The Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCDO) was established by Stokely Carmichael in Alabama in 1964. This organization later changed its name to the Black Panther Party. In October 1966 Bobby Seale and Huey Newton formed the Black Panther Party (BPP) in Oakland, California. They named the new organization after the emblem adopted by the Lowndes County Freedom Organization.
The Black Panthers were initially formed to protect local communities from police brutality and racism. The group also ran medical clinics and provided free food to school children. Within a couple of years the Black Panthers in Oakland were feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school.
Prominent members of the Black Panthers included Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Fred Hampton, Fredrika Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Kathleen Cleaver, David Hilliard, George Jackson, Angela Davis, Bobby Hutton and Elaine Brown.
The Black Panthers had chapters in several major cities and had a membership of over 2,000. Harassed by the police, members became involved in several shoot-outs. This included an exchange of fire between Panthers and the police at Oakland on 28th October, 1967. Huey Newton was wounded and while in hospital was charged with killing a police officer. The following year he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
On 6th April, 1968 eight BPP members, including Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Hutton and David Hilliard, were travelling in two cars when they were ambushed by the Oakland police. Cleaver and Hutton ran for cover and found themselves in a basement surrounded by police. The building was fired upon for over an hour. When a tear-gas canister was thrown into the basement the two men decided to surrender. Cleaver was wounded in the leg and so Hutton said he would go first. When he left the building with his hands in the air he was shot twelve times by the police and was killed instantly.
In November 1968 Fred Hampton founded the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. He immediately established a community service program. This included the provision of free breakfasts for schoolchildren and a medical clinic that did not charge patients for treatment. Hampton also taught political education classes and instigated a community control of police project.
One of Hampton's greatest achievements was to persuade Chicago's most powerful street gangs to stop fighting against each other. In May 1969 Hampton held a press conference where he announced a nonaggression pact between the gangs and the formation of what he called a "rainbow coalition" (a multiracial alliance of black, Puerto Rican, and poor youths).
The leaders of the Black Panthers were influenced by the ideas expressed by Malcolm X in the final months of his life. The Panthers therefore argued for international working class unity and supported joint action with white revolutionary groups. The Black Panthers eventually developed into a Marxist revolutionary group.
The activities of the Black Panthers came to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Hoover described the Panthers as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country" and in November 1968 ordered the FBI to employ "hard-hitting counter-intelligence measures to cripple the Black Panthers".
In 1968 Bobby Seale was charged with inciting riots during the Democratic Party National Convention. When Seale repeatedly interrupted court proceedings the judge ordered him to be bound and gagged. Seale was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison for 16 counts of contempt of court.
While in prison Seale was charged with murdering Alex Rackley, a former Black Panther suspected of being a police informer. On 25th May, 1971, the trial ended in a hung jury and the judge ordered all charges against Seale to be dropped.
In the early hours of the 4th December, 1969, the Panther headquarters in Chicago was raided by the police. The police later claimed that the Panthers opened fire and a shoot-out took place. During the next ten minutes Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed. Witnesses claimed that Hampton was wounded in the shoulder and then executed by a shot to the head. The panthers left alive were arrested and charged with attempting to murder the police. Afterwards, ballistic evidence revealed that only one bullet had been fired by the Panthers whereas nearly a hundred came from police guns.
After being released from prison, both Bobby Seale and Huey Newton renounced political violence. Over a six year period 24 Black Panthers had been killed in gun fights with the police. Another member, George Jackson, was assassinated while in San Quentin prison in August, 1971.
The Black Panthers now concentrated on socialist community programs including free breakfasts for children, free medical clinics and helping the homeless.
While in exile Eldridge Cleaver had disagreements with Huey Newton and in 1971 he expelled him from the Black Panther Party. Soon afterwards Cleaver formed the Revolutionary Peole's Communication Network and Kathleen Cleaver returned to the United States to establish the party in New York.
In 1973 Bobby Seale ran for mayor of Oakland and came second out of nine candidates with 43,710 votes (40 per cent of votes cast). The following year Elaine Brown was elected party chief and helped to turn it into a supporter of women's rights. Under her leadership the party successfully supported Lionel Wilson in his campaign to become the first black mayor of Oakland.
In 1975, Frank Church became the chairman of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. This committee investigated alleged abuses of power by the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Intelligence. The committee looked at the case of Fred Hampton and discovered that William O'Neal, Hampton's bodyguard, was a FBI agent-provocateur who, days before the raid, had delivered an apartment floor-plan to the Bureau with an "X" marking Hampton's bed. Ballistic evidence showed that most bullets during the raid were aimed at Hampton's bedroom.
I would like to let the people here tonight know why we chose this black panther as our emblem. Many people have been asking this question for a long time. Our political group is open to whoever wants to come in, who would like to work with us. But we aren't begging anyone to come in. It's open, you come, at your own free will and accord.
But this black panther is a vicious animal as you know. He never bothers anything, but when you start pushing him, he moves backwards, backwards, and backwards into his corner, and then he comes out to destroy everything that's before him.
