The Black Panther, 1966-2016

Free Breakfast for School Children

Of the BPP’s more than forty community service programs, none was of greater concern to J. Edgar Hoover than the Free Breakfast for School Children Program.[1] Beginning in January 1969, the children’s food program marked the first of the Party’s survival programs, functioning as the BPP’s direct response to the Johnson administration’s failed War on Poverty.[2] With the support of local businesses, which often donated the food items and other materials, the program soon multiplied by the hundreds in chapters across the country.[3] By the close of the Party in 1982, thousands of children had benefited from the Breakfast Program.

Aware of the Party’s growing support among residents and local businesses in cities across the country, in May 1969, Hoover sent an airtel to the San Francisco division of COINTELPRO, urging the branch’s agents to effectively terminate the program.[4] Articles in various issues of The Black Panther newspaper also document numerous instances in which local police departments threatened local businesses with punitive actions if they donated to the Party’s Breakfast Program. To some extent too, the collaboration between federal and local government agents in their attempts to dismantle the program is perhaps reflective of a broader embarrassment on the part of the U.S.  government, as Johnson’s proposed social welfare programs effected little to no change for a large contingent of the U.S. population. One top government official exemplified this sentiment when he noted, “The Panthers are feeding more kids than we are.”[5]
[1] Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin, Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 211.
[2] Martin and Bloom, Black Against Empire, 182.
[3] The Black Panther Party Community Service Programs, ed. David Hilliard (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008), 30-31.
[4] Martin and Bloom, Black Against Empire, 211.
[5] The Black Panther Community Service Programs, 30. 

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