A crowd of onlookers gawked from the sidewalk as four young black men dressed in black leather jackets and berets leaped from a Volkswagen, each of them wielding shotguns with bandoliers strapped across their bodies. The young men surrounded two white police officers who had accosted a black man and had him spread-eagled against a building.
The young men did not say a word as the police officers watched them nervously, their eyes fixed on the shotguns. One of the young men held a large law book in his hand…This was the Black Panther Party in ideal action. The real story--the whole story--was both more and less heroic.
So begins Black Panthers For Beginners. The late 1960s, when the Panthers captured the imagination of the nation's youth, was a time of regulation. While their furious passage was marked by death, destruction and government sabotage, the Panthers left an instructive legacy for anyone who dares to challenge the system.
Herb Boyd has done exhaustive research, examined the claims of all parties involved, and boiled the story down to "the truth." We believe this is the most truthful book on the market, but each Panther has his or her own story to tell. We suggest that you check out the stories of all the Black Panthers.
About the Author
Herb Boyd is a journalist and teacher, and has authored and edited 22 books, including his own Civil Rights: Yesterday & Today. His book Baldwin's Harlem, a biography of James Baldwin, was a finalist for a 2009 NAACP Image Award. He teaches at the College of New Rochelle and City College New York, and is a correspondent for Free Speech TV.org.
Lance Tooks's artwork has appeared in commercials, films, and music videos. He self-published the comic books Danger Funnies with Cry For Dawn, and contributed the Graphic Classics books, adapting the works of Edgar Allan Poe and others.
Read an Excerpt
By Herb Boyd, Lance Tooks
For Beginners LLCCopyright © 1995 Herb Boyd
All rights reserved.
We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our community. We believe that Black people will not be free until we are able to determine our destiny.
Whether they knew it or not, Newton and Seale's list of demands and beliefs were nearly identical to earlier ten point programs proposed by Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad. Their next task was to decide who did what.
With this agreement the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was born on October 15, 1966.
The panther was ready to prowl. With stacks of the Ten Point Program under their arms, Newton and Seale — later joined by Little Bobby Hutton, their first recruit — began passing out the programs in the neighborhoods of Oakland, stopping folks in the streets and arguing their reasons for armed struggle against the "pigs." In their vernacular, pigs were cops who harassed Black residents without provocation. To them, the Panthers said,
"All Black people were under suspicion."
People the trio of Panthers encountered on the streets were stunned by the new group's boldness and wondered why they had chosen a panther as their symbol.
Newton, who was never at a loss for an answer, explained: "The nature of the panther is that he never attacks. But if anyone attacks him or backs him into a corner the panther comes up to wipe the aggressor or that attacker out."
Newton and Seale decided that these Panthers needed guns.
Residents of the Black community would see the Panthers coming and run for cover. The question on everybody's mind — which nobody had the nerve to ask — was: "Who in the world are those crazy radicals?"
"Power flows from the barrel of a gun," was one of Mao Tse-Tung's famous quotes, and it was while selling Mao's Little Red Book to earn money to buy the guns that the young Panthers adopted both the Mao's words and became, in their own eyes, revolutionaries..
The Panthers admired the militant philosophy of Malcolm X -- especially his advocacy of armed self-defense.
"We're going to be the personification of Malcolm's dreams," Newton told his comrades.
Malcolm called for freedom and justice "by Any Means Necessary!"
The Panthers, at rallies and marches, screamed in unison, "Power to the People!"
It all came down to the same thing, didn't it?CHAPTER 2
We want full employment for our people.
Inspired by Malcolm's legacy and funded by the sales of Mao's Red Book, the Panthers expanded their activist agenda and stepped up their plan to defend the community.
"We'll protect a mother, protect a brother, and protect the community from racist cops ..."
...Seale proclaimed in his autobiography Seize the Time.
"And in turn we get brothers in the organization and they will in turn relate to the Red Book. They will relate to political, economic, and social equality in defense of the community."
