TULSA, OKLAHOMA – MAY 29: Members of the Black Panther Party and other armed demonstrators rally in the Greenwood district during commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre on May 29, 2021 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. May 31st of this year marks the centennial of when a white mob started looting, burning and murdering in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, then known as Black Wall Street, killing up to 300 people and displacing thousands more. Organizations and communities around Tulsa are preparing to honor and commemorate survivors and community residents. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
By Michael Coard
PHILADELPHIA — As this column appears in the Capital-Star, the Black Panthers have just wrapped up a four-day event at Temple University that ran from Oct. 14 through Sunday.
That event, sponsored by the National Alumni Association of the Black Panther Party (NAABPP), includes a viewing of the powerful film, “Judas and the Black Messiah,” a conversation with the inimitable Black Panther Party (BPP) co-founder Bobby Seale, a discussion with fiery Chairman Fred Hampton Jr., a riveting video presentation about the bullet-riddled gravesite headstone of Chairman Fred Hampton Sr. that was extensively damaged by armed racist thugs, an enlightening BPP lecture by the preeminent Dr. Molefi Asante, empowering community workshops, a curated art exhibit, and numerous cultural vendors.
The primary organizer of this event, Paula Peebles, president of the NAABPP, is a woman who has dedicated her life to uplifting, defending, and avenging oppressed Black folks.
And she’s been doing it for decades, ever since her high school days when she was a member of the Philadelphia chapter of the BPP, serving as its communications secretary.
She recently told me the following:
“On Thursday, Oct. 14, the National Alumni Association of the Black Panther Party will gather. … in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Annual Membership Meeting that was chartered in Philadelphia. … (This gathering) will allow for community exploration of the ‘Relevancy of the Black Panther Party in the 21st Century.’ Surely, the conclusion will be that not much has changed for oppressed people in America. In fact, we continue to face basically the same oppression that brought about the birth of the Black Panthers in 1966.”
She’s right, you know. And here’s the proof. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense — the most important and most powerful pro-Black, class-conscious, community protection organization in American history — was born in Oakland 55 years ago on Oct. 15, 1966 with the creation of the “Ten Point Platform and Program” initially drafted by BPP co-founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale who were joined by other co-founders Reggie Forte, Sherman Forte, Elbert “Big Man” Howard, and “Lil” Bobby Hutton.
The BPP was so important and so powerful that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover described it as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country…” He added that its revolutionary activities, especially the children’s free breakfast program, were “potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities … to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for.”
As bad as the FBI’s words were, its actions were even worse. As made clear in the 1976 report by the U.S. Senate Committee on Intelligence Activities, “In August… 1967, the FBI initiated COINTELPRO (i.e., the counterintelligence program that operated from 1956- 1971) to disrupt and ‘neutralize’ … (certain) organizations…” By July 1969, indicated the report, “the BPP had become the primary focus of the program and was ultimately the target of 233 of the total authorized… COINTELPRO actions… (targeting pro-Black groups).”
Why was the BPP such a threat to American law enforcement? Here’s the answer. It was simply because of the BPP’s laudable anti-capitalist goals of full employment, decent housing, enlightened education, fair trials, justice, and an end to police brutality.
Within three years of its 1966 founding, the BPP had more than 10,000 members and its newspaper, which began publication in 1967, reached a circulation of 250,000.
The BPP had chapters across the country, including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Washington D.C., Dallas, Denver, Des Moines, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, L.A., NYC, New Haven, New Orleans, Newark, Oakland, Omaha, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and, of course, Philly. By the way, the Oakland chapter had gained such public support that Seale, in his 1972 mayoral run, came close to an upset victory, winning 40% of the vote.
The mainstream media’s 1960s-1970s mantra, which many persons continue to foolishly believe to this very day, of the BPP as a bunch of white-hating, anarchistic urban terrorists is a myth. First of all, terrorists don’t create a Free Breakfast Program for Children like the BPP did in Oakland in 1969 (which was later copied by the federal government). The BPP expanded this program to numerous cities, ultimately feeding over 10,000 children every day. Terrorists don’t do that.
And terrorists don’t establish and implement more that 45 social services, called Survival Programs, including free medical care, sickle cell testing, blood drives for Black and poor people, and non-violent gang dispute resolution like the BPP did.I was
Moreover, terrorists don’t mandate that their Central Committee staffs engage in “anti-crime” behavior and promote “gun safety” like the BPP did.
But don’t get it twisted; the BPP was not a group of kumbaya pacifists. It included “Self-Defense” in its name for a reason. And the reason was in direct response to relentless and officially sanctioned police brutality.
However, guns weren’t what the BPP was exclusively about in response to police brutality. People would be shocked to learn that the BPP, armed with law books and basic legal training, would often arrive at the scene of incidents of police brutality and stand a safe distance away reading aloud the pertinent sections of various criminal statutes and judicial decisions to inform the cops and the victims of what the law mandated in those particular situations.
The BPP was both brains in terms of understanding and articulating the law — and brawn — in terms of courageously defending themselves and their community “by any means necessary.” Unfortunately, they weren’t prepared on Dec. 4, 1969, with enough tools to justifiably defend themselves and a pregnant woman.
On that date at 4:45 in the early morning, racist Chicago police thugs, with the traitorous assistance of a cowardly Black undercover snitch named William O’Neal, murdered 21-year-old Fred Hampton Sr. during a raid on his home. These terroristic cops shot the sleeping and unarmed Hampton twice in the head and also assassinated 22-year-old Mark Clark. Hampton’s pregnant wife, Akua Njeri (aka Deborah Johnson), was shot but fortunately both she and the baby — Fred Hampton Jr. — survived.
And the revolutionary fervor of the BPP survived and continues to survive in the hearts and minds and activism of those who organized this ongoing event in Philly and who are participating in it and/or are attending it.
I was honored to be among the participants during a Saturday workshop called “We Want an Immediate End to Police Brutality and the Murder of Black People.” By the way, this very same topic is point number seven in the BPP’s aforementioned 1966 “Ten-Point Platform and Program.” I guess Sistah Paula was right about Black people continuing to face the same oppression that brought about the birth of the BPP in 1966.
This revolutionarily reinvigorating event ended Sunday with the NAABPP officially endorsing and supporting the all-day Marcus Garvey Day Celebration on the north side of City Hall from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. This celebration is sponsored by the Jamaica Pennsylvania Association, which can be reached at [email protected].
For information and updates about the ongoing and relentless revolutionary work in the cultural and socialistic spirit of the historic BPP, log on to naabpp.org.
“Power To The People and Power’s From The People!”
Michael Coard is a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this column first appeared.
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