The roots of the Black Panther Party were laid in various civil rights organizations in the 1960s, in particular the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The SNCC was founded in April 1960 by college students involved in the sit-in movement, in which black students protested segregation by sitting in white-only sections of department store restaurants. The organization’s founding conference was attended by student delegates from sit-in centers and colleges around the country, as well as members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The SNCC focused on sit-ins and other nonviolent direct action protests, including the Freedom Rides of 1961, which brought attention to the non-enforcement of Supreme Court cases that determined segregation unconstitutional on public busses, registering black voters, and the 1963 March on Washington. The organization’s efforts to support federal protections of the voting rights of African Americans and other minority groups culminated in protests in Selma, Alabama and marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.
Roots of the Black Power Movement
After the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, SNCC members led by Stokely Carmichael helped black community members in Lowndes County, Alabama register to vote. This led to the founding of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, which used a black panther as its symbol. In 1966, Stokely Carmichael replaced John Lewis as chairman of the SNCC, and advocated for the organization to shift away from its principles of nonviolent direct action towards a more militant approach in line with the beliefs of Malcolm X. During this time, Carmichael wanted to reorient SNCC as a “Black Power” organization and wanted to end interracial collaboration. After Carmichael spoke about the Lowndes County Freedom Organization’s self-defense efforts and use of a black panther as their symbol at a Black Power conference in Berkeley, California, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale decided to use the black panther symbol and form the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Carmichael stepped down as chairman of the SNCC in 1967, was replaced by H. Rap Brown, and became the Black Panther Party’s Honorary Prime Minister in February 1968. In 1969, the SNCC distanced itself from the Black Panther Party. In 1970, the SNCC effectively dissolved and the Lowndes County Freedom Organization merged with the Alabama Democratic Party.