There were only 19 Blacks out of 600 officers on the Oakland police force, so the Panthers, to say the least, had their hands full. They were so balsy that they actually followed the Oakland police around. Whenever they encountered the police harassing or arresting somebody, Newton, Seale, and Li'l Bobby Hutton would jump from their car and approach the officers.
Brandishing a camera, a tape recorder, a law book, and with their guns in full view, they would stand off to the side and make sure the police conducted themselves within the law. "So long as we remain the proper distance from you," Newton often told the police, "we can observe what you do. This is not interfering or disorderly conduct."
Their policing the police was quickly the talk of the town. It was also the talk of every law enforcement agency in the country. It was only a matter of time before the Panthers aggressive monitoring provoked a showdown with the nervous, racist police officers. ...
And everybody on both sides knew it.
The Panthers didn't invent the idea of keeping tabs on cops. A similar plan was started in Los Angeles after the Watts riots in 1965. But the Panthers took the idea a step — a GIANT STEP — further: They used guns! They did it in a perfectly legal way — and their patrols were successful. Too successful: The police stopped harassing the citizens and turned their attention on the Panthers themselves.
Not long after the Panthers opened their first office in Oakland on January 1, 1967, the police accosted Newton and Seale in a car with other Panthers parked in front of their office. With his cohorts as the audience, Newton put on a daring, if reckless performance. It was a proverbial Mexican standoff, and Newton never blinked.
"What are you doing with that gun?" an officer asked Newton, after following him from his car into Panther headquarters.
"What are you doing with your gun?" Newton snapped back. "Because if you try to shoot at me, or if you try to take this gun, I'm going to shoot back at you, swine."
Unnerved by Huey's defiance, the officer muttered something under his breath and then stammered:
Earlier in the encounter, Newton had refused to answer the officer's questions, citing the Fifth Amendment and the right of individuals not to incriminate themselves.
For several minutes the two went back and forth, the remarks becoming louder and more intense. This bit of bravado by Newton delighted his friends and admirers, who were amused by the remarks and how they infuriated the police.
Soon the word reverberated throughout the community. "The Panthers don't take no shit; not even from the police." "Either Newton and the Panthers are the bravest or the craziest people in the world." Young neighborhood Blacks were excited by the Panthers' courage, and the more adventurous of them were among the Party's first recruits.
In asserting their rights as citizens the Panthers were actually acting in the proudest tradition of America.CHAPTER 3
We want an end to robbery by the Capitalists of our Black community.
The Panthers drew their early recruits from the Black working class and the poverty stricken districts of East Oakland. Many of them were high school dropouts, ex-felons, drug users and peddlers, petty hustlers and gang bangers. They were a gaggle of "basic bloods from off the block" ready to throw down, and who sometimes sang:
"There's a pig on the hill/If you don't get 'im, the Panthers will."
Even if they had been employable, there were few jobs available in a city where the unemployment rate was almost twice the national average. Complementing this ragtag crew were a number of Panthers who attended college, held down full-time jobs, or were merely impressionable youth eager for any kind of action.
Attraction to the Panthers was not limited, however, to just teenagers; a gaggle of older men and women, Black and white, fell under the spell of the Panther mystique. Eldridge Cleaver recalled his first meeting with the Panthers:
That a hardened felon, an ex-rapist, who had spent a good part of his youth in prison, could be struck with such awe epitomized the seductive power of the Panthers. A recent parolee from Soledad Prison where he had served nine years of a fourteen year sentence for rape, Cleaver, then 33, was working as a senior editor at Ramparts magazine and would soon gain national acclaim when his book Soul on Ice hit the bestseller list.