We had seen Watts rise up the previous year. We had seen how the police attacked the Watts community after causing the trouble in the first place. We had seen Martin Luther King come to Watts in an effort to calm the people, and we had seen his philosophy of nonviolence rejected. Black people had been taught nonviolence; it was deep in us. What good, however, was nonviolence when the police were determined to rule by force? We had seen all this, and we recognized that the rising consciousness of Black people was almost at the point of explosion. Out of this need sprang the Black Panther Party. Bobby Seale and I finally had no choice but to form an organization that would involve the lower-class brothers.
One Monday morning Huey Newton called me up and said, "Bobby, come over to the house right quick." I went over to the house. Huey showed me the papers. He said, "Look here, Mulford is up in the legislature now, trying to get a bill passed against us. We don't care about laws anyway, because the laws they make don't serve us at all. He's probably making a law to serve the power structure. He's trying to get some kind of law passed against us." He said, "I've been thinking. Remember when I told you we have to go in front of a city hall, in front of a jail, or do something like we did in Martinez, to get more publicity, so we can get a message over to the people?" This was Huey's chief concern, getting the message over to the people.
So Huey says, "You know what we're going to do?" "What?" "We're going to the Capitol." I said, "The Capitol?" He says, "Yeah, we're going to the Capitol." I say, "For what?" "Mulford's there, and they're trying to pass a law against our guns, and we're going to the Capitol steps. We're going to take the best Panthers we got and we're going to the Capitol steps with our guns and forces, loaded down to the gills. And we're going to read a message to the world, because all the press is going to be up there. The press is always up there. They'll listen to the message, and they'll probably blast it all across this country. I know, I know they'll blast it all the way across California. We've got to get a message over to the people."
Huey understood a revolutionary culture, and Huey understood how arms and guns become a part of the culture of a people in the revolutionary struggle. And he knew that the best way to do it was to go forth, and those hungry newspaper reporters, who are shocked, who are going to be shook up, are going to be blasting that news faster than they could be stopped. I said, "All right, brother, right on. I'm with you. We're going to the Capitol." So we called a meeting that night, before going up to the Capitol, to write the first executive mandate for the Black Panther Party. Huey was going to write Executive Mandate Number One.
1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
We believe that black people will not be free until we are able to determine our destiny.
2. We want full employment for our people.
We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the white American businessmen will not give full employment, then the means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.
3. We want an end to the robbery by the white man of our Black Community.
We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules was promised 100 years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass murder of black people. We will accept the payment as currency which will be distributed to our many communities. The Germans are now aiding the Jews in Israel for the genocide of the Jewish people. The Germans murdered six million Jews. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of over twenty million black people; therefore, we feel that this is a modest demand that we make.
4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
We believe that if the white landlords will not give decent housing to our black community, then the housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that our community, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for its people.
5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.
We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.
6. We want all black men to be exempt from military service.
We believe that Black people should not be forced to fight in the military service to defend a racist government that does not protect us. We will not fight and kill other people of color in the world who, like black people, are being victimized by the white racist government of America. We will protect ourselves from the force and violence of the racist police and the racist military, by whatever means necessary.
7. We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.
We believe we can end police brutality in our black community by organizing black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our black community from racist police oppression and brutality. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States gives a right to bear arms. We therefore believe that all black people should arm themselves for self defense.
8. We want freedom for all black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
We believe that all black people should be released from the many jails and prisons because they have not received a fair and impartial trial.
9. We want all black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
We believe that the courts should follow the United States Constitution so that black people will receive fair trials. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives a man a right to be tried by his peer group. A peer is a person from a similar economic, social, religious, geographical, environmental, historical and racial background. To do this the court will be forced to select a jury from the black community from which the black defendant came. We have been, and are being tried by all-white juries that have no understanding of the "average reasoning man" of the black community.
10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace. And as our major political objective, a United Nations-supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony in which only black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national destiny.
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to supper, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariable the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense calls upon the American people in general and the black people in particular to take careful note of the racist California Legislature which is now considering legislation aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror, brutality, murder, and repression of black people.
At the same time that the American government is waging a racist war of genocide in Vietnam, the concentration camps in which Japanese Americans were interned during World War II are being renovated and expanded. Since America has historically reserved the most barbaric treatment for non-white people, we are forced to conclude that these concentration camps are being prepared for black people who are determined to gain their freedom by any means necessary. The enslavement of black people from the very beginning of this country, the genocide practiced on the American Indians and the confining of the survivors on reservations, the savage lynching of thousands of black men and women, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and now the cowardly massacre in Vietnam, all testify to the fact that toward people of color the racist power structure of America has but one policy: repression, genocide, terror, and the big stick.
Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetrated against black people. All of these efforts have been answered by more repression, deceit, and hypocrisy. As the aggression of the racist American government escalates in Vietnam, the police agencies of America escalate the repression of black people throughout the ghettoes of America. Vicious police dogs, cattle prods, and increased patrols have become familiar sights in black communities. City Hall turns a deaf ear to the pleas of black people for relief from this increasing terror.
The Black Panther Party for Self-defense believes that the time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late. The pending Mulford Act brings the hour of doom one step nearer. A people who have suffered so much for so long at the hands of a racist society, must draw the line somewhere. We believe that the black communities of America must rise up as one man to halt the progression of a trend that leads inevitably to their total destruction.
Q: What was it that was appealing to you about the Black Panther Party?
