The Black Panther, 1966-2016

Children and the State

What was the relationship between children and the state throughout the course of the Party’s development?
No history of the Black Panther Party would be complete without a discussion of the various state forces against which the organization found itself operating throughout its sixteen-year existence. Since its inception in 1966, former Party members, academics, and allies alike have documented the deep and destructive presence of the FBI and local police departments in the Party’s history, highlighting the varied ways in which these entities often worked hand-in-hand to dismantle the organization and its programs. Central to this history is the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). Under the directorship of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI designed COINTELPRO in the mid-1950s specifically to “disrupt and destabilize,” “cripple,” “destroy,” or otherwise “neutralize” individuals and groups that Hoover and his colleagues deemed politically dissident.[1] Not surprisingly, as Party members worked tirelessly to challenge the socio-economic systems that produced and reinforced class disparity, FBI and police officials kept a close eye on their daily organizing efforts, ultimately penetrating the most intimate spaces of Party life.

To be sure, Panther households, and children specifically, were readily targeted by state officials, as the FBI worked with police departments at the local level to obtain information about the BPP’s political workings. In fact, The Black Panther newspaper, as well as memoirs and biographies written by and about Panthers and their children provide some of the richest sources documenting the state’s repressive methods, some of which included wire-tapping Panther homes and offices, and interrogating Panthers’ children for information on the whereabouts of Party members. To some degree, Party members were aware of which Panther households stood more firmly on the state’s radar, and worked carefully to maintain others as places of refuge for Panthers and their families. Leaders of the Party’s Oakland branch, for example, designated some of these residences as “safe houses.”[2]
[1] Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Domestic Dissent (Boston: South End Press, 1990), 1.
[2] Elaine Brown, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story (New York: Anchor Books, 1992), 8. 

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