[Col. Writ. 4/30/06] Copyright '06 Mumia Abu-Jamal


Amazingly, it has been 40 years since the Black Panther Party was founded.

Some sticklers to detail will point to the fact that it was in October, not May, of 1966, that the Black Panther Party was founded by two young men in Oakland, California, named Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale.

That's true; but that's not the end of the story.

The late African nationalist, Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael), when a leader of SNCC (or Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), published a month before Huey and Bobby joined together, an article detailing SNCC's efforts to organize both in the South and the Northeast. In a September, 1966 article published in the *New York Review of Books*, Ture wrote:

"SNCC today is working in both North and South on programs of voter registration and independent political organizing. In some places, such as Alabama, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and New Jersey, independent organizing under the black panther symbol is in progress. The creation of a national "black panther party" must come about; it will take time to build, and it is much too early to predict its success. We have no infallible master plan and we make no claim to exclusive knowledge of how to end racism; different groups will work in their own different ways. SNCC cannot spell out the full logistics of self-determination, but it can address itself to the problem by helping black communities define their needs, realize their strength, and go into action along a variety of lines which they must choose for themselves. Without knowing all the answers, it can address itself to the basic problem of poverty, to the fact that in Lowndes County 86 white families own 90 per cent of the land. What are black people in that county going to do for jobs; where are they going to get money? There must be reallocation of land, of money. [From: Carmichael, Stokely. *Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism* (New York: Vintage, 1965/1971). p. 22.]

It was in fact, SNCC's efforts in Lowndes County, Alabama, that inspired Huey to use the name 'Black Panther Party.'

But, it's been 40 years. It's safe to say that much of the history of Huey's Party remains hidden history. This isn't rhetoric -- it's fact.

One year ago, I received a wealth of letters from college students who read my book, *WE WANT FREEDOM: A Life in the Black Panther Party* (South End, 2004). Here, scores of letters, from a wide variety of students from various racial and ethnic groups, almost all of whom expressed shock and surprise, not just at the unknown history of the Party, but of the history of Black history overall. One writer, Shanara P. noted, "... most of the facts you wrote in your book were never taught in the schools I went to."

Wayne S. wrote: "'The Beginnings of the Black Panther Party and the History it Sprang From' and 'The Deep Roots of the Struggle for Black Liberation' should become amendments to the history books which choose to leave out the violent uprisings against slavery. If I had not read these chapters, I could have been a graduate-level student about to get a masters degree but would have absolutely no idea of one of the catalysts of the Civil War, such as the Christiana rebellion. This is just one example of the pseudo factual history books which are being implanted around our schools."

Another student, Jon M., wrote: "I feel cheated because this is the first time I have heard such stories."

As a writer and historian, I was, of course, delighted by such letters. But as a former member of the Party, it was eye-opening at how invisible the Party has become with the passage of time.

But why should we be surprised? What did we expect?

The Party played a major role, in its time, to organize our People into resistance to the State. For many millions of youth, Black History means reading about (or hearing boring lectures about) Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., and perhaps Malcolm X. It rarely goes deeper than that.

Before this generation goes on to its ancestors, we should, we must, do our level best to pass on our lessons, so that they live in our people's minds and lives.

There is, already, a new formation that has arisen, which calls itself New Afrikan Black Panther Party, which has prison chapters in several states. Unlike other formations which have used the BPP name, these youngsters actually read and study the works of Huey P. Newton, George Jackson, and other leading Party members. The struggle continues!

Copyright 2006 Mumia Abu-Jamal

[Mr. Jamal's recent book features a chapter on the remarkable women who helped build and defend the Black Panther Party: *WE WANT FREEDOM: A Life in the Black Panther Party*, from South End Press Ph. #1-800-533-8478.]

"When a cause comes along and you know in your bones that it is just, yet refuse to defend it--at that moment you begin to die. And I have never seen so many corpses walking around talking about justice." - Mumia Abu-Jamal


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