During the 1960s and 70s, newspapers were the main way that people found out the news. Because the majority of local and national newspapers were aimed at white people, the African-American community decided to develop their own newspapers. In fact, the first African-American newspaper in the United States was started in 1827. The Black Panther Party started their own newspaper, which began as a short newsletter in 1967 by the co-founder Huey Newton. These types of newspapers included news about the local black communities, events going on in the community, and were quite popular in major cities with large African-American populations. Today the Internet has taken over where newspapers left off, but you can see from examining the articles below, from different types of newspapers, that people had a range of opinions on the Black Panther Party, and that was reflected in newspaper stories at that time.
Figure 1. Article from “New York Amsterdam News”
This first article, Figure 1, was posted in the New York Amsterdam News, the official African-American newspaper of New York City, in 1972. They were advertising for an event where the Black Panthers gave away free food packages and shoes to people in the local African-American community. This article fits several of Zelizer’s aspects of collective memory. First, it is material, as it was originally in a physical newspaper. It also can be considered usable, as it is advertising the giving away of food and shoes by the Black Panthers. While this article was not as much a story as it is an advertisement for charity, it still shows how the Black Panthers wanted to be seen in the local communities.
Figure 2. Opinion article from “Chicago Tribune”
The article in Figure 2 came from an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune, where they asked local people how they felt about the Black Panther Party. While there was a wide range of opinions on the subject, one man in particular, Gordon Terry, had very strong feelings against the Black Panthers. He described them as “a menace to society and a great disturbance factor in this country.” Clearly he had had some sort of bad experiences with or heard some bad things about the Black Panthers, as he had nothing good to say about them at all. The New York Amsterdam News was made strictly for the African-American community of New York City, while the Chicago Tribune was a nation-wide publication made for everyone. Obviously the audiences were much different, so different opinions were sure to arise, but there seemed to be a pattern of anti-Black Panther Party news in mostly-white newspapers in big cities, which was congruent with the dominant memory and view towards them in the country as a whole. This article is also usable, as it allowed for the opinions of the Black Panther Party to be known, but also for people to express how they felt on a controversial and significant topic at that time. It is material, since the Chicago Tribune was andis a physical newspaper,
The link above will take you to a newspaper article from the New York Times in 1970 about the occupation and protest at Columbia University by students, demanding reparations for the Black Panther Party. Interestingly enough, the majority of the protesters were white students who were a part of a larger national movement to show white solidarity for the Black Panthers. The title of the article should draw some attention initially, as the paper describes the students who are protesting as “militants”. Although a few hundred of the more violent protesters did break windows on campus after their rally, only a few actually participated in breaking the windows. Describing them as “militant” is problematic and surely inaccurate to say the least. Would they be described as militant if they were rallying against the Black Panther Party? The article also described the students who marched through campus throwing rocks through windows as “radicals”. While their actions were indeed radical, I don’t believe that the students’ ideas or protest itself was radical. This way of describing the students is dismissive towards their movement and gives the public the wrong idea of what was really happening at the protest.
The white students did still enjoy privilege; even though they smashed more than 30 window panes on campus and splashed paint on campus buildings, the local police and even the Campus Security decided not to intervene. There was a bus full of Tactical Patrol Force policemen waiting in case things got too out of hand, but apparently the windows and paint on the buildings did not suffice a response.
“Black Panther Party giving free food, shoes at rally”. (1972, April 15).New York Amsterdam News, p. D8.
“mini’pinions: What do you think of the Black Panther Party?” (1970, February 19).Chicago Tribune, p. W6.
Montgomery, P. L. (1970, March 14). “Militants Occupy Columbia School: Reparations Demanded for Black Panther Party”. New York Times, p. 35.
A new, bolder, more hostile type of resistance to police brutality emerged at the end of the Civil Rights Movement and marked the beginning of the of the Black Power movement with some overlap during the mid 1960s. Prior resistance to police violence was primarily nonviolent activism, the type advocated by Martin Luther King Jr. However, a number of incidents of police brutality gained widespread public exposure, and with it, outrage. Media depicting eyebrow-raising methods of policing during otherwise peaceful protests generated controversy, such as the attacks against children during the Birmingham Campaign. Public exposure led to a militant stance against racist policing.
