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Sculpture of Black Panther Party Founder Huey P. Newton Unveiled in Oakland

Sculpture of Black Panther Party Founder Huey P. Newton Unveiled in Oakland

The legacy of the party is still alive and well today!

Community members in Oakland are still fighting to retell the history of the Black Panther Party for a new generation, AP News reports. 

The Black Panther Party for Self Defense was founded in October 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. The two met at a community college, and Newton would act as the party’s defense minister while Seale served as party chairman. Together, the two outlined clear instructions for the party’s beliefs and mission in their Ten-Point Program. They demand things like “freedom to determine the destiny of the Black community, economic empowerment through full employment and wealth redistribution, an educational system inclusive of the Black experience, and an end to brutality and fatal encounters between Black people and police.”

Eventually, the party dropped the “for Self Defense” from its moniker to escape perceptions that they only operated by force. But their programs carried on, offering nutrition, health care, and political education for members in the community in addition to their matching uniform of black berets and leather jackets and open carry weapons displaying discipline and strength.  

Erika Huggins, the first woman to lead a chapter of the Panther Party, said those programs, not force, established the party as a mainstay in communities across the country. The “Survival Programs” were adopted in almost 70 communities across the U.S. and abroad, where they developed chapters and opened offices. There, the party provided:

  • Free health care clinics.
  • Free breakfast programs for children.
  • Pioneering sickle cell disease testing research.
  • Free food and clothing distribution.
  • Transportation services for families visiting incarcerated loved ones.
  • Escorts for seniors.
  • Publishing of Black Panther newspapers. 

Aggressive surveillance by the FBI, the illegal efforts, and infiltration of COINTELPRO and party infighting led to the dissolution of the BPP, but for the more than 15 years that they were active, they set the tone for the world we live in today. A world where activism against police brutality, mass incarceration, and generational poverty is the norm. Had I not been for the party’s trailblazing efforts, many factions of activists like the Black Lives Matter movement would not have been possible. 

Now, many community members, including Newton’s widow, Fredrika Newton, are making sure the history and legacy of the Black Panther Party are correctly told for the newer generation. Recently, Fredrika and sculptor Dana King unveiled a bronze bust in honor of Huey P. Newton in Oakland at the intersection of Dr. Huey P. Newton Way and Mandela Parkway. The monument is part of what Fredrika says is a larger effort to make sure the Black Power movement is solidified in history alongside the rest of the less confrontational civil rights movement leaders. She is also working on getting the U.S. National Park Service to recognize other Panther sites. 

“You’re hearing more about the Black Panther Party and Huey’s contributions to [Black] liberation as a thought leader than you’ve ever heard before,” said Fredrika. 

While there are still active critics of the party and their efforts, there is no denying that the Panthers served as a training ground for a generation of Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous people. It helped shape many of the progressive politics you see today among activists. While Oakland, the hometown of the Black Panther Party, may be the only city welcoming of a Newton statue, for now, many believe that the legacy, if appropriately retold, will continue to serve as a guiding map for future leaders to come. 

“You have the detractors who only see [the Panthers] as a militia, and then you have the folks who are actually happy for that because the times required it,” said Robyn Spencer, associate professor of history at Lehman College in New York City.

All power to the people!

Photo Courtesy of CBS San Francisco