40 YEARS AFTER: THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY
[Col. Writ. 4/30/06] Copyright '06 Mumia Abu-Jamal
Amazingly, it has been 40 years since the Black Panther Party was founded.
Some sticklers to detail will point to the fact that it was in October,
not May, of 1966, that the Black Panther Party was founded by two young
men in Oakland, California, named Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale.
That's true; but that's not the end of the story.
The late African nationalist, Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely
Carmichael), when a leader of SNCC (or Student Non-Violent Coordinating
Committee), published a month before Huey and Bobby joined together, an
article detailing SNCC's efforts to organize both in the South and the
Northeast. In a September, 1966 article published in the *New York
Review of Books*, Ture wrote:
"SNCC today is working in both North and South on programs of voter
registration and independent political organizing. In some places, such
as Alabama, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and New Jersey,
independent organizing under the black panther symbol is in progress.
The creation of a national "black panther party" must come about; it
will take time to build, and it is much too early to predict its
success. We have no infallible master plan and we make no claim to
exclusive knowledge of how to end racism; different groups will work in
their own different ways. SNCC cannot spell out the full logistics of
self-determination, but it can address itself to the problem by helping
black communities define their needs, realize their strength, and go
into action along a variety of lines which they must choose for
themselves. Without knowing all the answers, it can address itself to
the basic problem of poverty, to the fact that in Lowndes County 86
white families own 90 per cent of the land. What are black people in
that county going to do for jobs; where are they going to get money?
There must be reallocation of land, of money. [From: Carmichael,
Stokely. *Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism* (New York:
Vintage, 1965/1971). p. 22.]
It was in fact, SNCC's efforts in Lowndes County, Alabama, that inspired
Huey to use the name 'Black Panther Party.'
But, it's been 40 years. It's safe to say that much of the history of
Huey's Party remains hidden history. This isn't rhetoric -- it's fact.
One year ago, I received a wealth of letters from college students who
read my book, *WE WANT FREEDOM: A Life in the Black Panther Party*
(South End, 2004). Here, scores of letters, from a wide variety of
students from various racial and ethnic groups, almost all of whom
expressed shock and surprise, not just at the unknown history of the
Party, but of the history of Black history overall. One writer, Shanara
P. noted, "... most of the facts you wrote in your book were never
taught in the schools I went to."
Wayne S. wrote: "'The Beginnings of the Black Panther Party and the
History it Sprang From' and 'The Deep Roots of the Struggle for Black
Liberation' should become amendments to the history books which choose
to leave out the violent uprisings against slavery. If I had not read
these chapters, I could have been a graduate-level student about to get
a masters degree but would have absolutely no idea of one of the
catalysts of the Civil War, such as the Christiana rebellion. This is
just one example of the pseudo factual history books which are being
implanted around our schools."
Another student, Jon M., wrote: "I feel cheated because this is the
first time I have heard such stories."
As a writer and historian, I was, of course, delighted by such letters.
But as a former member of the Party, it was eye-opening at how invisible
the Party has become with the passage of time.
But why should we be surprised? What did we expect?
The Party played a major role, in its time, to organize our People into
resistance to the State. For many millions of youth, Black History
means reading about (or hearing boring lectures about) Frederick
Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., and perhaps Malcolm X. It rarely
goes deeper than that.
Before this generation goes on to its ancestors, we should, we must, do
our level best to pass on our lessons, so that they live in our people's
minds and lives.
There is, already, a new formation that has arisen, which calls itself
New Afrikan Black Panther Party, which has prison chapters in several
states. Unlike other formations which have used the BPP name, these
youngsters actually read and study the works of Huey P. Newton, George
Jackson, and other leading Party members. The struggle continues!
Copyright 2006 Mumia Abu-Jamal
[Mr. Jamal's recent book features a chapter on the
remarkable women who helped build and defend
the Black Panther Party: *WE WANT FREEDOM:
A Life in the Black Panther Party*, from South
End Press www.southendpress.org Ph.
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