A: I encountered the Black Panther Party when I was in SNCC. I had gotten involved with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee at the same time that it articulated black power as its position. I was a student in New York, and I started working in the New York office. The Black Power Movement challenged all the preconceived notions of blacks not being able to determine their own destiny. It was essentially a very nationalistic self-determination position. And what appealed to me about the Black Panther Party was that it took that position of self-determination and articulated it in a local community structure, had a program, had a platform and an implementation through the statement of how blacks should exercise community control over education, housing, business, military service.
The ideology of the Black Panther Party is the historical experiences of Black people in America translated through Marxism-Leninism. When we review the past history of Black people in this country, we realize that after 400 years we are victims of the oppressive machinery that gags, binds and chains Black men who speak out in defense of their alleged constitutional rights.
Many people act as if they were surprised at what's happening to the Chairman of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale, but I think a careful examination of who our persecutors are will clear the minds of the masses of people that could not see through the so-called judicial smokescreen of justice. These people that tortured and gagged and chained Bobby are the descendants of pirates. Genocidal murderers of the Red Man; users of the atomic bomb upon the Japanese people. The enslavers and exploiters of Blacks in this country right up until this very day.
The Black Panther Party since its inception has always used the weapon of example to educate the masses. When the Minister of Defense, Huey P. Newton, sent a delegation of armed Panthers to the California state Capitol this was a process of educating the people by example that Blacks did not have their rights guaranteed by the constitution to bear arms in defense of their lives against racist mobs of fascists in or out of uniform. So that Huey P. Newton made the statement "an unarmed people are either enslaved or subjected to slavery at any given time."
It is sometimes hard to understand how people react to the term fascist. They think the fascists left when the Hitlerites were defeated. I relate to what Eldridge says, "that the American flag and the American eagle are the true symbols of fascism." The American historian has a way of justifying this system by using Germany as the most vicious enemy against mankind, this is perhaps true for the people of Jewish descent. But when we really check this shit out, starting with the genocide of the Indians, the 50,000,000 Black people slaughtered by the oppressors when taken against their will at the point of guns, over 400 years ago, right here in America. Then reminding ourselves of the genocidal and imperialist war against the Vietnamese people, the burning of Blacks on the sacred cross of Christianity. Then it becomes easier to relate to the chieftains of fascism, imperialism, racism; and Bobby Seale's demand for his right to self defense.
You know, a lot of people have hang-ups with the Party because the Party talks about a class struggle. We say primarily that the priority of this struggle is class. That Marx and Lenin and Che Guevara and Mao Tse-tung and anybody else that has ever said or knew or practiced anything about revolution always said that a revolution is a class struggle. It was one class - the oppressed, and that other class - the oppressor. And it's got to be a universal fact. Those that don't admit to that are those that don't want to get involved in a revolution, because they know as long as they're dealing with a race thing, they'll never be involved in a revolution.
We never negated the fact that there was racism in America, but we said that the by-product, what comes off of capitalism, that happens to be racism. That capitalism comes first and next is racism. That when they brought slaves over here, it was to make money. So first the idea came that we want to make money, then the slaves came in order to make that money. That means, through historical fact, that racism had to come from capitalism. It had to be capitalism first and racism was a byproduct of that.
Fred Hampton was the originator of the concept of the Rainbow Coalition. He was the first person to come up with that concept in 1969. That was an effort to educate and politicize other poor and oppressed people throughout this world. He worked with and attempted to politicize the Young Patriots organization, which was a group of Appalachian whites in the near north area of Chicago, politicizing them and organizing them to recognize the leadership of the Black Revolution, the vanguard party, the Black Panther Party, and to work in their communities against this huge monster we had to deal with which is racism.
The Black Panther Party began to go out in the community from day one. We talked to residents of the community to see what issues they were concerned about that affected their survival. We did not ask them to fill out questionnaires.
We started survival programs. We started breakfast programs. We started feeding the children in the community without asking how many children you got and how many different daddies of children you got or if you're getting an aid check. Those things were not important to us and we did not say we had to wait for federal funds. As a matter of fact we could not accept any federal funds at all because we felt that an enemy that was trying to destroy us would not give federal funds to a group that had no vested interest in that enemy's survival.
We got doctors. We politicized the doctors and we let them know that public health is a priority over hospital wealth. We said it shouldn't be a question of how much insurance a person had or whether or not they had insurance or the money to pay. If people are sick and dying, then people have a right to treatment.
So the community was concluding that all this stuff they're reading about these Panthers is opposite to our practice in the community. The people began to question the role the media played in the community. They began to question even more so a government that they knew was oppressing them.
Waves of rebellion spread across black communities with the news of King's killing. Memphis, Birmingham, Chicago, Detroit, New York, and a score of other cities erupted that weekend. Washington, DC, went up in flames. In the Bay Area, police cars flooded black neighborhoods, and the National Guard was put on alert. Garry got the arrest warrant for Bobby Seale withdrawn, and they held a press conference at the courthouse on Friday. Bobby had shaved his mustache and beard to disguise himself, and his face took on a young, innocent look. Bobby emphasized that the Black Panther Party opposed rioting as both futile and self-destructive, for black neighborhoods were always the worst harmed. He spoke on radio, television, and at rallies in a marathon effort to staunch the disaster splattering around us. Eldridge told me that it was all the staff could do to explain how senseless it was to the hundreds of people who rushed to our office clamoring for guns to vent their rage in a disorganized manner.
