Economic inequality, racial tensions, police brutality, and regular protests: is it 2016, or the 1960s?
On Oct, 15, 1966, 50 years ago, the Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland, California. Uniformed with black leather jackets and black berets, often sporting distinctive afros, the Black Panther Party was black nationalist and socialist organization, often using the more militant approaches of Malcolm X, rather than the peaceful protests of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Black Panthers encouraged “policing the police,” and armed and ready they patrolled Oakland neighborhoods. The headlines they made were bold, and sometimes shocking. At one time, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”
Even today, fear of black activism inspires fear in some white communities. The Black Lives Matter Movement, for example, has been criticized as both anti-white and anti-police. Beyonce’s homage to the Black Panthers during Super Bowl 50 also drew intense criticism from the usual suspects, as many believed that an NFL stage was an inappropriate platform to make political statements (see also: Colin Kaepernick).
In addition to heavily influencing the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements, the image of the Black Panther party was imprinted on popular culture for decades after (see again: Beyonce). Their members’ distinctive black leather jackets helped popularize the item as a fashion statement, and today the average consumer is wearing up to four leather items at any given time. Yet the purpose of these jackets went beyond fashion, according to a feature on High Snobiety.
“They also wore black leather as a uniform to present themselves as a movement of solidarity, a unified block that could not be shaken or intimidated…’Black is beautiful’ became a rallying cry as the Panthers actively resisted the Europeanization of beauty standards and encouraged their supporters to wear their hair in natural styles and love the skin they were in.”
However, the party’s original sentiments caused many to believe that they were an anti-white group and essentially a reverse-KKK. Unfortunately, many people still believe this today. However, the focus of Black Panther publications as well as their movement writ large eventually shifted toward strict anti-racism, progressive values, and political change.
The Panthers identified and formed alliances with other oppressed groups, including poor white people, and would develop inclusive community programs, health clinics, schools, voter registration drives, and also provided free breakfasts for children of low-income families.
The Panthers renounced the ideas of traditional gender roles, and published a statement in their organization’s newspaper than men and women were equal and that female party members should be treated as such. “Womanism,” a feminist movement geared toward the unique cultural experiences of women of color, was one of the primary objectives of the Black Panther Party during this time, and until the party faded from the spotlight in the early 1980s.
Over the course of 50 years, despite the party’s formal end, the legacy of the Black Panther Party and its remaining members has continued to exist, and is especially prevalent today.
This October, the Oakland Museum of California celebrated the Black Panther’s 50th anniversary with a conference titled, “Where Do We Go From Here?” from Oct. 20 to 23. The museum also launched a Black Panther exhibit, “All Power to the People,” from on Oct. 8.
“All Power To the People” will be displayed at the Oakland Museum of California until Feb. 12, 2017.