Thursday, December 2, 2010

Misconceptions of the Black Panther Party

As we have learned more about the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, I have reflected on what I learned about this party in school before I came to college and before I took this class. What I realized what striking to me. I had the realization that there were always negative connotations surround the Black Panther Party in my previous education of the Civil Rights Movement. As a part of the master narrative, there were the “good” activists who were nonviolent and followed the inspiration of MLK JR. Then there were the Black Panthers who were more militant and violent. It is easy to pin a negative connotation on the party because without much knowledge of them, one could quickly assume that their possession of guns instantly meant violent actions, which people naturally see as bad.

The truth, however, is that the Black Panthers did a tremendous amount for the poor black communities around them and were actually not outwardly violent at all. They formed in 1966 in Oakland, CA and served as a voice for the inner-city poor. This party’s members came from the streets, and they knew what people in these poor communities needed. They initially took on police brutality by setting up police patrols in neighborhoods. This quickly developed into their aiding other community problems such as healthcare, education, and food. They set up free medical clinics so that people could have access to healthcare. Their most successful program was the Breakfast Program, which provided free breakfast for students before they went to school. There was a direct correlation with hunger and student performance in school, so by providing kids with food in the morning, they could do better in their classes.

These programs, established by the Black Panthers, are details that were too easily skipped over by teachers who taught the master narrative version of the Civil Rights Movement. After the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts were passed, the Movement had not ended. Many poor African Americans were still suffering from poverty and few opportunities as a result of discrimination. The Black Panthers play a profoundly important role in improving the lives of African Americans in these poor communities as well as further pushing the issue of not just civil rights, but human rights in the United States.

It is unfortunate that much of the positive work of the Black Panther party is overshadowed by their militant and confrontational tactics. It is these images of the Party that my previous teachers had chosen to teach us about, thus portraying the Party in a more negative light, which is completely false. While the Party was far more aggressive than nonviolent activists, it is a shame that the work they did for their communities be overlooked in any classroom setting.


  1. One of my favorite units in this course was learning about the Black Panther Party because, agreeing with Caroline, it was often glossed over or given a negative connotation throughout high school and middle school history courses. I always remember being taught mainly about MLK and the civil rights movement as opposed to the black power movement. I think that teachers like to focus on the nonviolent aspect because it's "better" for students to learn nonviolence. I wish I had learned more about the black power movement earlier because it is just as interesting as MLK's message and builds off of his early years.

  2. I think Caroline brings up a very good point here. I was also taught the same things about the Black Panther Party throughout high school. In fact I was taught that the whole Black Power Movement was simply about fighting back, there was never any mention of the idea of Black Nationalism, or the programs that the Black Panthers set up. While I'm sure that there were instances of violence by the Black Panther Party at some point, there were a great deal more instances of the Black Panther Party helping out in the black communities, and the Black Panthers should be talked about for everything that they did, not just the negative.