First, the record must be cleared up as to how the Black Panther Party (BPP) originally came into existence. The party actually started in Lowndes County Alabama in 1965. The Student Non-Violent Committee (SNCC), working to challenge the racist hegemony in Lowndes County, gathered there to organize to help the African population empower themselves. Lowndes County at the time was so racist that not one African had been able to successfully register to vote. In fact, the violence against any Africans who tried was so rampant and unchecked that the people in the county and around Alabama called Lowndes County "bloody Lowndes." This reality, coupled with the fact 80% of the African population in the county were unable to read and write, created the pathway for the SNCC organizers to make their contribution. Descending upon Lowndes County, and led by Kwame Ture (formally Stokely Carmichael), SNCC engaged in an extremely dangerous and courageous mission to organize the masses of Africans in Lowndes County to reject the racist Democratic and Republican Parties by forming their own independent political party. This party was called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). Since most of the people could not read it was necessary to create a visual symbol to familiarize the people with the new party and thus the picture of a black panther was chosen and from that point on, the LCFO was more popularly known as the Black Panther Party. In order to properly protect the people from the violence of the terrorist KKK in that county, the decision was made by SNCC organizers to arm the members of the party who engaged in the voter registration work. That meant voting in elections where the Black Panthers was participating required a highly visible and determined armed presence. This is how the concept of an armed Black Panther Party was created and it was also some of the most important and impacting work carried out by SNCC. Young people from all over the country came to Alabama during this time to support the SNCC efforts with the LCFO. A young man from Oakland, California, named Mark Comfort was one of those young people. As it turned out, he was actually a friend of Huey P. Newton. Comfort returned to Oakland from Lowndes County and told Newton about "these Black folks in Alabama who had an armed Black Panther Party" and Newton, inspired by the idea, decided to write SNCC and ask permission to use the symbol for the organization he would launch in October of 1966. The early years, pre-drug addicted Huey P. Newton was an honest and courageous organizer. There is absolutely no question about that. So, its no surprise that he admits this Black Panther history in his very own autobiography; "Revolutionary Suicide."
The Oakland formed Black Panther Party, which Kwame Ture came to play a critical role in helping expand once he started working with them in 1967, grew to have chapters in several states throughout the U.S. Although most people connect the Oakland formed Panthers to the guns, black berets, and leather jackets that came to symbolize them from 1966 through 1971, their legacy is as much tied to their community building work such as the nationally coordinated free breakfast, free food, health care, and community schools programs. Probably, their most important legacy, which isn't discussed hardly at all, is the dignity they provided to our people by standing up against oppression in a militant and uncompromising way, thus showing many of us that doing so is possible. Still, the Panthers history is a complex one which requires intensive study and analysis. I've had the privilege of meeting and talking to some of the most respected and/or experienced Panthers such as Assata Shakur, Geronimo Ji Jaga (Pratt), Elaine Brown, and of course, Kwame Ture who I worked with repeatedly. All of them expressed a desire to see the Panthers studied and not idealized as is often done today. The lack of systematic political education in the party and the extent to which the government worked to sabotage the Panthers (both of which worked hand in hand) are issues where the surface has only been scratched at this point. In spite of that, it must be stated loudly and clearly that the BPP was an organization that contributed so much to the African community and to other communities as well. Their work to build alliances and to spread a message of revolutionary solidarity is credited by the Indigenous community in helping launch the American Indian Movement in 1968, the Puerto Rican Young Lords around that same time, and the poor European Patriot Party as well. Other groups like the Brown Berets also speak to that legacy. Absent from any honest assessment of the Panthers is any violence against white communities. In fact, above and beyond all the wonderful work the Panthers did to feed, clothe, and provide dignity and respect to African people by standing up against terrorist police agencies, the only documented instance where anyone European (white) was injured in any confrontation with the Panthers was the shooting and killing of Oakland police officer John Frey in October of 1967. In that incident, its clear a struggle occurred between Frey, his partner who was injured also, and Huey P. Newton, who was also injured after the car he and Gene McKinney was traveling in was pulled over by the two policemen who each had a history of abuse against people in the African community. Although the circumstances of what happened that night were cloudy enough to cause Newton's jail sentence to be commuted after three years, whatever happened there clearly cannot be classified as anything directed against the white community. If anything, the legitimacy of why Newton's car was pulled over in the first place remains in question and the evidence suggests that Frey was killed by his partner's gun in a fracas that resulted from Newton's efforts to defend himself from abuse. This lone and very questionable event hardly qualifies as anything adverse against the image of the Black Panther Party compared to the long bloody history of the Ku Klux Klan. Founded specifically as an instrument to terrorize the African community, the klan, founded in part in Tennessee by Nathan Bedford in the 1868, was in his words formed to control the African masses. With Africans being recently freed from slavery, the masses of white working class people were being manipulated by the developing capitalist elites to view the emancipated Africans as a threat to the security of white working people to maintain