Cleaver was among a number of local activists at this meeting when he met the Panthers for the first time in full regalia. The meeting was called to discuss a commemoration of Malcolm X who had been slain two years earlier. Malcolm's widow, Betty Shabazz, was invited to give the keynote address at the Bayview Community Center in Hunter's Point, and the task of security was split between Newton and Seale's party and the Black Panther Party of Northern California, a group declaring it was the original Panthers. (Groups from various parts of the country have claimed, at one time or another, to have been the original original Panthers, but there is no hard evidence to prove that claim. That doesn't mean they're wrong. The time is so right for some things that they seem to happen spontaneously in several places at the same time. But that quintessential Panther moment — confronting the police with law books and rifles, could only happen in states where it's legal to carry a gun in public.)
By the spring of 1967, the Panther party had increased its numbers, published its first mimeographed newsletter, and gained wider recognition for its brazen contempt for the police, who by now were always referred to as the "pigs".
Each of them possessed a huge, fiendish snout, pointed ears, and a protruding corkscrew tail. It was the Panthers way of turning the tables on an enemy whom they felt viewed them as less than human.
The popularity of the Panthers spread rapidly, but they were still virtually unknown outside of California. One act was necessary to propel them into the national spotlight, and it occurred on May 2, 1967, in Sacramento at the State Capitol Building.
When the caravan of cars came to a halt outside the Capitol Building, thirty Black Panthers — twenty-four men and six women — emerged. All of them were dressed in black and some of them had bandoliers criss-crossing their bodies with rifles and shotguns pointed down to the ground or straight up in the air.
With a holstered 9mm pistol strapped to his waist, Bobby Seale led the way as the Panthers fanned out and walked toward the Capitol Building. Suddenly, from out of nowhere came a virtual army of reporters. Lights from the TV cameras and flashbulbs illuminated the band of young Panthers as they went from room to room, looking for the State Assembly meeting hall.
Onlookers were stunned at the procession, gawking and muttering to each other: "Who in the hell are these crazy Negroes?" The Panthers were unaware that one of the shocked, muttering, spectators was Governor Ronald Reagan.
The media all across the nation picked up the story. It was not the words that kept eyes riveted to the reports; it was the image of Black men bearing arms. It was a dazzling show of force; but the Panther's gun display backfired on them. Instead of halting the push for gun-control laws then on the minds of many legislators, the invasion only sped up the introduction of new measures to check the possibility of another Panther embarrassment. Having made their point in a most dramatic fashion thanks largely to the media, the Panthers wisely decided to develop a media network/propaganda machine of their own. They started a newsletter and gradually expanded it to a bona fide newspaper, loaded with inflammatory rhetoric. Because he possessed considerable writing skills, Cleaver took over as editor of the paper. Then there was the matter of creating a Party icon, a symbol that would help bring in even more members.
That was an easy decision. Have the handsome Newton — dressed in his typical Panther garb with his beret at just the right angle — sit in a broad-backed rattan chair, a zebra-skin rug under his feet, bracket him with a couple of African shields, and place a spear in his right hand and a shot gun in his left and, voila! One of the most popular posters of the sixties.
But it was just the beginning. In the succeeding months the Panthers commanded the headlines and no Black face was as immediately recognizable as Newton's. His boyish features, macho gaze, and muscular body seemed straight from central casting. Newton was also, according to close associates, a mental case with a quick temper. And given the right circumstances and audience he was capable of the most bizarre, unruly behavior. In October, 1967, almost a year to the day of the founding of the Black Panther Party, Newton clashed violently with the law, and within a few hours after the incident not only would his face be well-known in America but ... we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Frey took the documents, looked them over, passed Newton his license but kept the registration, which he took with him to his car. Obviously Frey had telephoned for help, for within minutes patrolman Herbert Heanes was on the scene. When Frey returned from checking the registration, he asked Newton and his companion, Gene McKinney, to get out of the car.
The officer asked Newton to walk over to his patrol car.
"You have no reason to arrest me," Newton asserted, opening his law book to cite a passage.
"You can take that law book and shove it up your ass," Officer Frey replied.
A scuffle broke out, gunfire erupted, and when the shooting was over, Newton had been shot in the stomach, Officer Heanes had multiple wounds, and Officer Frey was dead. Newton's companion, Gene McKinney, fled.
