The Black Panthers wanted to be the vanguard of a revolution that would create economic, social and political equality across gender and colour lines.
Since the nonviolent campaign of Martin Luther King had ended in that brave man’s death and little improvement of minority rights, the Panthers saw their only option as one of violence. They preached a revolutionary war to the US.
The Panthers were founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California in 1966.
They did not just advocate black uprising and violence. The Panthers worked with all minorities regardless of colour and creed, created a Free Food Program for the hungry, provided free medical care and set up youth bands to encourage pride in the poor communities.
The Panthers were providing services that the government would not.
But the Panthers violent call for revolution at a time when the US was bloodied in the fight against Communists in Vietnam, immediately drew the attention of the FBI.
Edgar J Hoover, then head of the FBI, called the Panthers “the greatest threat to internal security of the country”, and ordered his officers to take all necessary measures to cripple the group.
Snitches infiltrated the movement, reporting to the FBI the whereabouts of the Panthers’ leaders. The FBI arrested 21 regional leaders of the Panthers, and the men were held and tried for two years before all charges were dropped and the men released.
Dissension, paranoia or fear prevented most of those men continuing the struggle and the movement gradually collapsed.
In October 1967, Huey Newton got into a scuffle with a couple of cops in Oakland. Police officer John Frey ended up dead and Newton was arrested on a murder charge.
After Newton was jailed, brightly coloured orange buttons featuring a black panther and the words “Free Huey” blossomed on tie-dyed shirts all over California. On 10 September, a jury found Newton guilty of voluntary manslaughter and remanded him to the Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo for two to fifteen years.
On 30 July 1974 Huey and his bodyguard, Big Man Bob Heard (who was 6′ 8″) were allegedly assaulted by two cops in a bar in Oakland. Huey was arrested and released on $5,000 bond. Six days later he apparently shot and killed a 17-year-old prostitute. Newton jumped bail, headed south, and ended up hiding out in Bel Air.
When it looked like the charge against him may be taken care of, Newton returned to Oakland – but was immediately slapped with more charges. On 23 August he failed to show up for a court appearance and made his way to Big Sur, then headed south, eventually being driven to Mexico by friends.