The Black Panthers Party is arguably one of the most misunderstood social movements of our time. This is highly attributed to the fact that modern perspectives on historical events are often clouded or colored by present preoccupations. The BPP was formed in the 1960s, which was a period characterized by the global revolution. This outlook of insurrection among the common people served to mitigate the corrosive and socially degrading presence of corporate capitalism and also challenged the presumption of white supremacy. People of color revolted in a bid to be regarded as equal human beings with equal rights, a period termed by Malcolm X as the “rise of the dark world.”
This period in the world revolution was, perhaps, the biggest enabling factor in the rise of the BPP, along with the growth of idealism in most parts of the United States. Despite the idealistic environment in which the party was initially formed, government persecution played a considerable role in the development of the BPP. This is revealed in major press coverage of the party’s activities when armed members stormed the California state capitol building in Sacramento to protest a bill aimed at nullifying their right to bear arms. This coverage also cemented the Black Panther Party’s iconic legacy as an Armed African-American Self-Deterministic Social Movement. The BPP is, if reviewed in an unbiased light, a response to the sustained social and economic inequalities visited upon African Americans, despite the passing of the 1960 civil rights legislation.
Urban centers were populated with underserved African Americans, where residents lived in poor living conditions, unemployment, chronic health conditions, police brutality and violence, and a limited means to better themselves. The BPP, therefore, was developed in an attempt to philosophically and tactically improve the lives of African American communities whilst taking a more radical, armed self-deterministic approach. The Black Panther Party is popularly seen as a response to the assassination of Malcolm X. As such, many of the ideologies of the BPP followed a comparable Marxist approach to that of the famed sociologist and revolutionary. The primary ideals of the BPP were Black Nationalism, socialism, and armed self-defense. The latter is apparent in the initial name for the BPP, which was the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
The party leaders also canvassed minority communities, asking about their issues of concern, compiled the responses, and developed the Ten Point Platform, which would become synonymous with the BPP and outline the foundational guidelines of the party. Rather than solely the violence and armed confrontations with authority that the party was rather known for, it also provided free meals for children in underserved areas, conducted sickle cell anemia testing, provided legal aid, and facilitated adult education. The BPP outlined its manifesto in the form of a Ten-Point Program. The overall aim was to garner support and alliances with other minority organizations and those representing people of color. Their principle stance took a more socialist approach, much like Malcolm X, who had preceded the revolutionary movement.
They asserted that economic exploitation was central to the oppression of people in the United States and abroad as well. As such, the abolition of capitalism was seen as a critical precondition for the development of social justice. However, despite having a message that had widespread resonance with communities and other social movements, the party found itself under review by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and its constituent counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO). There was also no unified position on the methods and motivations for self-defense. However, the party persisted with its community enrichment programs and armed “police the police” initiatives till its eventual deterioration and disbandment.