruction. Is the answer to this query found in the Panther’s carrying weapons? Most certainly not! If that were the case, then the Deacons for Defense and Justice or Revolutionary Action Movement — two other black groups that openly carried weapons in defense of their community — would have received similar treatment. The answer to why the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was singled out over their activist contemporaries is ironically their decision to de-emphasize racial matters and accentuate class issues that are more meaningful in a capitalist society.

Consider for a moment the following recollection of Panther leader Ericka Huggins regarding why J. Edgar Hoover’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) singled-out the Panthers for the brunt of their repressive activities. Huggins recalls that,

We were saying that poor people should rally and organize against an oppressive government which oppressed us because we were poor, not just because we were black, but because we were poor. See, they (the FBI) could hear all the buy black, do black, think black, be black, black on, and black power. They (the FBI) could hear that, they didn’t care about that part. It was when poor niggers started talking about class struggle that they got frightened. And not just talked about it, but did something…No. They (the FBI) were worried about ignorant, poor niggers on the streets with guns talking about the haves and the have nots.

If nothing else, J. Edgar Hoover understood the inherent dangers that would eventually manifest from Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale’s teachings regarding the exploitative nature of capitalism and the need for an inter-racial coalition of like-minded organizations to combat this odd beast that threatened all of humanity.

American power-brokers realized that the Panthers pursuit of like-minded groups interested in overthrowing Capitalist America was a unique and significant threat to their existence. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was convinced that Huey P. Newton’s manifestation as a revolutionary theoretician that managed to emphasize class issues without totally dismissing the impact of racial matters made him the most dangerous man in America, one capable of being a messianic figure capable of unifying not only the black movement, but also creating productive coalitions with like-minded groups of varying races and ethnicities.

To the chagrin of his opponents, Newton displayed an uncanny willingness to forge alliances with groups seeking to destroy American Capitalism, regardless of their race/ethnicity or sexual orientation. Therein lays the reason that J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO selected the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense for the bulk of their repressive activities. Unfortunately, contemporary “revolutionaries” are still entangled in a “racial bag” that limits their ability to conceive innovative activities. One thing is for certain until the new Panthers are able to unlearn the draconian lessons of their oppressor, they will never reach, let alone travel down the revolutionary road.

ALL POWER TO ALL PEOPLE!!!!!!!!

Dr. James Thomas Jones III