Black Panther Party

Who are the Black Panthers?


Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) was a revolutionary socialist organization that existed from 1966 to 1976. Important figures for the party include Stokley Carmichael, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and Fred Hampton (who was murdered by the Chicago Police Department in 1969.)

The Black Panthers organized and protected autonomous Black communities from police brutality and state violence. In addition, they implemented hundreds of public health programs, including free breakfast for children, free health clinics, OB/GYN services, drug rehab, and sickle-cell anemia screening.1 The Panthers' 10-point program called for the "power to determine the destiny of our Black community, and "an immediate end to police brutality and murder of our people," and freedom for all Black prisoners.2

Due to the lax gun laws in California at the time, the Panthers were heavily armed and militant, but used the show of force to protect their communities from rampant police brutality. They started the practice that is now called copwatch, following and photographing police while carrying loaded shotguns. Legally, Oakland police could not stop Panthers from "monitoring" racist cops. Today, groups around the US and the world practice copwatch, using equipment like video cameras and cell phones (usually sans shotguns!).

The modern gun control movement began under then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan in an attempt to disarm black militants.3 The Panthers "opposed the gun control bill because it would leave Blacks helpless in the face of police terror."4 Liberals often overlook this history when they support gun control legislation.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the Black Panthers "the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States."4

What is Black Power?

The Black Panthers aimed to improve the living conditions of Blacks in the US while fighting for socialism, and not to institute separation between Blacks and whites. They readily formed coalitions with Latino, Asian, and white leftists, including Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

Huey Newton had this to say:

There are two kinds of nationalism, revolutionary nationalism and reactionary nationalism. Revolutionary nationalism is first dependent upon a people's revolution with the end goal being the people in power. Therefore, to be a revolutionary nationalist, you would by necessity have to be a socialist. If you are a reactionary nationalist, you are not a socialist, and your end goal is the oppression of the people.

The New Black Panther Party has no relation to the 60s-70s socialist organization, and neither does the Nation of Islam (except with some membership overlap). NBPP and Nation of Islam are arguably fascist.

What is the BPP's relevance to public health?

The Black Panthers proved that free public health services can be successfully implemented and sustained without relying on markets or state funding. Specifically, the BPP showed that solidarity is key in implementing non-hierarchical medical care, as their clinics were collaborative and provided free preventative services to anyone in the Black community.

Panther clinics mainly provided first aid and basic services - including testing for high blood pressure, lead poisoning, tuberculosis, and diabetes; cancer detection screenings; physical exams; treatments for colds and flu; and immunization against polio, measles, rubella, and diphtheria. In some instances, clinics screened for sickle cell anemia and offered optometry services, well-baby services, pediatrics and gynecology exams. For the most part Party health cadre attended to basic health needs that might otherwise have gone unconsidered or untreated.6

The US government imprisoned, killed, or silenced many members of the Black Panthers. Assata Shakur is currently exiled in Cuba, and she was added to the terror-watch list as late as May 2013, proving once again that reality really is stranger than fiction. For reference, Nelson Mandela was also a member of a "terrorist" organization and on the terror watch-list until 2008.5

Other organizations inspired by the Panthers include the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican nationalist organization that also organized against police brutality, and successfully lobbied for lead reduction in their homes and for the construction of a new hospital in Spanish Harlem.7 Public health in action, folks!


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