“…blasted by fire hoses, beaten with clubs, attacked by police dogs, and gassed.” (National Geographic Education)
Numerous other incidents of police brutality accumulated and spread into public consciousness through the media. In New York a police officer shot and killed black teenager James Powell in front of his friends and a dozen other witnesses (Shapiro 3). To some, horrific police actions warranted more than peaceful demonstrations, and violence must be met with an equal and opposite force.
The Case for Violence in Self-defense
What emerged was a call for more drastic resistance to police brutality. Three key players in this calling were Malcom X, the Black Panther Party, and Robert Franklin Williams.
Indeed, it was a controversial incident with police that helped Malcom X gain notoriety and advance his “by any means necessary” proposition. Malcom X was outraged by the police beating of Hinton Johnson in New York, demanding that the man be released and sent to an African American predominant hospital (Lomax 93). In contrast to previous peaceful attempts at justice, Malcom X fiercely rejected the notion of nonviolence as an effective countermeasure. He implored African-Americans to defend and advance themselves, a beckoning that inspired many oppressed blacks to greater action. His rhetoric during speeches was fiery and had a powerful effect on his audiences (179).
Black Panther Party
The original name for the Black Panther Party was the Black Panther Party for Self-defense. The party began largely in response to growing police brutality against African-Americans in Oakland, California. (Bloom 45) Members of the party would follow police patrol cars around Oakland neighborhoods carrying weapons afforded to them by the second amendment. It was a measure they deemed necessary to stop the oppression of police against African-American communities. In this case, policing the police was enabled by a deep-rooted constitutional right.
A young African-American man exercises his right to openly bear arms under California law in response to escalating police violence.
Robert Franklin Williams
One of the early cases of an African-American person calling for a stern response to violence against African-Americans was Robert Franklin Williams. He formed a Chapter of the National Rifle Association for which he belonged and called it the Black Armed guard in an effort to defend local black harassment from racist attacks from the Ku Klux Klan and others. He wrote a book in 1962 called “Negroes With Guns”, in which he urged African-Americans to raise arms and for black men in the military to kill their white superiors. He wrote, “…where the law is unable, or unwilling, to enforce order, the citizens can, and must act in self-defense against lawless violence” (Williams 16). In one case a black man was assaulted by a white perpetrator and failed to receive a proper trial. Robert F. Williams was asked what he recommends the cheated man should do in this situation, and this was his response:
“[The negroes] must be willing to fight, to die, to kill if necessary…to create the deterrent themselves” (Prelinger Collection)
His ideas became influential to other leaders in the black power movement , such as Rosa Parks and Huey Newton (Tyson 2).
Violent Resistance in Memory
Each of the three advocates for black revolt–Malcom X, Robert Williams, and the Black Panther Party–responded to violence by police and white supremacy organizations with an unprecedented call to meet violence with violence. The way in which this is remembered depends on who you ask. On one side, the violent approach to resist oppression by resorting to bearing arms against the police and other “extreme” measures is denounced and forgotten. Yet to others it was courageous to defy a racist government power with such boldness, courage, and sacrifice. Official memory praises and memorializes the nonviolent approach, as seen by the formation of the MLK monument and national holiday. However, certainly there are vernacular supporters of a violent resistance. In a forum during my research, a commenter extolled Robert F. Williams as the “Nat Turner” of his time.
AmericanHistoryRules. YouTube. National Geographic Education, 06 May 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joc3CRL6x4E>.
Bloom, Joshua, and Waldo E. Martin. Black against empire: the history and politics of the Black Panther Party. Berkeley: U of California Press, 2016. Print.
Lomax, Louis E. When the word is given: a report on Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and the Black Muslim world. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979. Print.
Negroes With Guns: Robert F. Williams on Self-Defense. Prelinger Collection, 22 Mar. 2009. Web. 20 Apr. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U3spArjhUA>.
Shapiro, Fred C., and James W. Sullivan. Race riots: New York 1964. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1964. Print.
Timothy B. Tyson, “Robert Franklin Williams: A Warrior For Freedom, 1925-1996” Archived July 8, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Investigating U.S. History (City University of New York); accessed April 20, 2017.
Williams, Robert F. Jr King, Martin Luther. Nelson, Truman. Negroes with Guns. S.l.: 2015. Print.
