Thursday, March 4, 2021
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Who’s afraid of the Big Black Panther?

Black History Month is legendary for celebrating African-Americans like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Booker T.

Washington. W.E.B. DuBois – who shares a birthday with me on February 23 – and Frederick Douglass are also popular people of study.

To my amazement, one of the most famous groups in Civil Rights history is constantly (and probably intentionally) overlooked: The Black Panthers. “Why is this?” I ask myself. Year after year, I shake my head in disbelief at the lack of education taught concerning The Black Panthers. Perhaps I am a bit partial given the family ties; my father was a member of the group’s Kansas City chapter. Regardless, I feel that more information needs to be given.

I also believe that there are fears and misconceptions about The Black Panthers that prevent educators from teaching about the party.

The group was founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton (ever seen The Boondocks?) whose initial idea was to war on police brutality in black neighborhoods. The Black Panthers practiced self-defense. In fact, their original name was The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

Newton is quoted as choosing the panther because it “is a fierce animal, but he will not attack until he is backed into a corner; then he will strike out. “ The Panthers believed that sitting by idly while whites beat them over the head with their fists, guns, and assault weapons was inhumane. As human beings, we have the God-given right to defend ourselves. Embracing this common sense stance makes the Panthers violent and militant? No, it makes them human. Consequently, once realized, it made every Black person living in this country know they are human, too.

Another myth: they were a threat to the safety of the States.

According to J. Edgar Hoover, The Black Panthers were “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Within two years of its origination in Oakland, Calif., The Black Panthers spread nationwide to cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Seattle, New Orleans, and right here in Kansas City. The only things this party threatened was the unfair practices of segregation, Jim Crow laws, and other forms of modern day slavery incorporated by white America. You see, Hoover knew that if blacks could stand together in unity that nothing could defeat them. This is why he developed COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program).

Run by the FBI, COINTELPRO conducted illegal activities to break up political groups that would jack up their devilish agendas. The Black Panthers headed that list as public enemy number one.

In constant combat against the mis-education of blacks, one of the party’s most influential programs was The Free Breakfast for Children. Party members would cook breakfast each morning for inner-city youth and serve it to the children before school. The Panthers instilled the confidence, self-worth and self-esteem the kids needed in order to survive an upbringing influenced by racial tensions. After its first year, The Free Breakfast for Children program was solely responsible for feeding more than 10,000 youths nation-wide.

Taking the mis-education of adults into consideration as well, the Black Panthers developed a successful newspaper of the same name. The paper covered various topics relating to the welfare of African-Americans. Subjects such as housing, education, justice, politics and the economy were popular headlines in the newspaper. Lead by Chief Editor Eldridge Cleaver, subscriptions after the first year found similar success as The Free Breakfast for Children Program and more than 250,000 papers were in circulation.

The same newspaper headlines were a part of The Ten Point Program, a set of beliefs and rights that the Black Panthers would demand. Among this list of ten demands were petitions for full employment, decent housing, putting an end to whites robbing the black community and exempting black men from military service.

After almost a decade and a half of revolutionizing the attitudes of African-Americans across the country, Hoover’s COINTELPRO succeeded in infiltrating and destroying the Black Panthers in 1982 by causing division amongst its leaders. The party split into two groups: those who followed founder Huey P. Newton and his strategy of community service and self-defense, and those who followed Eldridge Cleaver’s more confrontational approach which was less community service oriented. After the party died, The New Black Panther Party was established five years later in Texas.

However, they never saw the light of day as the original party would not credit them or allow them to do work in their name.

In 2006, The Black Panther Party held a 40th Reunion in its home of Oakland, Calif.

Because of The Black Panther Party, African-Americans were given a sense of self-reliance, pride and value that other leaders in the `60s simply did not inspire.

That’s not to say that those leaders are less significant, yet it is to say that the Black Panthers are just as significant. They party should receive just as much accolade, respect and commemoration as those who practiced quieter methods.

kforte@unews.com

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