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Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party

Joshua Bloom
Waldo E. Martin
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 560
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  • Book Info
    Black against Empire
    Book Description:

    In Oakland, California, in 1966, community college students Bobby Seale and Huey Newton armed themselves, began patrolling the police, and promised to prevent police brutality. Unlike the Civil Rights Movement that called for full citizenship rights for blacks within the U.S., the Black Panther Party rejected the legitimacy of the U.S. government and positioned itself as part of a global struggle against American imperialism. In the face of intense repression, the Party flourished, becoming the center of a revolutionary movement with offices in 68 U.S. cities and powerful allies around the world.Black Against Empireis the first comprehensive overview and analysis of the history and politics of the Black Panther Party. The authors analyze 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. Informed by twelve years of meticulous archival research, as well as familiarity with most of the former Party leadership and many rank-and-file members, this book is the definitive history of one of the greatest challenges ever posed to American state power.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95354-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    The Panthers shut out the pack of zealous reporters and kept the door locked all day, but now the hallway was empty. Huey Newton and two comrades casually walked from the luxury suite down to the lobby and slipped out of the Hong Kong Hilton. Their official escort took them straight across the border, and after a short flight, they exited the plane in Beijing, where they were greeted by cheering throngs.¹

    It was late September 1971, and U.S. national security adviser Henry Kissinger had just visited China a couple months earlier. The United States was proposing a visit to...


    • 1 Huey and Bobby
      (pp. 19-44)

      On February 17, 1942, in Monroe, Louisiana, Huey P. Newton was born, the seventh and youngest child of Walter and Armelia Newton. Walter Newton was a paragon of responsibility. He held down two jobs at any given time, working in the gravel pit, the carbon plant, sugarcane mills, sawmills, and eventually as a brakeman for the Union Saw Mill Company. On Sundays, he served as the minister at the Bethel Baptist Church in Monroe, where he and his family lived. He preached as the spirit moved him, often promising to address his parishioners on a particular topic, then improvising an...

    • 2 Policing the Police
      (pp. 45-62)

      One night in early 1967, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Little (Lil’) Bobby Hutton, the first recruit to their Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, were cruising around north Oakland in Seale’s 1954 Chevy. Newton was at the wheel. They saw a police car patrolling the area and decided to monitor it. As Bobby Seale later recounted the incident, Newton sped up to within a short residential block behind the car and kept that distance.¹ When the officer turned right, Newton turned right. When the officer turned left, Newton turned left. Newton was armed with a shotgun, Seale with a .45...


    • 3 The Correct Handling of a Revolution
      (pp. 65-98)

      The Black Panther leadership found itself in a most ironic situation after Sacramento. On the strength of their tactic of policing the police, the Panthers had thrust themselves into the center of the movement debate about how to define Black Power and what direction the Black Liberation Struggle should take now that the civil rights insurgency had run its course. At the same time, the tactics so key to the Panther’s effectiveness had been taken from them. How would the Black Panthers continue to mobilize the “brothers on the block” without the legal option of publicly arming themselves? And how...

    • 4 Free Huey!
      (pp. 99-114)

      After dinner with his family on October 27, 1967, Huey Newton walked to his girlfriend LaVerne Williams’s house at 5959 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. It was Friday night, and the two had plans to go out. On the way over he thought about where they might go that evening. When he arrived, LaVerne was not feeling well. He offered to stay in with her, but she insisted that he go out and enjoy himself and lent him her car.¹

      Newton started up LaVerne’s tan 1958 Volkswagen Beetle and drove to Bosn’s Locker, his favorite bar. After casual conversation with friends...

    • 5 Martyrs
      (pp. 115-138)

      On Thursday, April 4, 1968, at 6:01 p.m., Martin Luther King Jr. stepped onto the balcony outside his second-floor room at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. King and his aides were in Memphis organizing support for a strike by thirteen hundred black sanitation workers. The effort was part of King’s new emphasis on the alleviation of poverty and opposition to the Vietnam War. King’s fame brought widespread attention to the sanitation workers’ strike, and over the previous week, conflicts between police and black strike supporters had become violent.

      King had returned to the hotel after a long day of...

    • 6 National Uprising
      (pp. 139-160)

      The turning point in Ericka Huggins’s life came a week after King’s death, at the funeral of Lil’ Bobby Hutton in Oakland on April 12, 1968. This was the moment when she committed her life to the revolution and the Black Panther Party. Huggins later recalled,

      What awakened me, what changed my life and my mind . . . was Bobby Hutton’s face at his funeral. . . . My entire life and mind was changed from that point on. . . . I had read about the Party and I had read about all the things in history that...

    • Figures
      (pp. 161-176)

    • 7 Breakfast
      (pp. 179-198)

      Polly Graham knew about hardship and struggle. In the 1940s, she had been part of a failed attempt to organize low-wage black workers in the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Factory in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. But virulent anti-unionism, magnified by racism and anti-Communist hysteria, had beaten that noble and long-forgotten effort. Almost thirty years later, on March 4, 1970, she opened the door of her rented home to find police handing her an eviction notice. Because the property had already been condemned in a legal hearing, she understood that she owed no rent until the landlord made the necessary repairs. The...