On Saturday, Eldridge and I met at the entrance to Sproul Plaza at Berkeley to go to the rally he was speaking at on campus. Standing on the sidewalk, I looked up at him, his black leather jacket gleaming in the sun. With his black turtleneck sweater, black pants, black boots, and black sunglasses, he seemed cloaked in death. I shuddered. The thought flashed through my mind that I would never see him again. I pushed it away - anything might happen - but I didn't want to think about it now. A wave of tenderness swept over me, as I thought of how casually Eldridge was risking his life to keep Huey out of the gas chamber.
Eldridge gave an electrifying speech. He didn't want to remain at the rally, but instead insisted on rushing back to the Panther office. "Isn't there someplace I can take you for a few hours?" he asked. "I don't want you at the office today, and I think it's too hot for you to go back home."
"Drop me off at Kay's house," I said. "I haven't seen her lately, and she lives near the campus."
Kay was a graduate student at Berkeley. She and I had been friends since we were children in Tuskegee, where her cousin Sammy Younge was murdered for his involvement in the civil rights movement. After he was shot, I had dropped out of college and joined the movement. That evening at her house, Kay and I talked about our lives until her husband, Bill, got home.
After dinner, we all watched the late news in the living room. Scenes of local memorial rallies for Dr. King and riots breaking out around the country dominated. Kay and Bill went to bed after the news was over, and I pulled the telephone over to the coffee table that faced the sofa, wondering why Eldridge was taking so long to come pick me up.
A bulletin flashed across the screen about a shoot-out involving the Oakland police - no location or time was mentioned. I recalled my earlier premonition about Eldridge's death, then blanked out there on the sofa, waiting for the phone to ring. I slept so soundly that none of the calls stirred me until around five the next morning. I answered the ringing telephone.
Alex Hoffman, one of Huey's attorneys, was saying in his low, tired voice, "I suppose you've heard by now, Kathleen, but Eldridge is in San Quentin."
Alex went on to say that Eldridge and seven other Panthers had been arrested last night after a shoot-out near David Hilliard's house, and that Bobby Hutton had been killed.
I went numb with shock.
"I'll take you to see Eldridge in prison as soon as I can get the details worked out," Alex said. "Always leave a number where I can reach you."
By the time I saw Alex on Sunday, Eldridge had been shuttled off to the prison in Vacaville, some fifty miles north of the Bay Area, isolating him from the rest of the jailed Panthers. Alex and I were waiting in a drab cubicle reserved for attorneys' visits when I spotted Eldridge being pushed down the hallway in a wheelchair. He looked like a captured giant, cuts and scratches on his face, the hair burned off the top of his head, his foot covered by a huge white bandage. When the guard wheeled him into the room, I could see that Eldridge's eyes were swollen, his face puffy, and his beard matted.
The sight left me too dazed to cry. Now I understood the glazed expression I'd seen in photographs of the faces of people whose homes or churches had been bombed, as if they couldn't believe what they were looking at. Anticipating or reading about terrifying violence does not prepare you to accept it. I felt too scared of what might happen to Eldridge in that notorious prison to dwell on how close he had come to being killed the night before.
Since I'd last seen him, he'd been trapped in an Oakland basement where he and Bobby Hutton had run for cover after gunshots flew between two Oakland police and several carloads of Black Panthers. A fifty-man assault force pounded bullets into the house where they hid for ninety minutes. When a tear-gas canister that had been thrown into the basement caught fire, Eldridge and Bobby agreed to surrender. Eldridge was not able to walk because a bullet had hit his leg. He told Bobby to take off his clothes so the police could not accuse him of hiding a weapon, but Bobby only removed his shirt. When he walked out into the floodlights in front of the house with his hands in the air, a hail of bullets killed him on the spot. Only the shouts from the crowd drawn by the gunfire saved Eldridge from an immediate death when he crawled out of the basement behind Bobby.
We believe your readers will be interested in the following information about the recent attack on Black Panther Party members in Oakland, California.
Seven black men are now imprisoned in Oakland, California following a confrontation with the police on Saturday, April 6, in which one black youth was killed and two other blacks wounded. The dead youth is Bobby James Hutton, seventeen-year-old member of the Black Panther Party. One of those wounded and now jailed in solitary confinement is Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther Minister of Information, author of the recently published book Soul on Ice, and a staff writer for Ramparts Magazine.
These men were victims of an attack by Oakland police, who for ninety minutes machine-gunned and tear-gassed a house in which the group had taken refuge. The Panthers state that they did not attack the police; they did defend themselves, as is their policy. After the house was set on fire, the men inside announced they would come out. Hutton emerged first, with his hands in the air and unarmed (as the police later admitted); he was shot dead in a volley of bullets. Cleaver was also shot, although also unarmed and holding his hands in the air.
The imprisoned men have been charged with assault with intent to murder a police officer and are being held on $40,000 bail apiece, except for Cleaver, a parolee, whose bail status is uncertain at this time.
