This paper sets to argue that the Black Panther Party (BPP) of 1966-82 had an effective impact upon the black community that was long lasting even after the Social Movement Organisation (SMO) was disbanded. Unlike other black organisations, the BPP protected the people of their communities on the streets through physical action; this gave rise to unity within the community and support from other social movements such as feminist organisations which in turn allowed more people to acknowledge and strengthen the growing SMO. The BPP’s tenets such as ‘freedom-fight oppression’ inspired other countries around the world to create their own movements to combat their localities’ distinctive socio-economic conditions and injustices (Garau, 2017). The BPP were self-efficient, by introducing social programmes such as, free breakfast for children and health clinics that addressed food injustice. Eventually the defeat of the BPP derives from state involvement, through unethical procedures from the FBI. Nevertheless, this paper will critically assess the context of the BPP as well as critique the ideology, allies and adversaries and action of the SMO.
The BPP was formed as a later black movement to liberate oppression, even so before them during the 1800-1930s, other national black movements were providing their own ideologies and actions to support their communities during the period known as the Classical Black Nationalism. Classical Black Nationalism can be defined as “the effort of African-Americans to create a sovereign nation-state and formulate an ideological basis of a concept of a national culture.” (Harris, 2001:409). Black Nationalism has expanded widely since its early days which began through slave revolts as a way of liberating the black community. A movement known as the Back-to-Africa lead the way to a start of a new type of nationalism termed Contemporary Black Nationalism. This movement of establishing a home back in Africa “indicated a desire for independence” (2001:410). This call for independence most likely rose from the oppression that hammered the black community, withholding their freedom and rights. As a result, this caused a “determination by black people to demonstrate their ability to establish a republican form of government.” (2001:410). Support for this can be seen from Marcus Garvey the organiser of Universal Negro Improvement Association who incorporated a shipping line named the Black Star Line to allow the black community back to Africa further encouraging the establishment of Africa’s government and economic independence. Despite this, Garvey was refused land by West African countries such as Liberia and thus as a result, Garvey had failed as black Americans were unable to settle. Despite his failure, new sets of SMOs emerged which changed the way they fought oppression through change within the government.
Harris (2001) identified 4 main categories that developed through Contemporary Black Nationalism: Educational Nationalism, Religious Nationalism, Cultural Nationalism and Revolutionary Nationalism. Educational Nationalism developed through the idea that the conventional American education was “destructive to African-Americans” (2001:410) and thus aimed to teach them about their own history and culture. The promotion of black studies within schools and colleges allowed the African-Americans to learn more about themselves. Religious Nationalism provided an alternative belief to the conventional viewpoint of christianity. However, there were those who chose to remain with traditional christianity or join an almost identical form of christianity with details such as the depiction of Jesus as a black man as seen in the orthodox christianity.
Cultural Nationalists were another group of black nationalists that believed liberation of African-Americans could only be achieved by accepting that they are different from their black heritage (Harris, 2001). This was conducted similarly to the BPP in that they wore unique uniform to identify themselves from the non-liberators; this custom outfit consisting of black trousers, black leather jackets, black berets, black leather shoes and powdered blue shirts demonstrated unity and support towards a common goal which is highly apparent within the panthers uniform (Jones, 1998). The boosting of black confidence also encouraged unity within the black community; this was done through the promotion of black beauty in magazines by using catchphrases such as ‘Black is Beautiful’ (Anderson and Cromwell, 1977). The last group revolutionary nationalism aspired for a new government altogether as they believe liberation cannot be achieved in the current institutional system. “rid the society of capitalism, imperialism, racism and sexism.” (2001:411). The BPP would be one such group that falls under this category as they believed that liberation was not possible without changing the political and economic system.