Sunday, April 24, 2016


The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution [DVD]

This great documentary by Stanley Nelson, first released in 2015, took the film-maker  seven years to produce. Those of us who were around in the 60s and 70s still remember the days when America was close to having a revolution on the streets, with the Panthers on the front line. The film follows a strict chronological structure and is composed of a number of main elements - first-hand original interviews with former Black Panther members and BP historians, hundreds of fabulous black and white photos and yards of original film and tv footage - all seamlessly edited together in what must have been a herculean task. It describes one clear narrative arc but this is a complex topic and still a subject of great controversy on many levels.48th Anniversary of the Founding of the Black Panther Party

Only one of the Panther's leaders is still alive: Bobby Seale , who was the original 1966 Founding Chairman & National Organiser of the Black Panther Party. His story is told in the film but he declined to be interviewed for it. His website encourages you to buy his books and other items to help raise funds for his own documentary: 'SIEZE THE TIME: The Eighth Defendant, presumably based on his books 'Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton' and his autobiography 'A Lonely Rage' 

Here is the classic photo from November 1966 of the six original members of what was then called the Black Panther Party for Self Defence. Top left to right: Elbert "Big Man" Howard, Huey P. Newton (Defense Minister), Sherwin Forte, Bobby Seale (Chairman) Bottom: Reggie Forte and Little Bobby Hutton (Treasurer) Elbert Hoard is still alive. Sherwin Forte, who appears in the film, was a teenager at that time, as was Little Bobby Hutton, who was subsequently gunned down by a police death squad.
There was so much police violence against the black community that Huey Newton, who had studied law, exploited the  statute which said that anyone could carry a shotgun and, under the Constitution, had the right to bear arms. On this basis, the brothers patrolled the streets in cars and, when there was an incident, they stood nearby with guns, to make sure there was no brutality.

When a move was afoot to try and amend the law to make carrying guns in public a misdemeanour, the Panthers rocked up at the hearings of the California State legislature at the Capitol in Sacramento fully armed and marched into the building and the chamber where the hearing was taking place. The pictures of this are stunning. 
The Black Panther Party took off like a rocket and chapters were opening in major cities all over the US. In fact it grew too fast and became too big too soon for anyone to keep control on what was developing into a chaotic system. Huey Newton had the vision and Bobby Seale was a strong credible figure but at this point a new figure emerged on the stage. Eldridge Cleaver was a force of nature. According to one of the film's speakers he was crazy and uncontrollable, a rottweiler. From here things escalated into open armed war between the Panthers and the police.
In Oakland on 25th October 1967 there was an incident in which a policeman was fatally wounded and Huey Newton was arrested for murder and was facing execution. Thousands flocked to join the party and lead a campaign to Free Huey.
This period was when the Panthers and the 'black is beautiful' cultural wave merged and the classic Panther look captured the mainstream media's gaze. The berets, the shades, the leather jackets and the beautiful afros. It was a stunning look, carried off with style and swagger.
There are many women speaking in the film and, according to Eve Jane Clair's blog post '5 Things You Didn't Know About The Black Panther Party', at the height of the BPP's influence, 60-80% of the membership were women, although one of the film's female speakers makes it clear that male chauvinism was a hard thing to break down.
One of the most important aspects of the film is the revelations concerning the FBI's secret COINTELPRO operations  - a shorthand for counter intelligence operations. J. Edgar Hoover  made it clear that his agency would use every means at its disposal to infiltrate, expose, disrupt, discredit, neutralise and cripple the Panthers. From then on members of the organisations were constantly followed and harassed and phone tapped. As a result, many of the sisters and brothers moved into communal houses - Panther pads - for mutual protection. They launched a paper, the Black Panther News, and it was the money from sales of this that helped them survive.
Then Martin Luther King was assassinated (4th April 1968) and there were riots across America. 
On the night of April 6, 1968, Bobby Hutton was killed by Oakland Police officers after Eldridge Cleaver led him and twelve other Panthers in an ambush of the Oakland Police, during which two officers were seriously wounded by multiple gunshot wounds. The ambush, turned into a shoot-out between the Panthers and the Oakland police at a house in West Oakland. About 90 minutes later Hutton and Cleaver surrendered after the police tear-gassed the building. Cleaver stated that police shot Bobby more than twelve times after he had surrendered and had him stripped down to his underwear to verify that he was unarmed.
Charged with attempted murder, Cleaver jumped bail and fled first to Cuba and then Algeria. where he set up an international office for the Black Panthers. With Huey and Bobby Seale both in prison, David Hillyer became the new leader.
In August 1968 following massive countercultural protests in Chicago on the occasion of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. eight people were arrested and charged with conspiracy, incitement to riot amongst other charges. On of them was Bobby Seale.
Early in the course of the trial,  Seale was denied his constitutional right to counsel of his choice and was thereafter illegally denied his right to defend himself. Seale vehemently and repeatedly protested the Judge's illegal and unconstitutional actions and, on October 29, Judge Hoffman ordered Bobby Seale to be bound, gagged, and chained to a chair. For several days Seale appeared in court bound and gagged before the jury, struggling to get free and managing to make muffled sounds. Then Judge Hoffman severed Seale from the case, sentencing him to four years in prison for contempt of court, one of the longest sentences ever handed down for that offence in the US up to that time. The contempt charges against Seale were soon overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals. The film features the remarkable court drawings of Franklin McMahon, one of which is reproduced below. 
By this time, David Hiller was replaced by Fred Hampton. One of the FBIs great concerns was the rise of "black Messiah". Hampton was non-confrontation, eloquent and charming he appealed not only to his black brothers and sisters but also to the Hispanics of the Young Lords, to churchgoers and, more worryingly for the authorities, to poor working class whites. His personal bodyguard was an infiltrated FBI agent.
When Nixon was elected in January 1969 on a strong law and order ticket, the Black Panthers became Public Enemies No 1 and the gloves were off. Armed raids began on Panther offices all over the country and, on April 2nd, 21 Panthers were arrested and charged with terrorist activities. They faced a joint total of 360 years in prison; bail was set at $100,000. After a 13-month trial, the jury found them all not guilty. 
On December 3rd 1969, the two Chicago leaders of the party, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, were killed in a police raid at their Panther HQ. By the end of the decade, according to the party's attorney, 28 Panthers had been killed and many other members either were in jail or had been forced to leave the United States to avoid arrest.  A similar attack came a few days later at the LA office.
The following year in August, Huey Newton's case was given a retrial. The jury deliberated for four days and found him not guilty. Huey now had mythic status and he set the future path of Panthers away from armed struggle and towards looking after people in the community with free food and medical care. This not please Eldridge Cleaver who was still concerned with overthrowing the government. The split between the two factions of the party was actively encouraged by the furtive actions of the FBI who worked hard to raise paranoia levels and widen the rift. Eldridge was expelled from the party and chaos ensued, others left too and the Black Panther Party lost its way. 
Bobby Seale ran for Mayor of Oakland in 1972 and  narrowly lost. Huey Newton started losing the plot and became addicted to multiple substances. As one speaker put it, he started listening to his demons. He had a special guarded penthouse apartment and there were increased rumours and reports of his physical and sexual assaults and pistol whipping. Bobby Seale left and that was the end.
After the departure of Newton and Seale, the party's new leader, Elaine Brown, continued to emphasize community service programs. Black women were a majority in the party by the mid-1970s. By the end of that decade,the Panthers were no longer a political force.
On August 22, 1989,Huey Newton was fatally shot by Tyrone Bobinson shortly after leaving a crack house. His last words, as he stood facing his killer, were, "You can kill my body, and you can take my life but you can never kill my soul. My soul will live forever!" 
 Eldridge Cleaver died of a heart attack in 1998. Fred Hampton's family eventually received $18.5m compensation. Twenty Panthers remain in prison
.Useful Links:
Interview with Marshall "Eddie" Conway was a Leader of the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panther Party. Conway was released from prison on March 4, 2014 after having served 43 years and 11 months
Non-Fiction Film features an interview with the film's director Stanley Nelson
'The film by producer Stanley Nelson, entitled “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” is a well-produced documentary with a specific focus. Nelson makes good use of footage of actual events and music from the era to serve as both a background and accompaniment for the main ingredient of this film – comments from a number of former Black Panther Party members, featuring mainly some of the so-called “rank and file” members. This is, in and of itself, a unique achievement, as most other films have never done this, but solely relied on interviews with the leaders.