In the context of memory, it is important to understand that the Black Panther’s breakfast program for children occurred during the civil rights era for African Americans in the 1960’s. During this period, the civil rights witnessed the influential figure of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. Though MLK called for nonviolent protests to achieve civil rights, the black panther party possessed opposing ideas as they favored the ideologies of Malcolm X and the call for immediate action through impending violence to achieve their goals of social equality. Originally called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the organization was founded in Oakland, CA in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton as a means to serve the black community and to protect against police brutality (Flanigan, Pope). As an aside, this draws parallels to the current “Black Lives Matter” initiative that exists today as it almost shows how this memory is still prevalent. At this time, the BPP and many other African-Americans had grown restless and tired of the exclusion of society that they faced. This idea of exclusion and the fact of having unequal rights leads one to realize why the BPP was noted for committing acts of violence. In many ways, the BPP represented individuals in the African American community that had reached their breaking point.
What was the Free Breakfast Program?
The free breakfast program for children, which was initiated by the Black Panther party, was a program that was formed in January 1969 at St. Augustine Episcopal Church in Oakland, California (Robertson). The objective of the program was to feed less fortunate children a nice warm meal for breakfast, something that many of these children were not accustom to. The majority of the children who received these meals were apart of families that struggled to provide them with proper nutrition. Many, if not all, the children that the BPP served were African American, as the BPP primarily sought out to help and serve the black community. “We know that youngsters can’t learn at school if they are hungry, they rebel against learning and say the hell with school,” as stated by Randolph Albury, who was first in charge of the breakfast program (Stein). Notably, many of the children found members of the Black Panthers to be “very nice” and even “groovy” for providing these meals for them (Stein). The communities that the BPP served viewed the breakfast program as an act of kindness and love, as the BPP helped when no one else would. As far as what was served at the first site of the breakfast program, the children were able to enjoy eggs, cereal, oranges, various meats, and hot chocolate (Stein). In order to provide these services and meals, the BPP sent out letters to various grocers and producers in the Oakland area asking for food donations to help fund the program. When first starting out, the success rate by these providers was approximately fifty percent, which was enough for the BPP to begin serving the meals (Stein). At the very first breakfast, the party served only 11 children, but by the end of that same week, the party was feeding 135 (Robertson). Due to the great need, breakfast programs were expanding into various communities where the BPP operated. At the peak of its operation, the BPP fed over 1,200 children each week at the Los Angeles Breakfast program location (Robertson). As a result of the program’s success, the BPP required all chapters to include a free breakfast location in their given community. The requirement for all of the locations was for there to be seating for at least 50 children and for 10 individuals to be working the site (Robertson). Though BPP members worked at the locations, many people who worked the breakfast were simply volunteers or everyday people who were members of the community. Some of the Individuals who worked the breakfast included church members and parents of the children that were receiving the meals. Without help from the community, the program wouldn’t have been nearly as successful. Despite the good that was brought by the program, the initiative was no more as the BPP was hardly existent by the late 1980s (Robertson). Due to there being multiple locations to where the breakfasts were served, there is no single site representing this memory of black power. The Breakfast program was started by the BPP, but in many ways was owned by the community; representing how this is a communal memory bringing together African Americans. Though they may not be designated, individuals can visit the old locations, like St. Augustine church, to see where the meals were served.
