The Forbidden History of the Black Panther Party

Find out why a clear-cut history of the evolution and politics of the Black Panther Party remains unknown.

| March 2013

  • Black Against Empire by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr.
    Informed by twelve years of meticulous archival research, as well as familiarity with most of the former Black Panther Party leadership and many rank-and-file members, “Black Against Empire” is the definitive history of one of the greatest challenges ever posed to American state power.
    Cover Courtesy University of California Press
  • Black Panther women at a rally in Lil Bobby Hutton Park in 1968.
    Left to right, Black Panthers Mary Ann Carlton, Delores Henderson, Joyce Lee, Joyce Means, and Paula Hill rally in “Lil’ Bobby Hutton Park,” the summer of 1968. As in most large Black Panther rallies, the audience was mixed racially, featuring many nonblack as well as black supporters.
    Photo Courtesy Stephen Shames/Polaris Images
  • Students and Black Panther supporters listening to Eldridge Cleaver speaking at the University of California, Berkeley in 1968.
    Students and Black Panther supporters listen to Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther minister of information, speaking on Sproul Plaza at the University of California, Berkeley, on October 3, 1968.
    Photo Courtesy Pirkle Jones Foundation/Pirkle Jones
  • Bobby Seale at a Free Huey rally in Lil Bobby Hutton Park in 1968.
    Bobby Seale speaks at a “Free Huey!” rally in “Lil’ Bobby Hutton Park” on July 14, 1968. The bus and sound system were on loan from the Peace and Freedom Party. James Forman (seated middle) and Chief of Staff David Hilliard (seated right) share the stage with Seale.
    Photo Courtesy Pirkle Jones Foundation/Ruth-Marion Baruch
  • Black Panther Charles Bursey serves breakfast to children, June 20, 1969.
    Black Panther Charles Bursey serves breakfast to children, June 20, 1969. In 1969, the Black Panther Party made community programs its core activity.
    Photo Courtesy Pirkle Jones Foundation/Ruth-Marion Baruch
  • Seattle Black Panthers stand in front of the state capitol in Olympia, Washington.
    A Group of Seattle Black Panthers, led by Elmer Dixon, emulate the Black Panther action in Sacramento, standing on the steps of the state capitol in Olympia to protest a bill that would make it a crime to exhibit firearms in Washington, February 29, 1969. Seattle was one of the first cities outside of Oakland to open a Party chapter during the period of the Panthers’ greatest repression and greatest growth from mid-1968 through 1970.
    Photo Courtesy Governor Daniel J. Evans Photograph Colleciton, Washington State Archives

  • Black Against Empire by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr.
  • Black Panther women at a rally in Lil Bobby Hutton Park in 1968.
  • Students and Black Panther supporters listening to Eldridge Cleaver speaking at the University of California, Berkeley in 1968.
  • Bobby Seale at a Free Huey rally in Lil Bobby Hutton Park in 1968.
  • Black Panther Charles Bursey serves breakfast to children, June 20, 1969.
  • Seattle Black Panthers stand in front of the state capitol in Olympia, Washington.

Black Against Empire (University of California Press, 2013) is the first comprehensive overview and analysis of the history and politics of the Black Panther Party. Authors Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr., analyze key political questions, such as why so many young black people across the country risked their lives for the revolution, why the Party grew most rapidly during the height of repression, and why allies abandoned the Party at its peak of influence. Learn about why it has been difficult to construct a clear history of the evolution of the Black Panther Party in this excerpt from the introduction. 

The Panthers shut out the pack of zealous reporters and kept the door locked all day, but now the hallway was empty. Huey Newton and two comrades casually walked from the luxury suite down to the lobby and slipped out of the Hong Kong Hilton. Their official escort took them straight across the border, and after a short flight, they exited the plane in Beijing, where they were greeted by cheering throngs.

It was late September 1971, and U.S. national security adviser Henry Kissinger had just visited China a couple months earlier. The United States was proposing a visit to China by President Nixon himself and looking toward normalization of diplomatic relations. The Chinese leaders held varied views of these prospects and had not yet revealed whether they would accept a visit from Nixon.

But the Chinese government had been in frequent communication with the Black Panther Party, had hosted a Panther delegation a year earlier, and had personally invited Huey Newton, the Party’s leader, to visit. With Nixon attempting to arrange a visit, Newton decided to accept the invitation and beat Nixon to China.



When Zhou Enlai, the Chinese premier, greeted Newton in Beijing, Newton took Zhou’s right hand between both his own hands. Zhou clasped Newton’s wrist with his left hand, and the two men looked deeply into each other’s eyes. Newton presented a formal petition requesting that China “negotiate with . . . Nixon for the freedom of the oppressed peoples of the world.” Then the two sat down for a private meeting. On National Day, the October 1 anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Premier Zhou honored the Panthers as national guests. Tens of thousands of Chinese gathered in Tiananmen Square, waving red flags and applauding the Panthers. Revolutionary theater groups, folk dancers, acrobats, and the revolutionary ballet performed. Huge red banners declared, “Peoples of the World, Unite to destroy the American aggressors and their lackeys.” At the official state dinner, first lady Jiang Qing sat with the Panthers. A New York Times editorial encouraged Nixon “to think positively about Communist China and to ignore such potential sources of friction as the honors shown to Black Panther leader Huey Newton.”

Forbidden History

In Oakland, California, in late 1966, community college students Bobby Seale and Huey Newton took up arms and declared themselves part of a global revolution against American imperialism. Unlike civil rights activists who advocated for full citizenship rights within the United States, their Black Panther Party rejected the legitimacy of the U.S. government. The Panthers saw black communities in the United States as a colony and the police as an occupying army. In a foundational 1967 essay, Newton wrote, “Because black people desire to determine their own destiny, they are constantly inflicted with brutality from the occupying army, embodied in the police department. There is a great similarity between the occupying army in Southeast Asia and the occupation of our communities by the racist police.”

Furn
7/11/2014 7:18:27 AM

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