Now please understand that I'm not the least bit offended by this reality. I understand that the purpose of bourgeois education in this capitalist society is specifically to create the type of confident misinformation that dominates. My reason for bringing this up is due to the concern that I believe that the atmosphere that exists where serious study and organizational work is so devalued and discredited is a part of a larger context that is focused on creating a different narrative of our existence in this society, this capitalist society. Since I know the only way to gain a proper understanding of the complex deception that serves as business as usual in this system is to be dedicated to studying and working seriously against it, I know it is virtually impossible to develop a reliable understanding of any anti-establishment formation like the Black Panthers unless you are engaging in a regular and independent study process around these concepts. If you are not, than you really have no choice except to subconsciously accept the version of history provided by the capitalist/corporate backed foundations that fund all programming broadcast on PBS. You can believe you have an independent analysis all you want, but unless you are participating in an independent process designed to sustain that analysis, how can you possibly possess it? Believing you do is like believing you understand what socialism is without reading one book about socialism.
There's no question in my mind that the agenda of the power structure is to taint the image of the Black Panther Party. The capitalists realize most people are relying on what they produce for their information so as always, they are primed to provide it. If you even study the history of corporate foundations in public broadcasting, you will find that their focus on the African liberation struggle was fueled in large part by their desire to curb the militancy that contributed to over 100 cities being burned after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. McGeorge Bundy, Richard Nixon, David Rockafeller, and other members of the national bourgeois, created an agenda centered around using the Chevron and Ford Foundations to use their influence on PBS to help shape the narratives of African people around our conditions in this country. After 50 years of those efforts, they understand today that the people are inspired by socialist concepts and that the Panthers have done more than any other single organization in this society to capture the imagination of people around a radical, revolutionary, vision. So, understanding they cannot stop people's interest in the Black Panthers, the capitalist system takes the next logical step, they seek to shape that image in their likeness. How they do this is by providing an image that suggests that the Panthers made a valiant effort in a previous life, but most of them realized the incorrectness of their position and "mellowed" out like Bobby Seale and Bobby Rush. Others who refused to be tamed, like Huey P. Newton and Fred Hampton, well, you see what happened to them. So, the message at the end of the day is if you don't want to end up like Huey, Fred, Geronimo, Assata, and Bunchy, you better find a better way to express your outrage. You better find a way that ends with a solution that respects capitalism because that's really all there is. You know that don't you?
They slyly suggest in the documentary that Huey P. Newton was a maniac, even capturing and presenting - completely out of context - some former Panthers saying that very thing. Although there is no question that Huey's behavior after coming out of jail was often destructive, and no one should ever try and make excuses for his abuses, there is no question that someone as important as Huey P. Newton deserves a comprehensive assessment of their life. Such a life cannot be dismissed by simply pointing out his dysfunctions. The capitalist system certainly knows how to do this because they have done it for all the people they want you to respect. That's why the story they tell about George Washington is one of his leadership capabilities and courage. They never present him as the thug and slave owner that he actually was. They never tell you that Abe Lincoln was divorced multiple times and failed at business numerous times. They don't depict Andrew Jackson as the butcher and maniac who murdered countless Indigenous people. And none of these people did anything to aid the advancement of society, at least not the portions of society that matter to us, whereas Huey P. Newton was one of the most critical figures of the 20th century. His decision to form an early organization that was fearless and dedicated to confronting police on the streets with weapons 50 years ago is still a mind blowing concept when you consider that police still shoot us down like rabbits today. I think you can effectively argue that there would be no people on the streets battling police terrorism today without his courageous example. His courage in being out front in this work and risking everything to represent our dignity helped inspire an entire generation. And you will be hard pressed to find credible people who will not rave about Huey's brilliance and leadership capabilities in those early years of the Panthers. Huey's demons and drug abuse clearly got the best of him as it does many people, but even that has to be assessed by weighing the pressures he was under. He was one of the major targets of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI counterintelligence program and if you know anything about the insidious nature of that dirty work, you know that it took its toll on everyone it impacted and Huey would have been at the top of that list. So, no excuses for his tragic behavior at the end, but that doesn't diminish his courageous behavior at the beginning and people need to know as much about that as anything else because were it not for that courageous behavior you wouldn't even know who Huey P. Newton was in the first place.
The decision to focus so much attention on Eldridge Cleaver's leadership period in the Black Panther Party is also unfortunate. Many of us who are students of Panther history consider the period after Huey's incarceration, when Eldridge took over, as the most damaging period the Party experienced. His emphasis on confrontation with the state exposed the party and made cointelpro efforts much easier to implement. His ill-advised decision to ambush police officers on April 6th, 1968 led to 17 year old Bobby Hutton being killed and a loss of credibility for the party. And his behavior was as abusive, if not more so, than Huey's. Clearly, no small group of people with guns is going to be enough to challenge the U.S. government and Eldridge's suggestion that it was is more indicative of his personal ego and desire for revenge against the state than it is of a serious revolutionary program. Unfortunately, his leadership got people killed and his pandering to the racist Mormon Church upon his return to the U.S. in the mid 70s speaks more about his lack of political education and commitment to our people's liberation struggle than it does anything else. I'm old enough and have been doing this work long enough to remember how his reactionary turn in the 80s was constantly used to discredit the militant struggle era of the 60s. The continued consistency of people like Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Angela Davis ,and others was ignored to focus on Eldridge's circus behavior. Its no wonder that this documentary ignored the contributions of people like Kwame Ture to the Black Panther Party. I remember being forced to have many conversations about Eldridge during that time when he would come through town on one of his money begging speaking tours. On one of those occasions, he was chased from the Sacramento State University campus in 1983 by an onslaught of eggs and tomatoes that interrupted his speech. I can only tell you that 33 years later, I not only don't regret that, but I'm proud that statement was made. To my knowledge, he never came back to Sacramento to speak, thank goodness! We always have the right to protect the integrity of our struggle.
So, we don't need PBS to educate us about the Black Panther Party. There's no way they would do it correctly anyway because it's not in their interests. The last thing they want is to inspire revolutionary consciousness. Plus, as I've said, I have a group that has read much more indepth and comprehensive materials about the Black Panthers. And we read not just to have knowledge, but to use the examples the Panthers gave us to inspire us to continue doing the work. Over the last several years or so, we've read "Assata" by Assata Shakur, "A Taste of Power" by Elaine Brown, "To Die for the People" and "Revolutionary Suicide" by Huey P. Newton, "Seize the Time" by Bobby Seale, "Ready for the Revolution" by Kwame Ture, and other related books by people like Flores Forbes, David Hilliard, Ward Churchell, Jim Vanderhill, and others. This is the best way to learn about the Panthers and their legacy. From the primary sources who participated in that work and struggle. To not do that is akin to relying on people who don't know or even respect you to give a balanced perspective of your life to others. That's what you are doing by using sources like the Vanguard Panther documentary as your primary tools to understand the Black Panther Party. We already know from the lips of Sister Elaine Brown that much of what she said was purposely left out of this documentary. That tells me all I need to know.