But a gentleman named Dell Ross told a different story:
Ross claimed that he happened to be driving by the scene when Newton and McKinney flagged him down and at gun point made him drive them to a nearby destination, then they both took off running. Newton made it to David Hilliard's house who in turn took him to Kaiser Hospital. At the hospital Newton was handled roughly by the police, handcuffed, and denied immediate medical attention. A news photographer at the scene snapped a picture of Huey Newton, only this time he wasn't posing for a poster. His naked torso, pierced by a policeman's bullet, turned up on the front page of every newspaper in America.
The first rallies and marches were held at the courthouse with brothers and sisters chanting: "Free Huey, Free Huey, Free Huey, or the sky's the limit!" Soon it was a kind of shared mantra that reverberated beyond the radical community, uniting folks around the world who were interested in social justice and political freedom.
"In February we host the grand birthday party [Newton was born February 17, 1942] attended by H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael," Hilliard continued. "Huey and the Black Panther Party are becoming known nationwide. Every day people call headquarters wanting to give money, start chapters. The second life of the Party has begun."
Indeed, the money flowed in from all over the place as the Panthers sponsored forums, workshops, and rallies on campuses, at churches and community organizations. Contributions came in from concerned individuals and support groups, including forerunners of the White Panthers, Grey Panthers, and the Young Lords. There was even a delegation calling themselves Honkies for Huey. If Newton was to have the proper representation during the upcoming trial, then buckets of donations were needed, the Panthers preached.
A decisive coalition was formed between the Panthers and the Peace and Freedom Party — a mostly white independent political party — and from this alliance additional money was raised in order to secure the services of attorney Charles Garry. Still another alliance was forged between the Panthers and leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). More than $10,000 was raised at a rally in Oakland that January featuring Carmichael, James Forman, and H. Rap Brown. The money lasted longer than the alliance.
While the Panthers intensified their fund raising activities, the "pigs" were turning up the heat. Not a day passed that didn't find a Panther caught in the cross-hairs of the police. The police harassed party members at every opportunity; early morning raids on the homes of the leaders were common occurrences; and there were rumors afloat that a massive attack on the Panthers was on the drawing board of the Oakland police (see illustration on following page).
Despite the constant raids and assaults, the Panthers continued to marshall support for their cause, although by April, 1968, there would be a double dose of tragedy.
This map was drawn up by the Berkeley police in preparation for an August 30, 1969 raid on Black Panther headquarters.
The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a terrible blow for the entire nation, and the Panthers were not immune to the loss. Two days later, death moved closer to the Panthers.
According to one account, Eldridge Cleaver was leading a convoy of cars filled with Panthers bound for David Hilliard's house when he stopped the car to relieve himself on a dark street. "While I was in the middle of this call of nature, a car came around the corner from the direction that we ourselves had come, and I found myself in danger of being embarrassed, I thought, by a passing car," Cleaver remembered. "So I cut off the flow ... and awkwardly hurried around to the other side of the car, to the sidewalk, to finish what had already been started. ... But this car instead of passing, stopped, and a spotlight from it turned on and beamed my way. I could see it was the cops, two of them. They got out of the car and stood there. ... One of them shouted, 'Hey, you, walk out into the middle of the street with your hands up, quick!'"
Excerpted from Black Panthers by Herb Boyd, Lance Tooks. Copyright © 1995 Herb Boyd. Excerpted by permission of For Beginners LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Black Panther Party Ten Point Program:,
Point one: Freedom,
Point two: Full Employment,
Point three: Capitalists,
Point four: Decent Housing,
Point five: Education,
Point six: Military Service,
Point seven: Police Brutality,
Point eight: Freedom from Jail,
Point nine: Jury of Peers,
Point ten: Black Colony,
The Panther Pantheon,
Black Panthers and other Political Prisoners,
Black Panther Party Program and Platform,
Black Panther Party Milestones,