The attack was only the most recent example of continuous harassment and intimidation on the part of the Oakland police force against the Black Panther Party, whose leadership that force seems determined to exterminate. The Party is an influential political group working in the black ghettos of the Bay area. It has opposed spontaneous and aimless violence; it maintains the right and need for self-defense. The Panthers have established a coalition with the Peace and Freedom Party (an independent party now on the state ballot for upcoming elections) for the basic purpose of freeing Huey Newton, Black Panther Minister for Defense and a Peace & Freedom candidate for Congress.
In protest against the events of April 6, a statement has been signed by a number of writers, editors, and other citizens. The text of that statement follows, together with a partial listing of those who have signed it.
The Black Panthers are greatest threat to the internal security of the country. Schooled in the Marxist-Leninist ideology and the teaching of Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung, its members have perpetrated numerous assaults on police officers and have engaged in violent confrontations with police throughout the country. Leaders and representatives of the Black Panther Party travel extensively all over the United States preaching their gospel of hate and violence not only to ghetto residents, but to students in colleges, universities and high schools as well.
Q: What is the reason for the purge that is going on in the Black Panther Party?
A. We related to what Lenin said, "that a party that purges itself grows to become stronger." The purging is very good. You recognize that there is a diffusion within the rank and file of the party, within the internal structure of the party. So the very fact that you purge strengthens the party. You get rid of all the criminal elements, and work with the people left. You will become stronger, more of a fortress. Quoting form Stalin, I think he said something like "the party used to be hospitable, it would yield to the opinions of all the sympathizers. "But, now the party has become like a fortress." And that the party is only interested in the very best and the most revolutionary sections of society. We try now to attract the very best. And our doors are not open to anyone that decides that they want to join the party. Now the people that become a part of the rank and file of the Black Panther Party will definitely have to be somebody who wants to carry out the desires and aspirations of the oppressed people."
Nothing has improved, nothing has changed in the weeks since your team was here. We're on the same course, the blacks are fast losing the last of their restraints. Growing numbers of blacks are openly passed over when paroles are considered. They have become aware that their only hope lies in resistance. They have learned that resistance is actually possible. The holds are beginning to slip away. Very few men imprisoned for economic crimes or even crimes of passion against the oppressor feel that they are really guilty. Most of today's black convicts have come to understand that they are the most abused victims of an unrighteous order. Up until now, the prospect of parole has kept us from confronting our captors with any real determination. But now with the living conditions deteriorating, and with the sure knowledge that we are slated for destruction, we have been transformed into an implacable army of liberation. The shift to the revolutionary anti-establishment position that Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and Bobby Seale projected as a solution to the problems of Amerika's black colonies has taken firm hold of these brothers' minds. They are now showing great interest in the thoughts of Mao Tse-tung, Nkrumah, Lenin, Marx, and the achievements of men like Che Guevara, Giap, and Uncle Ho.
We're something like 40 to 42 percent of the prison population. Perhaps more, since I'm relying on material published by the media. The leadership of the black prison population now definitely identifies with Huey, Bobby, Angela, Eldridge, and anti-fascism. The savage repression of blacks, which can be estimated by reading the obituary columns of the nation's dailies, Fred Hampton, etc., has not failed to register on the black inmates. The holds are being fast broken. Men who read Lenin, Fanon, and Che don't riot, "they mass," "they rage," they dig graves.
Fred Hampton once said, "You can kill a revolutionary but you can't kill the revolution." On August 21, 1971, the FBI, the state of California and other law enforcement agencies killed Black Panther Party Field Marshal George Lester Jackson at San Quentin Prison, but they failed to kill the revolutionary struggle of Black and poor prison inmates that George was instrumental in organizing throughout this country.
The recent prison rebellions at Folsom, California, Pontiac and Joliet, Illinois, and Reidsville, Georgia, are testaments to the life and untiring work of George Jackson to expose the inhumane conditions suffered by the millions of men and women warehoused in the prisons and jails of America. In their twisted and warped minds, the power structure - the real "criminal" - thought that by murdering George they could destroy the prison movement and the Black Panther Party.
Instead, the prison movement has continued to grow and spread throughout the country in the seven years since the cold- blooded murder of the BPP Field Marshal. Each week, the Black Panthers receive dozens of letters from prison inmates whose ideas strongly reflect the work and beliefs of George Jackson. Who can deny that the Attica Prison uprising of September 11, 1971, was partially caused by inmate anger over the killing of their beloved leader?
Former Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) agent provocateur Louis Tackwood testified in 1976 at the San Quentin 6 trial that his first assignment was to help plot George's murder. The state could not afford to allow the BPP Field Marshal to continue his highly successful prison organizing activities. Beyond the legendary reputation George had within the California penal system, his books were widely read by both prison inmates and those outside prison, books that challenged those opposed to the American penal system to take concrete action to overturn it.
When I went to prison in 1967, I met George. Not physically, I met him through his ideas, his thoughts and words that I would get from him. He was at Soledad Prison at the time; I was at California Penal Colony.
George was a legendary figure all through the prison system, where he spent most of his life. You know a legendary figure is known to most people through the idea, or through the concept, or essentially through the spirit. So I met George through the spirit.