    • 8 Law and Order
      (pp. 199-215)

      On Sunday night September 8, 1968, Newton was convicted of manslaughter in the killing of Officer Frey and sentenced to two to fifteen years in prison. He was acquitted of wounding the other officer. Many Panthers and their supporters were disappointed that their efforts had not saved Huey. Newton’s lawyer, Charles Garry, promised to appeal the decision. According to theNew York Times, many police saw the sentence differently and wanted Newton executed for the killing of Frey. About thirty hours after Newton’s conviction, at 1:30 in the morning on September 10, two white on-duty uniformed police officers shot up...

    • 9 41st and Central
      (pp. 216-225)

      By January 1969, the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party had consolidated its status as a leading black nationalist organization in the city, rivaled only by Ron Karenga’s US organization. The Los Angeles Panther chapter was not yet a large organization, but the killings of Panthers Bartholomew, Lawrence, and Lewis by police in the shoot-out at the gas station during the Watts festival in August 1968 had not scared everyone away either. If anything, the fact that these Panthers stood their ground and fought the police to the death strengthened the Party’s revolutionary credentials and drew new recruits,...

    • 10 Hampton and Clark
      (pp. 226-246)

      Fred Hampton was a natural leader. He dressed casually and was not flashy, but he had a strong, bold presence. People trusted him. He had been raised in a loving and close-knit family and attended church and Bible study throughout his childhood. He was a top athlete in high school, and an A student. He never used drugs or drank. Even as a young man, when he spoke, the words flowed sharp and lyrical in the best of the black church tradition. People opened their eyes and listened. And he was fearless.¹ Born August 30, 1948, the youngest of three...

    • 11 Bobby and Ericka
      (pp. 247-266)

      On January 23, 1969, Ericka Huggins—carrying her three-week-old daughter, Mai—brought the body of her husband, John, to his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, for burial. John’s parents still lived and worked in New Haven, which was the location of Yale University and a declining industrial city with extreme poverty and a sizable black ghetto. Ericka and Mai moved in with John’s parents.¹ In the preceding months, the Panthers had begun organizing a chapter of the Party in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but their plans changed after John Huggins’s funeral. TheBlack Panthercarried Ericka Huggins’s image on the front page,...


    • 12 Black Studies and Third World Liberation
      (pp. 269-287)

      In August 1968, George Mason Murray, the Black Panther minister of education, traveled to Cuba to represent the Black Panthers at a conference sponsored by the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL). The oldest son of a Presbyterian minister, Murray had grown up poor, one of thirteen children in a religious family in rural Mississippi. He became a civil rights activist and left Mississippi. In 1963, he arrived in San Francisco and enrolled in San Francisco State College. Murray was a serious student who sported short-cropped hair and a tie. He soon gained...

    • 13 Vanguard of the New Left
      (pp. 288-308)

      Yolanda Lopez and Donna Amador, activists from the San Francisco State strike, were at the Free Huey rally on May 1, 1969, along with Ralph Ruiz when, as Amador recalls, “I was standing in the back of the crowd near a police motorcycle when I heard from a crackling radio that a police officer had just been shot in San Francisco’s Mission District (my home). An all-points bulletin went out for a number of Latin men, and, coincidentally, one of the suspects [Ralph Ruiz] was standing right beside me! My priorities changed instantly. Education was important for the brothers and...

    • 14 International Alliance
      (pp. 309-322)

      On Friday November 29, 1968, fifteen hundred delegates from throughout the Americas gathered in Montreal for the Hemispheric Conference to End the War in Vietnam. The delegates were political leaders from throughout the Americas who opposed U.S. intervention in Vietnam, including Salvador Allende, at that time president of the Chilean Senate (and later president of Chile); antiwar activists from a range of organizations; Quebeçois secessionists; and a delegation from North Vietnam led by the North Vietnamese minister of culture, M. Hoang Minh Giam. The Black Panther Party sent a delegation led by Bobby Seale and David Hilliard and including a...

    • Figures
      (pp. 323-338)

    • 15 Rupture
      (pp. 341-371)

      On November 15, 1969, Black Panther chief of staff David Hilliard took the stage at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco at the West Coast Mobilization against the Vietnam War. As the senior Panther leader not in prison or exile, Hilliard was newly in charge of the national Party, having taken over when Bobby Seale was arrested in August. In the audience, more than one hundred thousand protestors rallied for peace—the largest protest ever held on the West Coast to date. Simultaneously, two hundred fifty thousand protestors gathered at the Washington Monument, which according to theNew York Times...

    • 16 The Limits of Heroism
      (pp. 372-389)

      In the months following the Panther rift in early 1971, sustained pressure from the state kept the Black Panther Party in the national spotlight. This pressure only exacerbated the tensions inside the Party as the national headquarters sought to distance itself from insurrectionary activities in order to hold on to allied support. Newspapers widely reported the trial of the New York Panthers charged with conspiracies to kill police and bomb public buildings. The state opened its criminal case against Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins on March 18, charging that the Panther leaders were responsible for the murder of Alex Rackley...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 390-402)

      When Civil Rights practices proved incapable of redressing the grievances of young urban blacks in the late 1960s, the Black Panthers armed themselves and promised to overcome poverty and oppression through revolution. They organized the rage of ghetto youth by confronting the police and resisted repression by winning the support of moderate black, antiwar, and international allies. These allies, like the Party, recognized the limited recourse available for real change through traditional political channels. But as blacks won greater electoral representation, government employment, affirmative action opportunities, as well as elite college and university access; the Vietnam War and military draft...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 403-486)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 487-490)
  12. Index
    (pp. 491-539)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 540-540)