On the Ground

On the Ground: The Black Panther Party in Communities across America

Edited by Judson L. Jeffries
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    On the Ground
    Book Description:

    The Black Panther Party suffers from a distorted image largely framed by television and print media, including the Panthers' own newspaper. These sources frequently reduced the entire organization to the Bay Area where the Panthers were founded, emphasizing the Panthers' militant rhetoric and actions rather than their community survival programs. This image, however, does not mesh with reality. The Panthers worked tirelessly at improving the life chances of the downtrodden regardless of race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation. In order to chronicle the rich history of the Black Panther Party, this anthology examines local Panther activities throughout the United States---in Seattle, Washington; Kansas City, Missouri; New Orleans, Louisiana; Houston, Texas; Des Moines, Iowa; and Detroit, Michigan.This approach features the voices of people who served on the ground---those who kept the offices in order, prepared breakfasts for school children, administered sickle cell anemia tests, set up health clinics, and launched free clothing drives. The essays shed new light on the Black Panther Party, re-evaluating its legacy in American cultural and political history. Just as important, this volume gives voice to those unsung Panthers whose valiant efforts have heretofore gone unnoticed, unheard, or ignored.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-493-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION The Second Installment
    (pp. ix-2)
    Judson L. Jeffries and Ryan Nissim-Sabat

    The Black Power movement, compared to its predecessor, the modern civil rights movement, was comprised of fewer organizations and members. Simply put, there were many more card-carrying civil rights activists than there were advocates of Black Power. Arguably, the four most prominent civil rights organizations—the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Urban League—had hundreds of chapters across the country, with massive membership rolls in the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people. For example, in the 1950s the NAACP had over...

  4. Chapter 1 ARM YOURSELF OR HARM YOURSELF People’s Party II and the Black Panther Party in Houston, Texas
    (pp. 3-40)
    Charles E. Jones

    By 1970 the Black Panther Party (BPP) mushroomed from a locally based California group into an international phenomenon with official units in twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia. In addition, the BPP operated an international chapter initially under the leadership of Eldridge Cleaver in Algiers, Algeria. While the epicenter of the Panther movement remained in Oakland, California, during the group’s sixteen-year (1966–1982) history, the organization’s official links extended to local black communities throughout the nation. African Americans quickly established BPP chapters in many of America’s large urban centers. Panther affiliates also formed in sparsely black-populated cities such as...

  5. Chapter 2 A PANTHER SIGHTING IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST The Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party
    (pp. 41-95)
    Jeffrey Zane and Judson L. Jeffries

    Seattle is an unusual city; it is famous both for its inclement weather and the active outdoor lifestyles of its residents. Although tucked into the farthest corner of the country, the city has influenced the nation’s fashion, music, food, and technological industries. And while Seattle’s population is as racially heterogeneous as its many bohemian tastes, African Americans make up less than 10 percent of Seattle’s population. Still, they have served as mayor and county executive, president of the city council and school board, and school district superintendent. Seattle’s image as an enclave for young urban professionals is featured prominently in...

    (pp. 96-124)
    Reynaldo Anderson

    This chapter seeks to situate the local activities of the Kansas City, Missouri, branch of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in a context that connects them to the larger black freedom struggle in that city, the state, and the nation. The branch coordinated its specific activities, functioning as a subunit inside of the national BPP structure; in fact, the heartland chapters rotated members in order to carry out the BPP program effectively. These local events in the heartland help illuminate the rationale for a local formation of the BPP to address problems in the African American community that traditional civil...

    (pp. 125-185)
    Joel P. Rhodes and Judson L. Jeffries

    Detroit has a long history of contentious politics and let-wing activism that has impacted virtually every realm of the city’s political, social, and civic life. These struggles sometimes paid off in observable gains, but never quite succeeded in bringing about full racial equality. Black people’s struggles, in particular, at various times took separatist directions and, at other times, included coalitions with groups of other races and differing ideologies such as the Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party. These political inclinations foreshadowed later developments involving the Black Panther Party (BPP). The earliest black struggles emerged in the form of the...

    (pp. 186-223)
    Bruce Fehn and Robert Jefferson

    On one fateful evening during the mid-1960s, Black Power politics and civil rights activism in Des Moines, Iowa, shared equal billing in America’s heartland. On July 4, 1966, young African Americans assembled at Good Park, located in Des Moines’ largest black neighborhood, and participated in a violent disturbance lasting several hours. According toDes Moines Registerreporters Dick Spry and Stephen Seploy, “the clash between youths and police apparently [had] been brewing for several nights. Negro youths, on several occasions [had] refused to leave the park swimming pool at closing time.” The night before the rebellion, young African Americans were...

    (pp. 224-272)
    Orissa Arend and Judson L. Jeffries

    The Big Easy, as a site for the National Committee to Combat Fascism (NCCF), presented the aspiring Black Panthers with a unique set of circumstances. New Orleans differed from other major southern cities both in its storied intraracial history and in its civil rights movement activity. To start with, New Orleans had a significant African American population from its earliest years, and prior to the Civil War this population included sizable numbers of free black men and women who, with their descendants, called themselves Creoles. Creoles (lighthued free black Catholics of mixed-race French ancestry) tended to fare better than other...

  10. CONCLUSION Nesting the Black Panther Party in the Zeitgeist of Uncertainty
    (pp. 273-282)
    Omari L. Dyson

    A philosophy professor once asked me during my dissertation phase, “What are you researching?” “The Black Panther Party in Philadelphia,” I replied. He smirked and replied, “Aahh, resurrecting the unresurrectable, huh?” I stood frozen—removed of tongue and movement—and at a point allowed my insecurities to seep in, as I pondered my future as a scholar-activist. As I looked at this professor, I asked myself, What exactly did he mean? Was I attempting to crawl up a downward spiral? Would I be jeopardizing my academic career by pursing this particular subject matter? These questions, of course, were the manifestation...

    (pp. 283-284)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 285-301)