The Black Panther, 1966-2016

Liberation Schools

Central to the Party’s fight against class disparity was its belief in the importance of educating the masses. As stipulated in Point Five of the BPP’s original Ten-Point Program, the Party called for the provision of quality education to African Americans of all ages.[1] Beginning in the late 1960s as informal after-school tutoring sessions in members’ homes, the Party’s nascent educational programs for children largely served as a corrective to the Bay Area’s failing public school system. In 1971, for example, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) – comprised of a 60 percent non-white student population – ranked as one of the lowest scoring districts in the country. The OUSD’s problematic curriculum, with its lack of attention to ethnic history and culture, further alienated students of color.[2]

With earlier, smaller-scale iterations in Berkeley and later San Francisco, the Party opened its first full-time liberation school in Oakland in 1971, naming it the Intercommunal Youth Institute (IYI). Under the directorship of Brenda Bay, and later, Ericka Huggins, the IYI facilitated classes for twenty-eight enrollees in its first year, most of whom came from Panther families.[3] And like its Bay Area predecessors, the IYI employed a pedagogical model founded on the principles of experiential learning. At the Oakland alternative school, administrators built a curriculum that coupled traditional subjects, such as mathematics, English, science, and language, with activities that exposed students more directly to the nature of class struggle and systems of racial inequity. In some classes, for example, four to twelve-year-olds developed writing skills by penning letters to political prisoners, while others were imbued with a sense of community service through their participation in BPP-sponsored food giveaways.[4]

In response to the community’s almost overnight support of the IYI – exemplified by instances of parents requesting to place their unborn children on the school’s waiting list – administrators quickly saw the need to relocate to a larger facility. In 1973, Huggins and her colleagues relocated the institute to east Oakland, renaming it, the Oakland Community School- an indication that the school and its teachings had grown far beyond the bounds of Panther families.[5] While the BPP opened additional alternative schools through its various branches across the country, none were as long-lasting as the Oakland Community School, which officially closed in 1982.[6]
[1] Donna Murch, Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 178-179.
[2] Huggins and LeBlanc-Ernest, “Revolutionary Women,” 162-163; Daniel Perlstein, “Minds Stayed On Freedom: Politics and Pedagogy in the African American Freedom Struggle” in Black Protest Thought and Education, ed. William Watkins (New York: Peter Lang, 2005), 48.
[3] Perlstein, “Minds Stayed on Freedom,” 47-48; Huggins and LeBlanc-Ernest, “Revolutionary Women,” 168.
[4] Huggins and LeBlanc-Ernest, “Revolutionary Women,” 169.
[5] Huggins and LeBlanc-Ernest, “Revolutionary Women,” 170.
[6] Huggins and LeBlanc-Ernest, “Revolutionary Women,” 170, 177, 180.

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