In Oakland, Calif., in 1966, Huey Percy Newton and two friends began the Black Panther Party. They were soon considered among the FBI’s most wanted.
The Black Panther symbol was used because it was seen as a powerful image. The larger the party got, the more powerful they got.
The Black Panthers believed that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent campaign did not work. So the Black Panthers were willing to use violence to get what they wanted. The platform that the Black Panthers had included things like decent housing fit for the shelter of human beings; free health care; and ending police brutality and the killing of black people, as well as other people of color and oppressed people.
They had 10 points that summarized into wanting equal rights in education, housing (land), employment, and, of course, civil rights.
The party began to start community initiatives that they called “survival programs.” They included things like food giveaways, free health care and free breakfast programs in the early 1970s.
Programs like this made white people think that the Black Panthers represented only an anti-government militancy. This prevailing attitude helped lead to the killing of many Panthers by law enforcement. It seemed that those Panthers who weren’t killed were incarcerated.
For example, founder Huey Newton was arrested for shooting a policeman. This led to the “Free Huey” movement, led by Panther Eldridge Cleaver. Thanks to this movement, Newton escaped the death penalty but was charged with manslaughter and sentenced to 2-15 years in prison.
The Black Panthers’ power began to decline in the mid-1970s but their legacy remains. They made a point to fight for what they believed in.