I say that the legendary figure is also a hero. He set a standard for prisoners, political prisoners, for people. He showed the love, the strength, the revolutionary fervor that's characteristic of any soldier for the people. So we know that spiritual things can only manifest themselves in some physical act, through a physical mechanism. I saw prisoners who knew about this legendary figure, act in such a way, putting his ideas to life; so therefore the spirit became a life.
And I would like to say today George's body has fallen, but his spirit goes on, because his ideas live. And we will see that these ideas stay alive, because they'll be manifested in our bodies and in those young Panther bodies, who are our children. So it's a true saying that there will be revolution from one generation to the next.
What kind of standard did George Jackson set? First, that he was a strong man, he was determined, full of love, strength, dedication to the people's cause, without fear. He lived the life that we must praise. It was a life, no matter how he was oppressed, no matter how wrongly he was done, he still kept the love for the people. And this is why he felt no pain in giving up his life for the people's cause.
The state sets the stage for the kind of contradiction or violence that occurs in the world, that occurs in the prisons. The ruling circle of the United States has terrorized the world. The state has the audacity to say they have the right to kill. They say they have a death penalty and it's legal. But I say by the laws of nature that no death penalty can be legal - it's only cold-blooded murder. It gives spur to all sorts of violence, because every man has a contract with himself, that he must keep himself alive at all costs.
I actually became aware of Comrade George a little over two years after his assassination. At the time, I was 17 years old and incarcerated in a segregated section of Los Angeles County Jail after a confrontation with police.
When I came back from court that day, they had moved everyone out in my section, separated by race. At that point, I was the only African in that section, but next to me was a Chicano brother who had a copy of Jackson's book, "Soledad Brother," and he gave it to me to read.
Years later, in September, 1976, when I was incarcerated in Soledad Prison, I began to find out more information about George and what had happened during that period and general knowledge of the prison movement. Conditions were extremely bad, prisoners really had no rights, the guards used their power to manipulate groups against one another, pretty much as they do now, but without the sophistication. The guards would routinely assault prisoners without repercussions.
Years later, when I ended up in "O" Wing, the same type of conditions were there, but just slightly more sophisticated. There would be open conflict between the races, and the guards openly facilitated that conflict.
In the summer of 1978, I was placed in solitary confinement. There were several incidents that happened that lengthened my stay and, in fact, there was a point where I believed I would never be released because of the commitment I had made to the struggle.
It was a quote from George that really helped me get through Soledad, Vacaville and San Quentin. He once said: "They will never count me among the broken men."
Q: Why did the Panthers-SNCC coalition fall apart?
A: I think it was totally misunderstood on both sides, what was intended. When Stokely Carmichael was drafted by Huey Newton in May of 1967, as a member of the Black Panther Party, he was very proud of it. He went around showing his scroll. SNCC had a central committee that made decisions. Stokely Carmichael was becoming a very public and highly note notorious person, more so than anyone in SNCC had ever been. So there was a lot of conflict in SNCC about how decisions were being made. The Black Panther Party had a very small, tight central committee, and decisions were made by consensus. And the consensus in the Black Panther Party was that SNCC should be merged into the Black Panther Party. This was not discussed with SNCC. So when James Foreman was drafted as minister of foreign affairs and Rap Brown as minister of justice and Stokely Carmichael as prime minister, this was not something that had been ratified or discussed by the leadership structure of SNCC. And so the failure to understand the two organizational differences plus some intervention on the part of police agents that made sure it collapsed, led to the disintegration of it.
When I heard Eldridge Cleaver was dead, I realized for the first time why he put himself outside the orbit of people, like myself, who were once his friends and comrades.
It came to me that everything meaningful he had done since leaving prison and writing "Soul On Ice" - aside from marrying and starting a family - had been in support of the Black Panther Party. In the early days of the Party he and Huey P. Newton were nearly inseparable. When Huey went to prison, it was Cleaver who organized the "Free Huey" campaign and designed the coalition politics which got the white left to support it.
In 1975, Cleaver, then in exile in Algeria, split with Newton. The widely accepted explanation of the break - irreconcilable differences regarding revolutionary violence - is simplistic, irrelevant. They fell out because Cleaver believed the Party leaders in Oakland were living decadent lives, betraying the Panthers.
This breakup, I now realize, sent Cleaver into another form of exile - this time a spiritual exile. Talk about soul on ice! His essence went into deep freeze. Cleaver became his own opposite, banished himself into the ideological land of his former enemies.
I knew they (FBI) were watching us. ... They heavily focused in on us when we started to grow so rapidly. We began to grow rapidly really after Martin Luther King was killed. ... With Martin Luther King's death, by June, my party was jumping by leaps and bounds. In a matter of six months, we swelled; in 1968, from 400 members to 5,000 members and 45 chapters and branches. ... Our newspaper swells to over 100,000 circulation. By mid-1969, we had a 250,000 circulation.
Why did the FBI come down on us? We started those working coalitions with other organizations at the beginning of 1968. Those coalitions solidified themselves. We had the Peace and Freedom Party working in coalition with the Black Panther Party; SDS: Students for a Democratic Society, all the anti-war movement people; numerous other organizations. In late 1968, we had a working coalition with the Poor People's March through Rev. Ralph Abernathy, with SCLC; we had a coalition with the Brown Berets, the Chicano organization, Cesar Chavez and others in the farm labor movement; AIM: American and Indian Movement; Young Puerto Rican Brothers, the Young Lords - we coalesced with everybody, you see. Because remember, we were dealing with "all power to all the people," not just black power. ...
