Black History Focus: The Black Panthers & Fred Hampton

To shine a little light on some Black History that is often misrepresented, we are sharing excerpts from the Unlearning Racism Newsletter that highlights some essential info on the Black Panther Party and assassinated community activist, Fred Hampton.

For those who don’t know, the Unlearning Racism Newsletter is run by two young white women originally from Hilton Head Island.

In addition to putting out their thoughtful, resource-filled, and action-oriented newsletter, the duo host periodic zoom calls with guest speakers that are always worth a listen.

Here are some excerpts from the newsletter on the Panthers…

“Let’s put this in perspective: it is the late 1960s and Black people across the United States are watching as nonviolent Civil Rights leaders are getting beaten and sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by police dogs on television and in real life. Generations of Black children have grown up fearing lynch mobs, getting paid sub-minimum wages, and attending schools and restaurants alike that were segregated by race. At this point, the nation was at an inflection point with Jim Crow laws and white supremacist violence poised to replace the de jure segregation era. Only three generations removed from enslavement, many parents and grandparents still intimately connected with plantations through sharecropping. Black self defense wasn’t radical because they carried guns; it was radical because the notion of Black people reclaiming their own power and fighting back by any means necessary ran counter to the desires of a country that built their economy and social systems on Black exploitation.

While guns weren’t the point of the Black Panther Party, they are often associated with them (and rightfully so – they’re a major part of why we even talk about the Second Amendment). Their attention to the particular laws around guns provoked the National Rifle Association (yes, that same one) to release statements against open carry in the 1960s. Because guns were carried by Black people first, well-known conservative icons including Ronald Reagan, the NRA, and white supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan all rallied against widespread gun use for the first ~15 years of public discourse about guns (we highly, highly recommend listening to More Perfect’s The Gun Show for more information).”

and on Fred Hampton…

“In 1968, Hampton joined the Black Panther Party, where he pulled from his NAACP experience and soon was the head of the Chicago chapter. During his brief time with the Black Panther Party, Hampton formed a “Rainbow Coalition” which included Students for a Democratic Society, the Blackstone Rangers, a street gang and the National Young Lords, a Puerto Rican organization. Hampton was remarkably skilled at unifying otherwise opposing groups against white supremacy. He even successfully negotiated a gang truce on local television.

Tragically, the United States’ government saw this rise in Black power as a threat to its own stability, rather than a source of community support and stability. In 1969, the first FBI’s first director, J. Edgar Hoover (remember him? From when we talked about Dr. King a few weeks ago? You know, the one who called Dr. King a “colossal fraud and an evil one at that”?) in 1968 called the Black Panthers, “One of the greatest threats to the nation’s internal security.”

In an effort to neutralize the Chicago Black Panther Party, the FBI (through their counterterrorism program, COINTELPRO) and the Chicago Police Department teamed up to place the chapter under heavy surveillance and to conduct several harassment campaigns. In a series of raids in 1969, several BPP members and police officers were either injured or killed in shootouts, and over one hundred local members of the BPP were arrested.

On December 4, 1969, during an early morning police raid of the BPP headquarters at 2337 W. Monroe Street twelve officers opened fire, killing the 21-year-old Hampton and Mark Clark, the Peoria, IL Party leader. Police also seriously wounded four other Panther members. “

and on the Black Panther Party 10 Point Program…

“In founding the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale mapped out the group’s shared values in the form of a Ten-Point Program that included the following:

    1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
    2. We want full employment for our people.
    3. We want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our black and oppressed communities.
    4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
    5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
    6. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
    7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
    8. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
    9. We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
    10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

Local chapters of the Panthers were often led by women and focused their attention on community “survival programs” that drew inspiration from the Ten-Point Program. These local groups organized a free breakfast program for 20,000 children each day, in addition to a free food program for families and the elderly. They sponsored schoolslegal aidoffices, clothing distributionlocal transportation, and health clinics and sickle-cell testing centers in several cities.  These programs were particularly important for low-income Black communities during an era where these neighborhoods received so little support from state and federal governments; sponsored by the Panthers, these programs provided direct, concrete aid.

In addition to aid programs, the Panthers organized. They campaigned for prison reform, held voter registration drives, organized the aforementioned programs in a dozen cities serving thousands who could not afford it, and created Freedom Schools in nine cities including the noteworthy Oakland Community School, led by Ericka Huggins from 1973 to 1981.”

and on the featured image above…

“Flier for the 1972 Black Community Survival Conference with promotion provided by the Black Panther Party’s Angela Davis People’s Free Food Program.”

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About the author

Charleston Good is the Lowcountry’s Grassroots Resource & Support Network.
Our mission is to develop, support, and promote nonprofit and grassroots people, projects, organizations and collaborations in the Lowcountry. We are founders of the #goodsharing movement and we believe in #collaborating4change