Threatening the dominant memory
This project by the Panthers represents a humanitarian side to the organization, something that goes against the dominant white memory of the political organization as it represents a side of the BPP that is hardly remembered or discussed. The main American memory of the Black Panthers that is prevalent today is one that paints the BPP as a radical hate group of African American individuals, who wore all black clothing wielding guns. This dominant memory may be due to the efforts of the federal government and the FBI to silence the Black Panthers. According to released COINTELPRO surveillance files from 1969, which covered the Black Panthers, the FBI is noted in the documents for referring to the BPP as a “black nationalist hate group. (COINTELPRO)” COINTELPRO was notably a counterintelligence program led by FBI director Edgar J. Hoover that strived to stop the influence of the BPP on the black community and to ultimately destroy the black panther party as an organization (Robertson). The FBI noted in these files that the BPP was an organization that supported “the use of guns and guerrilla tactic in its revolutionary programs to end the oppression of the black man (COINTELPRO).” The FBI also stated that the BPP called for the “killing of policemen and followed the doctrine of the Chinese communists (COINTELPRO).” When looking at the breakfast program for children, the files also reveal that the FBI felt the program was simply a means to indoctrinate the children into the BPP’s ideals and beliefs. The FBI sought to “prove the program is being utilized by the BPP to indoctrinate the youngsters in hate and violence (COINTELPRO).” Countering this hegemony, former Black Panthers member Melvin Dickson is noted as claiming that the FBI did not like their efforts because it revealed how the government did not appropriately tackle the issues of poverty in various communities. Dickson has stated: “the U.S. government have all this money, but here we are, a grassroots organization feeding kids all across the U.S.” With this being said, there are various aspects of the breakfast program that may have caused the FBI to feel this way. For example, the BPP would record the name and addresses of each child who appeared at one of their breakfast locations and then visit the homes of their families (Stein). Though this idea of influencing the children into violence and hate is debatable, it is understandable to see these breakfast programs as a means to gain the likeness and favorability of the community. A community service act, such as the free breakfast program, could garner the acceptance of individuals within the area and cause an increase in the BPP membership. Even with some of the violent acts that the BPP may have been a part of, the dependence on their services of free food may have caused people within the community to not question the BPP’s tactics and views. Desperate people will take food from anyone. In poor communities such as Oakland, where the government did not provide necessary programs or aid, the BPP was able to use this free breakfast program as a powerful tool as many families were dependent upon this service to feed their children. The fact that this program confronts a basic need makes it even more powerful.
Youth is the Future
Looking at the youth as the future of society or even possibly the future of the BPP may have been one of the underlying factors for creating this breakfast program. The Southern California Chapter of the BPP in 1969 once stated that “the youth we are feeding will surely feed the revolution. All power to the people. (Flanigan, Pope)” The BPP even had their own magazine titled the “The Black Panther.” One of their issues in 1969, the same year the breakfast program started, featured a black child raising up a fist with the caption “youth makes the revolution. (Flanigan, Pope)” Particularly, the Breakfast program was marketed as being a self-defense against hunger. The BPP viewed the breakfast program as a means to “build the strength necessary to survive and overthrow the current state, and then build a better one (Flanigan, Pope).” The service initiatives created by the BPP could even be viewed as a tool for protest, as it divulged the issues within society and how communities were forced to provide for themselves instead of receiving needed help from the government. With the support from the BPP, it is understandable to see how a child may be inclined to favoring the BPP and potentially joining them when they came of age. This memory site of black power ultimately shows how the BPP was able to rally together impoverished communities through free social services. Despite the criticism, it is hard to argue the good that it did by providing thousands of children with much-needed food that they otherwise could not have obtained on their own.
Looking through the lens of Zelizer, the memory of the BPP and the breakfast program can be viewed as “processual” as the idea of the organization and its efforts may transform over time as society becomes more and more aware of their efforts. This memory of the breakfast program is partial as it only represents a fraction of the efforts committed by the BPP, despite its importance. Even with the BPP breakfast program being no more, the memory is “usable” as the influence of the program can still be seen today. For example, many education systems offer free meals to students who are less well off in many modern day schools. Though plagued with controversy, the Black Panther party did, in fact, provide positive contributions to society.
COINTELPRO FBI surveillance files for April-June 1969. (1969). United States
Pope, R. J., & Flanigan, S. T. (2013). Revolution for Breakfast: Intersections of Activism, Service, and Violence in the Black Panther Party’s Community Service Programs, 1(1)
Robertson, D. (02-26-16). The Black Panther Party and the Free Breakfast for Children Program. Retrieved from http://www.aaihs.org/the-black-panther-party/
Stein, R. (03-11-69). PANTHERS SERVE FREE BREAKFAST TO BLACK SCHOOL CHILDREN. Sun Reporter
The Badge of the Black Panther Party. (06-11-14). IMAGE. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/intothemusic/black-panther-badge/5511960
The Black Panther- Youth Makes the Revolution. IMAGE. Retrieved from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/4433299608944962/
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution | Free Breakfast Program | PBS. VIDEO (01-26-16). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyBQidWtDBs
Between 1965 and 1972, American focus was dominated by an unpopular war, new music, and the emergence of black power groups aiming to find equality in a country that refused to give equal rights to everyone. From this time period came people and groups, such as Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party, whose main objective was to protect black families and interests through any means necessary.
