Black Power Fifty Years On

by Tom Adam Davies, author of Mainstreaming Black Power

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the Organization of American Historians in New Orleans. The theme of this year’s conference is “Circulation,” which characterizes many of the subjects historians study, whether migrations, pilgrimages, economies, networks, ideas, culture, conflicts, plagues or demography. #OAH17


With the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in recent years, the timing of Black Power’s half centenary last year has been especially poignant. The parallels drawn—by both supporters and detractors—between Black Lives Matter and Black Power activists of half a century ago reflect the fact that for many Americans “Black Power” most readily conjures up images of radical and militant black protest, clashes with authority, and fierce criticism of American society, all against a backdrop of urban unrest. Half a century on, Black Power’s image in the popular imagination is still shaped most powerfully by certain icons, moments, and images, heavily refracted through the lens of the sensationalist white media coverage at the time. Late 2016 brought with it numerous events, publications, and films marking the fiftieth birthday of the Black Panther Party—Black Power icons par excellence—formed in Oakland, California in October 1966. No doubt many column inches will be dedicated to U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s raised-fist salute, silent protest at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City in August 2018.

It is less likely, however, that the fiftieth anniversary of the first National Black Power Conference, which took place on July 20-23, 1967, will be paid much attention at all. Organized by black Republican Dr. Nathaniel Wright, and held in a salubrious white-owned hotel in Newark, New Jersey, the conference and its cast of attendees (all of whom paid the sizable $25 entry fee) do not fit easily into Black Power’s stereotypical image. The vast majority of conference delegates in Newark were not radicals calling for armed resistance and revolution like the Black Panthers, or criticizing racial and economic injustice in the U.S. like Smith and Carlos; they were elite and middle-class black professionals and business leaders who had a very different vision of Black Power. Their conference concluded after three days, Manning Marable explains in Race, Reform, and Rebellion, with a statement asserting that Black Power really meant African Americans getting a “fair share of American capitalism.”

Continue reading “Black Power Fifty Years On”


The Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program

Last October marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, when, in 1966, college students Bobby Seale and Huey Newton vowed to prevent police brutality against black communities. In the face of intense repression, the Party flourished, becoming the center of a revolutionary movement with offices in sixty-eight U.S. cities and powerful allies around the world.

Today, the Party’s fight against police brutality continues to inspire activists and organizers, who look to develop new ways of organizing as tools and methods change and current events shift. In the new preface to Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, authors Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr. place the Black Panther Party in today’s political landscape, especially as it relates to Black Lives Matter. They write:

Like the Black Panther Party, #BlackLivesMatter and other contemporary activists have coupled confrontational tactics with community organizing and sought to challenge racism by mobilizing against police brutality. And again, today antiracist activists face repression including state surveillance, arrests, and coordinated public vilification. As in the 1960s, the forces of racial retrenchment are eager to move on without disturbing the basic arrangements of white privilege. . . . Indeed, each generation must make its own history, under new conditions, in new ways. Rather than emulating the specifics, we believe that developing effective antiracist practices today requires emulating the general political dynamic common to both the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panther Party.

Included in the book is The Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program. First publicized in the the second issue of the organization’s newspaper, Black Panther, on May 15, 1967, the platform and program, titled “What We Want Now! What We Believe,” was a set of guidelines written by Newton and Seale that emphasized the Party’s ideals and commitment to advancing a revolution that addressed the needs of the black community. It appeared in every succeeding issue of the newspaper.

The original Ten Point Program read:

What We Want Now! What We Believe

To those poor souls who don’t know Black history, the beliefs and desires of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense may seem unreasonable. To Black people, the ten points covered are absolutely essential to survival. We have listened to the riot producing words “these things take time” for 400 years. The Black Panther Party knows what Black people want and need. Black unity and self defense will make these demands a reality.

What We Want

  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 White man of our Black community.
  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.

