BPP People’s Free Medical Centers

Overview of the Free Health Care Movement:  

In the 1970s, leaders of the Black Panther Party decided that as a part of their mission, they would also provide members of minority communities with alternative health care clinics. Over the movement’s lifetime, there were numerous operating free clinics, each conducting research, treating patients, and spreading the mission and values of the BPP.


The goal of the people’s free medical centers (PFMC) was to serve as “neighborhood” or “community” health centers[1]. The BPP believed that there were numerous problems in the health care system. Specifically, the BPP believed that while private clinics were too expensive, public clinics could not adequately serve communities, as the hospitals were underfunded and overcrowded. Both of these issues resulted in the BPP adding to the sixth component of the BPP platform, the ‘People’s Free Medical Research Clinics’[2]. The clinics were to serve “the people, body and soul” as the party platform explains. One of the key claims or mantras of the movement emphasized that in order to continue fighting their mission (BPP’s mission) the members had to take better care of their bodies and souls.

The decision to open the PFMC came during a time known as the radical health care movement, where multiple parties decided to take healthcare into their own hands. As noted in Nelson’s novel, different activist groups included “feminist groups; hippie counterculturalists; leftists such as Students for a Democratic Society and Health/PAC…the MCHR and the SHO; and the Party’s allies in the “rainbow coalition,” most notably, the Young Lords Party”. Specific to the BPP mission, they hoped to both serve the communities in need, while also shedding light on the poor conditions of those they were serving. By the end of the movement, the party had established thirteen clinics across all parts of the country[3]. Within the clinics themselves, men and women, partnering with physicians and professional health care clinics, such as the MCHR and young feminist organizations, served the community out of storefronts, trailers, and wherever other locations they could access. One of the goals of the BPP initially was to give back to the community, and the centers helped fulfill this goal by providing multiple social health care initiatives. Although the programs were announced in a 1968 publication, it was not until 1972 that the amendment for “completely free healthcare for all black and oppressed people” was added to the original ten-point program[4].

The clinics and Physicians:free medical trailer

The clinics were set up in trailers, store fronts, and in various locations across the country. The BPP required the clinics to have a large medical supply, a minimum volunteer staff of at least ten members, a receptionist, and at least three or more doctors scheduled at all times during the week for the patients (1). Setting up a location in areas that were both convenient for the community members, and safe to practice proved challenging. This led to the majority of locations being run out of trailers, old store fronts, or wherever they could find the space to allow for at least one operating space. While several clinics began operating in the late 60s, there were no clinics near the headquarters of the PFMC in Oakland.

first clinicIn 1971, the Bobby Seale PFMC, in Berkeley, helped to mitigate this problem. Beyond the physical spaces, the physicians were a combination of full-time practitioners, volunteer staff, and community members who contributed in whichever ways they could. The physicians encouraged patients to ask them questions and receive a holistic, social well-fare style of care.

Sickle Cell Anemia:

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 8.11.32 PMThe care and research of many labs focused on sickle cell anemia. While some labs focussed on issuing screenings for sickle-cell anemia, others sought out a cure, as well as serving children through their children health care programs. Part of the program’s mission was to educate patients on becoming advocates for themselves in the healthcare system. This is a unique position, as the relationship between physician and patient continues to modify today. As noted in the picture of former President Barack Obama, one might notice parallels between the movements of his administration and the efforts of the BPP. However, recent discussions have also compared Obamacare to the Nixon Administration’s plan and stated that the BPP would not have advocated towards the leniency outlined in the Obamacare proposal (5).



Alternative Medicine:


One use of the centers was to inform volunteer physicians about the alternative forms of medicine and actors in those realms. The theory of the BPP was that most physicians came from a place of privilege and could not relate to the real struggles of the people they were often treating. Therefore, the party worked to inform or ‘reeducate’ these professionals on the teachings of Mao Zedong, Frantz Fanon, and other political ideologists. The volunteer physician, Fitzhugh Mullan recalls lessons on these philosophers while working at the Lincoln Hospital Collective. He notes that “the Panthers and the Young Lords Party required that the activist doctors take PE classes from them” learning, scrutinizing, and memorizing the works of Mao and Joshua S. Horn (1). In addition, in the realm of the PFMC, the BPP “reinterpreted scientific theories about the causes of sickle cell anemia” by retracing its history to the slave trade and the “medical-industrial complex” (5).





[1] Nelson, Alondra, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination, 2015

[2] The Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, and David Hilliard. Black Panther Party : Service to the People Programs. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2010.

[3] Atlanta Black Star, Chiles, 2015 — http://atlantablackstar.com/2015/03/26/8-black-panther-party-programs-that-were-more-empowering-than-federal-government-programs/

[4] “Black Panther Party Ideology – The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.” Google Sites. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017

(5) Angola3neews (2011) http://www.alternet.org/story/153527/the_side_of_the_black_panthers_that%27s_been_virtually_ignored%3A_their_fight_for_healthcare_justice

(6) The Opening of the Bobby Seale People’s Free Medical Clinic,” Black Panther, May 15, 1971

One thought on “BPP People’s Free Medical Centers”

  1. This is an awesome post! I loved how you linked your sources in. I think that you could work on the formatting a little bit, but other than that all of the information is their!

Leave a Reply