Black Panthers : Not Your KKK

By Trevor Durham on February 14, 2016

The title is exactly as it suggests- The Black Panther Party is not the KKK. They have never been anything even similar to the KKK. Not this year’s still active KKK, not your childhood’s KKK, not your parent’s KKK, not the original foundation of the KKK- the bottom line is that the Black Panther Party is not the KKK.

Do you know that much about the Black Panther Party beyond Beyonce’s performance? Some Malcolm X related info in middle school? Those famous stories about BLACK POWER meaning down with ‘whitey’?

I’m sorry, you’ve got a lot to learn about one of the more progressive movements in history.

And Steven Avery levels of governmental corruption.

Who were the Black Panthers?

While they officially formed in 1966, the roots of the BPP go back many, many years. World War II is where most people cite the foundation of the unity, but truth be told, it can go back to the Reconstruction, the Civil War, all the way to slavery. The Black Panthers arose from a need of black comradery, black love, and the ability for African Americans to be able to define what it was to be black- without the help of white America.

Black Americans escaping the south from the 14th amendment all the way to 1950’s America found the north and west to be just as full of hatred- Jim Crow Laws extended everywhere. No matter where black America went, discrimination followed.

In Oakland, the 1960s were a terrible time- the employment for African Americans was almost non-existent, life was destitute, and the officers were almost entirely white. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale were exhausted of it and began to change their communities- they would monitor the local police and prevent brutality. How? By legally carrying loaded firearms and patrolling their streets. Peacefully.

The movement grew. The patrols extended. They began a publication. And in 1967, they published one of the best essays in American history: The Ten Points Program.

  1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
  2. We want full employment for our people.
  3. We want an end to the robbery by the Capitalists of our Black Community.
  4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
  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.
  6. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
  7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
  8. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
  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.
  10.  We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

The Black Panthers argued that, until the government recognized the black community as humans, with their own rights and liberties, that they should not be forced to participate in that government. No social contract had been formed between the black community and the American government, thus, the government had no right to control them.

The Black Panthers continued to feed their neighborhoods, support each other through hardships, and protect their own lives.

The government had other ideas.

At this point (1967-8), CIA director J. Edgar Hoover had created an idea he called Counter Intelligence. The program (called COINTELPRO) is also famous for attempting to convince MLK to commit suicide, investigating Robert F. Kennedy, and studying feminist groups.

When it came to the Black Panther Party, Hoover and the CIA were scared. In 1968, Hoover declared the Black Panthers’ “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” The CIA hated black nationalist groups. By 1968, the COINTELPRO had given itself the goal of dismantling the Black Panther Party from the inside.

Through disgusting methods (falsifying letters, making caricatures, potentially assassinating members, and, most controversially, possibly being hands on in framing a founding member), the COINTELPRO movement worked. They found ways to destabilize the Black Panther Party until the group was splintered into different ideas, and the mistrust began.

As the group found issues, they also began to find violence in conflicts with the police. Members began dying in shoot-outs with the police. They furthered their losses through purging members they feared were informants.

The dark times worsened as members began using violence as a tool- in 1969, a New Haven chapter tortured a man they believed was an informant. More gunfights raged. COINTELPRO smiled.

In 1971, the party split due to internal conflicts of what the Black Panthers should have as their end goal- should they participate in local government, fight the police, or social services?

By the 1980s, the party was considered to be disbanded. Between botched assassination attempts and a membership in the twenties, the party had faded.

Through the intervention of the CIA, the Black Panthers faded into obscurity, and now we have political leaders holding them to the same image as the KKK. Is it not enough that we destroyed them, but that we must destroy their legacy?

The Black Panthers had issues in their final years, which may or may not be attributed to the people who took responsibility for their downfall, but we cannot compare them to a group of hatred, genocidal goals, and the goal of destroying a race’s culture.

Don’t ever compare the Black Panther Party to the KKK simply because the Black Panthers’ legally held weapons. It does not make them ‘thugs’. The Black Panthers were a symbol of hope that our government stomped out.

I may be white, but I raise my voice and my fist to black power. I can’t help the movement find themselves or find the answers to what we as a country denied them. But I can definitely try to help them get the power back to decide for themselves what it means to be black and how to best exist in a society formed and run by a white majority. How can we possibly compare black nationalism to white supremacy? Especially in the age where we see black men, women, and children being killed on our phones every day- with no reaction. How many more African Americans will die before we acknowledge their humanity? I feel ashamed to be American when I think of our history regarding colored lives.

Long live the Black Nationalists.

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