Lost in the confusion of the time was a small group in Philadelphia called MOVE, whose members “adopted a back-to-nature lifestyle and who protested what they considered to be the profanities of modern society” (Dickson). American memory glosses over the memory of move for multiple reasons, including the fact that MOVE’s ideology did not intersect with those of other black power groups and because they did not have a big, national showdown with a federal agency.
It is difficult to identify the moment at which MOVE was officially created, but it is clear that the philosophy behind the group comes from a man named John Africa. Africa was born with the name Vincent Leaphart, but changed his name to John Africa in 1972 to represent the continent where life began. Africa struggled with his education throughout his childhood, eventually being labeled as “mentally retarded” and functionally illiterate (McCoy). In spite of this, John Africa managed to attract a number of people from the Philadelphia area who were willing to believe in his ideologies. One of these disciples of John Africa was Donald Glassey, a graduate of the nearby University of Pennsylvania. Glassey was so fascinated by Africa’s teachings that he volunteered to write and compile Africa’s thoughts into a book. It is apparent that many black rights groups and people gained acclaim and followers through the dissemination of literature, such as Gill Scott’s poetry or the Chapel Hill protest pamphlets.John Africa was tragically killed when the Philadelphia police department dropped a bomb on the MOVE household, killing John Africa along with five other adults and five children. The clash between the MOVE organization and the Philadelphia police is similar to many other clashes during the black power movement, such as the Watts riots in Los Angeles.
Figure 2: News report of MOVE bombing (MOVE Bombing at 30)
MOVE’s doctrine relied on the “ideal that any religion or philosophy that prevents adherents from actively opposing exploitations and oppression was useless” (Floyd-Thomas). In this way, MOVE can be linked to other black power groups of the day; however, MOVE separates itself from other groups through how it chose to go about their objective. MOVE attempted to attack the American hegemonic memory by focusing on protest and activism in black culture.
I believe that MOVE is an important organization because it gives people another perception of how black activist groups worked in American society. Unlike the Black Panther Party, MOVE did not seem to care about indoctrinating as many people as possible. Instead, they let people with similar views come and join their community. It did not matter to John Africa whether the people joining him were black or white, he just wanted to create a community who stood up for what is right. In addition to his drive to find good people, John Africa also recognized that he had a duty to revolt when he recognized that the needs of some people were not being met. In a letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Tribune, Africa says “isn’t it correct to rebel against a system eating us, enslaving us, killing us?”(Abu-Jamal). In this quote, Africa reminds us of how our country was founded on the principle that people have a right to protest in the event they are not being represented. This notion adds credibility and historical precedent to his protest.
Figure 3: Documentary about MOVE (Brown)
Within his organization, John Africa’s memory has been sanctified and John Africa himself has been apotheosized. Looking at their website, you can easily see how the remaining members of MOVE have intentionally capitalized every use of Africa’s name. The website even capitalizes the word “He”, a sign of reverence usually reserved by Christians for their God. To the MOVE organization, John Africa’s memory is more than just a man, it is an ideal and a way of life that was attacked and suppressed. They have raised him up in this way in the hopes of remembering the values for which he fought.
Some people say that MOVE is an incredibly dense and difficult organization to interact with, leading to their alienation from other civil rights groups. However, I believe that MOVE is just a group of people who are dedicated to their cause. They believe that all life is sacred and they are willing to stand up and fight those who disagree. John Africa’s legacy in this organization carries on through today and his writings continue to guide the organization’s philosophy. Though the work and philosophy that MOVE advocates for may not be central in American memory and consciousness, it is important to remember that they fight for those who do not have a voice in order to bring about equality.
Figure 4: Africa with MOVE family members (MOVE)
Dickson, Johanna Saleh. MOVE : sites of trauma.Princeton Architectural Press, 01 Jan 2002.
Floyd-Thomas, J. M. “The Burning of Rebellious Thoughts: MOVE as Revolutionary Black Humanism.” The Black Scholar 32.1 (2002): 11-21. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
McCoy, C. R. (2010, August 5). Who was John Africa? Philly.com.
ABU-JAMAL, MUMIA. “John Africa.”Philadelphia Tribune (1912-2001), Sep 07, 1982, pp. 4, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Philadelphia Tribune, http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/532800098?accountid=14244.
MOVE. (n.d.). John Africa. Retrieved from http://onamove.com/john-africa/