What We Believe

  1. We believe that Black people will not be free until we are able to determine our destiny.
  2. We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the White American business men will not give full employment, then the means of production should be taken from the business men and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.
  3. We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules was promised 100 years ago as retribution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities: the Germans are now aiding the Jews in Israel for the genocide of the Jewish people. The Germans murdered 6,000,000 Jews. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of over 50,000,000 Black people; therefore, we feel that this is a modest demand that we make.
  4. We believe that if the White landlords will not give decent housing to our Black community, then the housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that our community, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for its people.
  5. We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.
  6. We believe that Black people should not be forced to fight in the military service to defend a racist government that does not protect us. We will not fight and kill other people of color in the world who, like Black people, are being victimized by the White racist government of America. We will protect ourselves from the force and violence of the racist police and the racist military, by whatever means necessary.
  7. We believe we can end police brutality in our Black community by organizing Black self defense groups that are dedicated to defending our Black community from racist police oppression and brutality. The Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States gives us a right to bear arms. We therefore believe that all Black people should arm themselves for self defense.
  8. We believe that all Black people should be released from the many jails and prisons because they have not received a fair and impartial trial.
  9. We believe that the courts should follow the United States Constitution so that Black people will receive fair trials. The 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives a man a right to be tried by his peer group. A peer is a person from a similar economic, social, religious, geographical, environmental, historical and racial background. To do this the court will be forced to select a jury from the Black community from which the Black defendant came. We have been, and are being tried by all White juries that have no understanding of the “average reasoning man” of the Black community.
  10. When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

Above the Ten Point Program, under the headline “Minister of Defense,” the Black Panther carried a photo of Huey that served to announce to the world that the vanguard of Black Power had arrived.

Learn more about the history and politics of the Black Panther Party and Black against Empire here.


Food Matters – But It’s Not Magical

by Garrett Broad, author of More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change

9780520287457Stop me if you’ve heard this oft-repeated claim of the alternative food movement:

We know that low-income people who live in “food deserts” tend to eat unhealthy foods and suffer from diet-related disease. So, if we could simply get them to understand the importance of healthy eating – perhaps by having young boys and girls taste a carrot grown in their own school garden – we would all be well on our way toward community health and sustainability.

I beg to differ, and my new book – More Than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change – counters this oversimplified, feel good story.

Indeed, throughout the life of the alternative food movement, many of its most popular programs have failed to recognize that nutritional inequity is actually linked to broader histories of racial, economic, and environmental discrimination. The “magic carrot” approach to community health promotion – which imbues gardening and nutrition education with almost mystical powers – has ultimately proved ill-equipped to tackle the systemic barriers that are at the root of food injustice and the health problems associated with it.

Based on years of ethnographic research and scholar-activism, More Than Just Food highlights the work of community-based food justice activists who do engage with these systemic realities. While these practitioners employ many of the same strategies that have come to characterize the alternative food movement in general – building gardens, providing nutrition education, and improving access to healthy food through alternative food networks – they do so in the purpose of a much larger cause. Situating food as a vehicle for a more expansive, people-of-color-led social justice transformation, they look to the legacy of groups like the Black Panther Party and its “Free Breakfast for Children Program” as a model for revolutionary food activism.

A primary aim of the book, then, is to highlight the capacity of community action to serve as a power base for a twenty-first century food justice movement. At the same time, however, the research cautions against overly romanticized visions of autonomous, community-based change, emphasizing instead the complicated and often contradictory nature of nonprofit food justice organizing today.

We are in a moment in which food justice groups, inspired by the likes of the Black Panther Party, also depend upon grants from the United States Department of Agriculture to achieve their community-based goals. What does this mean for the possibilities of a food revolution?

Read the book to find out more. But be advised that it contains neither magic carrots nor magic answers.

Garrett M. Broad is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University.


UC Press Podcast: Joshua Bloom on the Rise of the Black Panther Party

Black against Empire cover imageIn the latest episode of the UC Press Podcast, Black Against Empire co-author Joshua Bloom talks about the political and cultural dynamics that gave birth to the Black Panther Party, why Oakland in particular was the perfect setting for a dawning revolutionary movement, and the lasting historical impacts of what the Panthers fought for.

Bloom is a Fellow at the Ralph J. Bunche Center, and editor of the Black Panther Newspaper Collection at UCLA, the pages of which inform the richly detailed history in the book. Black Against Empire analyzes key political questions, such as why so many young black people across the country risked their lives for the revolution, why the Party grew most rapidly during the height of repression, and why allies abandoned the Party at its peak of influence. Bold, engrossing, and richly detailed, this book cuts through the mythology and obfuscation, revealing the political dynamics that drove the explosive growth of this revolutionary movement, and its disastrous unraveling.