'I think that Stanley Nelson produced the best film he could with the information, materials, time and money that he had to work with. He also did a good job of getting the film out there to allow as much of the public as possible the opportunity to see it.This particular film concentrates on giving the viewer a closer look at the Black Panther Party from a particular perspective. It by no means even begins to tell the “whole story” of the Black Panther Party. No one film can do that – the Black Panther Party was the most revolutionary and progressive group of freedom fighters of modern times.
'To critics and detractors of Nelson and the film, I say this: There is indeed much more of this story to tell, including more of the vital and innovative community programs and the many accomplishments of the Black Panther Party. There are still so many of our comrades locked up in dungeons for more than three and four decades. There are still many more former Black Panther Party members who have important stories to tell, and I would encourage future filmmakers to seek information from them while they are still around.'

Black Panthers unveil 50th anniversary plans with eye to future

April 22, 2016 [San Fransisco Chronicle]

The New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (NBPP) is a U.S.-based black political organization founded in Dallas, Texas, in 1989. Despite its name, NBPP is not an official successor of the Black Panther Party.[2] Members of the original Black Panther Party have insisted that the newer party is illegitimate and have firmly declared, "There is no new Black Panther Party". The Huey P. Newton Foundation issued a news release denouncing the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Its release reads in part:

As guardian of the true history of the Black Panther Party, the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, which includes former leading members of the Party, denounces this group's exploitation of the Party's name and history. Failing to find its own legitimacy in the black community, this band would graft the Party's name upon itself, which we condemn. [T]hey denigrate the Party's name by promoting concepts absolutely counter to the revolutionary principles on which the Party was founded. The Black Panthers were never a group of angry young militants full of fury toward the white establishment. The Party operated on love for black people, not hatred of white people.”
Bobby Seale, one of the co-founding members of the original Black Panther Party, spoke out against the New Black Panther Party. Calling the rhetoric of the New Black Panther Party xenophobic, he spoke of their remarks as absurd, racial, [and] categorical.  Just to hate another person because [of] the color of their skin or their ethnicity—we don't do that. That's not what the goal objective is. The goal objective is human liberation. The goal objective is the greater community cooperation and humanism. The goal objective is to get rid of institutionalized racism...." [Source: Wikipedia]

According to the Mapping Police Violence website:

Police killed at least 346 black people in the U.S. in 2015


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