So, with the Breakfast for Children Program spreading across the country, getting a lot of media play, the Preventative Medical Health Care Clinics, the doctors, the medics - I mean, this is authentic medicine, preventative medical health care clinics, the people donating their time. We got 5,000 full-time working members in the Black Panther Party, mostly college students; these were college students: I would say 60 percent of them were college students from after Martin Luther King was killed, because they were so upset and so mad that they killed Martin Luther King, they postponed their college education and said, "I'm joining the Black Panther Party."
This report pursues the truth of an episode that occurred early on December 4, 1969, at 2337 West Monroe Street in Chicago, Illinois. It was a time of darkness, cold, rage, fear, and violence. Facts are not easily found in such company.
The early dawn stillness had been broken at about 4:45 a.m. by heavy gunfire, eighty rounds or more, which lasted over a period of ten minutes. When it stopped, two young men, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, were dead. Four other occupants of the premises, the Illinois Black Panther Party headquarters, were seriously wounded. Two police officers were injured, one by glass, the other by a bullet in the leg.
Approximately six shots were apparently fired as the police entered the living room through the front door - two by Sergeant Groth, three by Officer Davis, and one by Mark Clark. The FBI's ballistics analysis shows that during the remainder of the raid between seventy-seven and ninety-four shots were fired by the police - and none by the apartment's occupants. Accordingly, with the exception of one shot, the police testimony of gunfire directed at them from the occupants must be rejected.
The death of Fred Hampton appears to the Commission to have been isolated from the killing of Mark Clark and the wounding of Brenda Harris on the one hand, and from the wounding of Ronald Satchel, Verlina Brewer, and Blair Anderson on the other. The Commission has concluded that there is probable cause to believe that Fred Hampton was murdered - that he was shot by an officer or officers who could see his prostrate body lying on the bed. Unfortunately, the inadequate investigation by the police and the other officials and their inadequate examination of the available evidence make it impossible to know which officer or officers actually fired the fatal bullets.
The Commission has been unable to determine whether the purpose, or a purpose, of the raid was specifically to kill Hampton. There is some evidence that Hampton was shot after the other occupants of the rear bedroom were removed. If that was not the sequence of events, it seems likely that he was the sole target of the police shooting from the doorway of the bedroom. Neither of those consequences, however, would establish that Hampton's death was an object of the raid.
Perhaps the most shocking story concerns the assassination of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by Chicago police directed by the state's attorney's office in December 1969, in a pre-dawn raid on a Chicago apartment. Hampton, one of the most promising leaders of the Black Panther Party - particularly dangerous because of his opposition to violent acts or rhetoric and his success in community organizing - was killed in bed, perhaps drugged. Depositions in a civil suit in Chicago reveal that the chief of Panther security and Hampton's personal bodyguard, William O'Neal, was an FBI infiltrator. O’Neal gave his FBI "contracting agent," Roy Mitchell, a detailed floorplan of the apartment, which Mitchell turned over to the state's attorney's office shortly before the attack, along with "information" - of dubious veracity - that there were two illegal shotguns in the apartment. The availability of the floorplan presumably explains why "all the police gunfire went to the inside corners of the apartment, rather than toward the entrances. Agent Mitchell was named by the Chicago Tribune as head of the Chicago's COINTELPRO directed against the Blank Panthers and other Black groups. For his services, O'Neal was paid over $10,000.
The Select Committee's staff investigation has disclosed a number of instances in which the FBI sought to turn violence prone organizations against the Panthers in an effort to aggravate "gang warfare." Because of the milieu of violence in which members of the Panthers often moved we have been unable to establish a direct link between any of the FBI's specific efforts to promote violence and particular acts of violence that occurred. We have been able to establish beyond doubt, however, that high officials of the FBI desired to promote violent confrontations between BPP members and members of other groups, and that those officials condoned tactics calculated to achieve that end.
FBI dirty tricks, the Senate Intelligence Committee later discovered, provoked "shootings, beatings and a high degree of unrest" in the Black Panther movement. For two Panthers in Chicago, the FBI tactics brought sudden death. Fred Hampton and Mark dark died in a hail of gunfire, and three others were wounded, when police burst into their apartment at 4:00 a.m. on December 3, 1969. It later emerged that the police had fired ninety-eight rounds, the Panthers - maybe - one.
In 1982, after persistent litigation, the survivors were awarded $1.85 million in damages against the police, in a case that revealed the killings had been the direct result of action by the FBI. The Bureau had provided the police with detailed information on Hampton's movements, along with a floor plan of the apartment. Veteran agent Wesley Swearingen quoted a Chicago colleague as telling him: "We told the cops how bad these guys were, that the cops had better look out or their wives were going to be widows. . . . We set up the police to go in there and kill the whole lot."
Marxism didn't even come into play with our organization until we picked up a red book one day. But the Black Panther Party had nothing to do with it; it didn't evolve out of Marxism. ... From 1962-1965, the Black Panther Party was based on a complete study and research of African and African-American people's history of struggle. That's truly what it came out of. If you notice, in our 10-point platform and program we make no Marxist statements.
