P. Newton, the national leader of the Black
Panther Party, makes remarks at an Atlanta press
this WSB clip filmed on September 8, 1971. The Black Panther
Party, originally called “The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense,”
was founded in 1966 by Newton and Bobby
Seale. Here, Newton announces his intentions of establishing
an urban base for the Party in Atlanta.
This organization used a panther as its symbol because of its powerful
imagery, and because it connected positive connotations to the color
black. The panther had also been the symbol of the Lowndes
County Freedom Organization, a voting rights group from Alabama. The
phrase “self-defense” was employed in the Party’s original name
to distinguish its position on using violence defensively from the philosophy
of nonviolent resistance that characterized other Civil Rights
The Panthers had not collaborated closely with other Civil
Rights Movement organizations. However, perhaps they wanted
to come to Atlanta in order to address issues of poverty and economic
disadvantage that had plagued urban blacks. They may have also
aimed to establish an urban southern base to make their presence
known in areas besides the West. Both Newton and Seale attended Merritt
College in Oakland,
California, where they first became involved in politics: Newton
believed that blacks were oppressed politically and economically.
He also argued that they should empower themselves through self-defense
and education. A local chapter he founded with Seale became the
catalyst for a national movement.
Although the Panthers have been stereotyped as angry, militant,
and anarchic, Newton and Seale intended to level the playing field
for African Americans socially, politically, and economically. The ten-point
platform detailed by the Black Panther Party states:
1) We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our
black and oppressed communities.
2) We want full employment for our people.
3) We want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our black
and oppressed communities.
4) We want decent housing, fit for the shelter of human beings.
5) We want decent 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.
6) We want completely free health care for all black and oppressed
7) We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of
black people, other people of color, all oppressed people inside
the United States.
8) We want an immediate end to all wars of aggression.
9) We want freedom for all black and oppressed people now held
in U.S. federal, state, county, city and military prisons and jails.
We want trials by a jury of peers for all persons charged with so-called
crimes under the laws of this country.
10) We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice,
peace and people's community control of modern technology.
The positive aspects of the Black Panther Party were often ignored
by the American government and downplayed by the media. From black
leather jackets to loaded automatic weapons, the Party’s
powerful iconography intimidated the public, including middle-class
and working-class African Americans. However, the Panthers made
significant social and political contributions to local communities,
known as “community
survival programs.” For example, Party members instated a breakfast
program for underprivileged black children, provided a free ambulance
service, and launched a sickle-cell
anemia testing and awareness program for needy African Americans.
The year 1974 marked the beginning of the Panthers' dissolution.
Internal conflicts led to the Party’s expulsion of most of the original
leadership, including Seale. During this time, Newton entered self-imposed
exile, in part to retreat from the mounting demands of the people. Despite
these alterations, the Party continued to thrive until Newton’s
return from exile in 1977. By that time however, both internal conflicts,
and the FBI’s
efforts to dismantle the organization through continued harassment,
arrests, and the use of informants in the COINTELPRO program,
led to the Party's eventual demise.
The Panthers' influence is still felt in American society. In fact,
their breakfast program served as a model for the National Breakfast
Program established in 1966 through the Child
Nutrition Act, a part of the Great
Society. No finite evidence suggests that the Panthers directly
influenced healthcare for African Americans. However, programs to
reduce deaths from sickle-cell anemia have catalyzed research on
other diseases and chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high
blood pressure, breast
cancer, and prostate
cancer, that disproportionately affect African Americans compard
to other segments of the population. Finally, the Black Panther
Party's outspokenness on local and national issues and its commitment
to using the legal system to create social change encouraged other
African Americans to participate directly in the political process
by voting and running for elected offices.
One meaningful consequnce of the Panthers' history is that it underscores
the importance of thinking beyond the South when discussing the
Civil Rights Movement. Whereas organizations such as the SCLC, SNCC,
and the Deacons
for Defense and Justice were composed of a significant number
of southern, rural, Christian blacks, the Panthers especially reached
out to urban African Americans whose needs sometimes differed from
the concerns that these organizations addressed. Like the Deacons
for Defense and Justice in the southern states of Louisiana and Mississippi,
the Panthers were willing to use violence to defend their homes
and families against police brutality and racist organizations like
Klux Klan. Finally, like the members of SNCC and CORE,
young people were sometimes more attracted to the Panthers than
to older, more established groups because of their energy, their
hip and Afrocentric style, their impatience with the slow pace of
change, and their grass-roots strategies.
Resources (click here)
Printable Version (click here)
1. Given that the Panthers led positive initiatives in poor, urban
African American communities, why did many media images stress the
angry and militant aspects of the group?
2. Did the Panthers attempt to build coalitions with other movement
organizations, especially in the South? Why or why not?
3. What strategic importance did the the South hold for the Panthers'
expansion? What made Atlanta an urban space different from cities
like Oakland in the West, Chicago and Detroit in
the Midwest, and Baltimore and New
York in the East, where Panther chapters rapidly grew?
4. Look at a few of the posters of
the covers of the Black Panthers' newspaper. Discuss how they demonstrate
the ten-point platform and consider how and why certain segments
of American society--the police, the wealthy, and the poor--are
depicted in these images.
Take it to the Streets!
Organize your class into teams of four or five students
each. Ask each team to take photographs, using an inexpensive disposable
camera, representative of different issues that face your community:
housing, education, health, employment, drug abuse, teen pregnancy,
pollution, political corruption, immigration, domestic abuse, or
prejudice, such as homophobia, racism, and misogyny. Using the Panthers'
Free Breakfast or Sickle Cell Programs as a guide, create an agenda
with your team members that begins to resolve these problems in
Writers: Morgan Copper, Nicka Grimes, Naomi Pate,
Chip Spearman in Professor Barbara McCaskill's
AFAM/ENGL 3230 class (Survey of African American Literature) at
The University of Georgia, Spring 2007.
Editors: Kamille Bostick, Christina L. Davis, Mary
Boyce Hicks and Professor Barbara McCaskill
Researchers: Morgan Copper, Nicka Grimes, Naomi Pate,
Chip Spearman, Professor Barbara McCaskill
Web Site Designer: William Weems
Freedom on Film is
not responsible for the content of external web sites.