The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which later shortened its name to the Black Panther Party, was founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California in 1966. The first issue of The Black Panther, the news organ for the Black Panther Party, was published on April 25, 1967. The party advocated for the emancipation of black people and revolutionary socialism through organizing community-based programs and promoting militant armed self-defense. The Party’s ten-point program, written on October 15, 1966, called for freedom, full employment, restitution for slavery, decent housing, education, exemption from military service, an end to police brutality and the murder of black people, emancipation from prisons and jails, changes to the trial system, and “land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.” The Party championed black liberation in the United States and supported revolutionary movements in Asia and Africa, as demonstrated by Eldridge Cleaver, the Party’s Minister of Information, leading delegations to North Vietnam, North Korea, and China in 1969 and 1970, and Huey Newton visiting China in 1970.
Political Persecution and Police Brutality
The Black Panther Party fought against police brutality and political persecution, which it experienced first-hand. In 1968, the Party’s first recruit, Bobby James Hutton, was killed by the Oakland police after a confrontation involving Party members. In 1967, Bobby Seale was arrested along with other party members during a protest at the California state capital opposing the state’s effort to outlaw carrying weapons in public, which was against the Panthers’ central tenet of carrying arms for self-defense against the police and racist groups. Later in 1967, Huey Newton, the Defense Minister of the Party, was arrested for the alleged murder of an Oakland police officer, and was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to prison in 1969. During this time, Eldridge Cleaver began the “Free Huey” movement, and in 1970 his conviction was overturned.
COINTELPRO and the Murder of Fred Hampton
In 1969, the Black Panther Party became the primary target of COINTELPRO, the FBI’s counterintelligence program which was ordered to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of Black nationalists” and other political groups including the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers’ Party, the New Left, and black nationalist groups. The same year, the Party established the Free Breakfast for Children Program in Oakland, California and later in other cities across the United States. Fred Hampton, the leader of the Chicago Chapter of the Black Panther Party who established a breakfast program as well as a free medical center, was shot and killed by the Chicago police in his bed on December 4, 1969. By 1970, 28 Black Panthers had been killed by police raids or covert efforts led by COINTELPRO, and by the mid-1970s most of the Party’s leadership left or were expelled from the organization.
Black Panther Newspaper
The Black Panther Party’s Intercommunal News Service published the Black Panther Newspaper as part of its consciousness-raising program, which was developed out of the Party’s commitment to community service, education, and basic social services. The Newspaper began as a newsletter that was first published by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California in 1967 that grew to become a full weekly periodical that had had a national as well as international distribution by 1980 when the publication ended. The Newspaper included articles that promoted the Party’s anti-imperialism, anti-poverty, and anti-capitalist rhetoric and solidarity with revolutionary movements around the world, as well as articles concerning police brutality and the political persecution of Party founders and activists. From 1968 to 1971, it was the most widely-read Black newspaper in the United States, with a circulation of more than 300,000. The newspaper was largely distributed by Panther members, had to read and study the newspaper before selling it, who worked out its national distribution center in San Francisco, which was managed by Andrew Austin, Sam Napier, and Ellis White, as well as other distribution centers that were located in Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle. Throughout the duration of its 13 year run, the Newspaper was also called the Black Panther Black Community News Service or the Black Panther Community News Service.