their jobs (the very same backward tactic the ruling classes are using against white working people today, stoking flames of fear against the Indigenous immigrant labor coming into the country). So, from it's inception, the klan was about terror against the Africans. Pulling membership from insecure white workers and slave patrol participants bent on protecting the financial interests of the plantation industry (these are the wonderful people who went on to form the nation's first police departments), their tactic was always going to be one of violence and terror to intimidate the African masses into submission. From the 1870s onward to present day, the KKK has been about terror. Often operating clandestinely within police departments (still a popular tactic they use today), the klan carried out acts of brutal terror against Africans for everything from moving into a nice house, interacting with Europeans on any level, to trying to exercise their rights, to just being somewhere at a certain period of time. The numbers are impossible to narrow down to an exact figure, simply because the method in which the system sanctioned and protected klan members from accountability for their terror makes it impossible to resolve much of the violence they carry out. An example of this is their murder of the three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964. While searching for the bodies, SNCC and Congress of Racial Equality persons actually found the corpses of other missing Africans who had clearly been murdered and many Africans in the South can tell you similar stories. These poor people's stories, who number in the thousands, has never been told and probably never will be. What we do know is literary thousands upon thousands of persons have been murdered by KKK violence and the terror which has been inflicted on African people still burns in the psyche of the African masses even today for many people who have never seen an actual white sheet or cross burned. This speaks to the legacy of this violent and terrorist organization. It also speaks to the degree in which the klan's existence lives just outside the line of mainstream American society. Or, as an elder once stated to me "the KKK is for the Africans who live outside the African community because the police take care of us who live in the communities." This explains better than anything else why there is such a continued and concerted effort to justify the KKK's existence today and to minimize the impact of their terror and violence against so many people. The klan has always been America's trump card against an African population that has never ceased to resist it's oppression.
So, these are just some of the reasons why dishonest persons are attempting to whitewash the brutality and terrorism of the KKK by trying to confuse so many of you into thinking there is no difference between the klan and the Black Panthers. It must be understood and acknowledged that there is nothing coming out of the African, Indigenous, and every other community combined that even hints at a comparison to the KKK. No violence. No terrorism. No intimidation. Nothing. The Panthers were inclusive and positive in their efforts to confront injustice. The KKK is violent and intolerant in their efforts to control and terrorize our people. Even the methods in which the government uses to deal with each organization is completely different. Since the Panthers were about challenging the status quo of oppression against the African masses, the government targeted them for destruction and did everything they could to discredit, imprison, and murder Black Panther leaders/members. On the other hand, klan members are often police members and are therefore protected by police agencies. This explains why the murderers of the four little girls in the Birmingham church, Medgar Evers, the three civil rights workers, etc., were protected and permitted to live their lives in peace for many years although everyone in those communities knew exactly who had carried out those heinous acts. It also explains why police murderers are protected the same way today. And finally, it also sheds light on why the same people who are violently protesting a simple homage to the Black Panthers at a stupid football game spectacle are also the same types of people who support terrorist police without question or shame.
So, fight back when you hear these stupid comparisons being made. The Panthers are a shining star on the image of a racist country that oppresses African people as policy. A much more accurate comparison, as I've suggested several times here, is the KKK and police agencies across the country. Each entity is about control. Each entity is about repression of the African masses and all other people fighting against oppression. Each entity relies on the loyalty of the confused white working class masses. And each entity is being used by the ruling capitalist elites to do its dirty work. Your enemies will never tell your history correctly. So, understand that its intentional that the "Selma" movie completely leaves out SNCC's contributions in Lowndes County. Understand that you can expect the enemy to continue to attempt to assault the legacy of the Black Panther Party. The party wasn't perfect. The trauma and pressure experienced by Huey P. Newton during his imprisonment, and after his release, certainly led to his unstable behavior during the 70s, and 80s. Look for our enemies to exploit every effort possible to attempt to discredit him, and thus the entire BPP, based on his unfortunate individual acts long after the party ceased to be a relevant organization. Even still, remain strong in knowing that Huey's courage in founding and leading the Panthers in their early years, and the Panthers as a whole, cannot ever be discredited and they certainly cannot ever be compared to the grisly and violent KKK. The people attempting to do that do not have the interests of justice and African people in mind. Understand that and make a decision to study Panther history for yourself. Without casting any statement and/or judgment upon the group(s) calling themselves the New Black Panther Party, you should be quite clear that this group is completely separate from the BPP from the 60s who the strong legacy in question represents. Know all of this and stand up and teach our youth as we do. If we do this, it won't matter what confusion our enemies attempt to spread. This type of dignity is truly the lesson we should learn from the Black Panther Party.