The Black Panthers were a revolutionary socialist and Black liberationist organisation which was founded in Oakland, California in 1966. They were also resolutely anti-capitalist and staunch on the equality between men and women. By the end of the 1960s, the membership of the Black Panther Party was predominantly women.
They began by operating street patrols in their local areas, attempting to throw the spotlight back on the cops who were used to intimidating and harassing Black communities with impunity. Where the Panthers saw an arrest in progress, they would stand by to document what occurred, sometimes with cameras, and would tell the arrestee what his legal rights were.
One of the things the Black Panthers are still well-known for is their free breakfast program, which they started in 1969. As part of this program they’d cook hot breakfasts for kids in low-income neighbourhoods (mostly Black and Latino), so the kids would have full bellies and be able to give their all to concentrating in class. They were able to draw on donations from local businesses (sometimes those businesses needed a little push, like a protest outside their premises alerting potential patrons to the fact that those businesses did not support feeding hungry kids). At the same time as the kids were eating, the Panthers would deliver “Political Education” to the kids, which was about teaching the kids to have pride in themselves and their communities and their cultural backgrounds, for example by teaching them about Black inventors, artists and achievers of great things. This program become really integral to their practice, both because it served a critical social need of feeding the hungry, but also it offered a space for community-building and the spreading of their communal, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist ideas. Neither was this the only work in the community they did – according to the Aeon article linked below, their efforts also included
helping secure safe housing, instituting door-to-door healthcare, developing innovative addiction treatment, free grocery distribution, clothes and shoes giveaways, as well as lending support to other local activist groups.
While the Black Panthers began their work in Black and Hispanic communities, they acknowledged that the cause of racist oppression was capitalism, and in many places united also with poor White communities against their common enemy. Fred Hampton, the leader of the Panthers in Chicago, called this the “Rainbow Coalition”.
J. Edgar Hoover – also known as the mastermind of the COINTELPRO operation to destroy radical Black organising – identified the free breakfast program as one of the biggest threats to the US government’s authority. The FBI pulled no punches in their mission to wreck the Black Panthers, sending in infiltrators to sow discord, spreading vicious lies about them in propaganda to the public, and conducting assassinations of the Panthers’ most charismatic, influential figures (including Fred Hampton himself, who was murdered in his bed aged 21).