In terms of the concept of economics at that time, what I developed best was a concept of community-controlled cooperatives in the black community, which largely I picked up from W.E.B. Dubois. So I mean, I sort of got there from W.E.B. Dubois and a few other reads. But Marxist-Leninism per se was really a latter development: not until 1968 that we really considered the Red Book required reading.
A woman in the Black Power movement was considered, at best, irrelevant. A woman asserting herself was a pariah. If a black woman assumed a role of leadership, she was said to be eroding black manhood, to be hindering the progress of the black race. She was an enemy of the black people.... I knew I had to muster something mighty to manage the Black Panther Party.
Q: In 1997, you have now graduated from Yale Law School with highest honors. You've clerked for very the most distinguished black jurist alive the the Honorable A. Leon Higginbotham. And you've been an associate at Cravath, Swain and Moore , which many people would say the heart or the inner logic of the capitalist system. In retrospect, were the Panthers right?
A: Yes. Yes. We were right. That's not sufficient, to be right. Tom Paine was right. But the American Constitution didn't reflect his views. You have to have institutional, corporate, financial, military power. And on the other hand, you have to have the mass support of people, their hearts and their minds and their beliefs. Now, the revolutionary positions that we took were not consistent with the beliefs of the majority of the American people, because the majority of the American people believe in the system as it is. They just believe the system didn't work right, but it should work right. What we believed is, the system was fundamentally corrupt and could never work right, and had to be replaced. Now, the educational effort that it would take to transform the society is something that the resources at the disposal of handfuls of youth organizations could not accomplish. We could have accomplished a far broader educational effort, had we not been so viciously sabotaged and attacked by a broad array of police agencies. The FBI had its police against us. The CIA had its police against us. The DIA had its police. The police have its own squad. So the forces arrayed against us - not to mention our own internal confusion and dissension - so the forces arrayed against us, a youth organization, coming into being in 1966, in which maybe less that one per cent of the people were over 25 - we would have had to expand, incorporate broader and broader segments of the black community align ourselves with broader and broader segments of the working class and radical white community. We would have had to take two and three or four generations to do this.
Q: At least from my vantage point, back then it seemed we were attacking structures and institutions and after a certain point it began to feel like it wasn't possible. Our leaders were assassinated, one of the things I was reading today was - 28 Panthers were killed by the police but 300 Black Panthers were killed by other Panthers just within - internecine warfare. It just began to seem like we were in an impossible task given what we were facing. How do we reawaken that sense that one person can really make that difference again now? And kids these days are kind of going back to Tupac and Snoop Doggy Dogg as examples of people that stand for something.
A: It's true that it's within the realm of cultural politics that young people tend to work through political issues, which I think is good, although it's not going to solve the problems. I guess I would say first of all that we tend to go back to the 60s and we tend to see these struggles and these goals in a relatively static way. The fact is important gains were made and those gains are still visible today. For example, the number of African-American studies programs that are on college campuses today. Those institutional changes are inconceivable outside of that development within - related to the Black Panther party and other organizations. Young people began to take those struggles onto the campuses.
In the 1960s, the lines between illegal intelligence, law enforcement and military practices became blurred as Americans wanting to make America a better place for all were targeted and attacked for political beliefs and political behavior. Under the cloak of the Cold War, military intelligence was used for domestic purposes to conduct surveillance on civil rights, social equity, antiwar, and other activists.
In the case of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Operation Lantern Spike involved military intelligence covertly operating a surveillance operation of the civil rights leader up to the time of his assassination. In a period of two months, recently declassified documents on Operation Lantern Spike indicate that 240 military personnel were assigned in the two months of March and April to conduct surveillance on Dr. King. The documents further reveal that 16,900 man-hours were spent on this assignment.
Dr. King had done nothing more than call for black suffrage, an end to black poverty, and an end to the Vietnam War. Dr. King was the lantern of justice for America: spreading light on issues the Administration should have been addressing. On April 4, 1968, Dr. King's valuable point of light was snuffed out.
The documents I have submitted for the record outline the illegal activities of the FBI and its COINTELPRO program. A 1967 memo from J. Edgar Hoover to 22 FBI field offices outlined the COINTELPRO program well: "The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, or otherwise neutralize" black activist leaders and organizations.
As a result of the Church Committee hearings, we later learned that the FBI and other government authorities were conducting black bag operations that included illegally breaking and entering private homes to collect information on individuals. FBI activities included "bad jacketing," or falsely accusing individuals of collaboration with the authorities. It included the use of paid informants to set up on false charges targeted individuals. And it resulted in the murder of some individuals. Geronimo Pratt Ji Jaga spent 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. And in COINTELPRO documents subsequently released, we learn that Fred Hampton was murdered in his bed while his pregnant wife slept next to him after a paid informant slipped drugs in his drink.
Needless to say, such operations were well outside the bounds of what normal citizens would believe to be the role of the military, and the Senate investigations conducted by Senator Frank Church found that to be true. Though the United States was fighting the spread of communism in the face of the Cold War, the domestic use of intelligence and military assets against its own civilians was unfortunately reminiscent of the police state built up by the Communists we were fighting.