FBI Wages War On The Black Panthers : Throughline The Black Panther Party's battles for social justice and economic equality are the centerpiece of the Oscar-nominated film 'Judas and The Black Messiah.' In 1968, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said the Black Panther Party "without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country." And with that declaration he used United States federal law enforcement to wage war on the group, But why did Hoover's FBI target the Black Panther Party more severely than any other Black power organization? Historian Donna Murch says the answer lies in the Panthers' political agenda and a strategy that challenged the very foundations of American society.

The Real Black Panthers

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DONNA MURCH: I have such a vivid memory of "Forrest Gump." I had just rented an apartment, and there was a local theater. And I just went to see whatever movie was playing, and it happened to be "Forrest Gump." And it was in a crowded theater, and I was sitting right in the center 'cause I really like to have optimal viewing. And I just thought the film was horrifying from start to finish...


TOM HANKS: (As Forrest Gump) Now, when I was a baby, Mama named me after the great Civil War hero, General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

MURCH: ...Including with the prologue in which Tom Hanks explains that his name is Forrest Gump because he's been named after Nathan Bedford Forrest.


The first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.


HANKS: (As Forrest Gump) They'd all dress up in their robes and their bedsheets and act like a bunch of ghosts.

MURCH: Forrest Gump is a satire almost of, you know, like, historical materialism. It's him passing through the American past, importantly starting with the founding of the Klan.


HANKS: (As Forrest Gump) Jenny and me were just like peas and carrots again. She showed me around and even introduced me to some of her new friends.

KEVIN DAVIS: (As Black Panther #1) Shut that blind, man. And get your white ass away from that window. Don't you know we in a war here?

MURCH: It was horrendous on so many levels. But the Panther scene to me was just almost unbearable.


MICHAEL JACE: (As Black Panther #2) Our purpose here is to protect our Black leaders from the racial onslaught of the pig, who wishes to brutalize our Black leaders, rape our women and destroy our Black communities.

MURCH: This image of Black militants who are rabidly, rabidly anti-white and irrational. And it contains really all of the myths of the Black Panther Party.


JACE: (As Black Panther #2) ...Because we, the Black man...

MURCH: I was so infuriated by it. I actually got up in this crowded theater after the Panther scene and walked out. And I had to, you know, say, excuse me...

Excuse me. Excuse me.

...In the super-crowded, like, packed theater.


MURCH: My name is Donna Murch, and I am associate professor of history at Rutgers University New Brunswick. I teach historical methods in the history department through teaching a class on the Black Panther Party, and I teach it usually once or twice a year. And I ask the students at the beginning of the semester what they know about the Panthers. "Forrest Gump" is the thing that they most often cite. And what that does is it does exactly the opposite of what made the Panthers so powerful.


FRED HAMPTON: We said that we would work with anybody and form a coalition with anybody that has revolution on their mind. We're not a racist organization because we understand that racism is an excuse used for capitalism. And we know that racism is just - is a byproduct of capitalism.

MURCH: They were self-identified Marxists. They believed in class struggle as well as the right of Black people to organize and form their own institutions. And most importantly, they believed in organizing not only within the Black community but using coalition politics based on anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism.


HAMPTON: We say all power to all people.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: All power to all people.

HAMPTON: We say white power to white people.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: White power to white people.

HAMPTON: Brown power to brown people.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: Brown power to brown people.

HAMPTON: Yellow power to yellow people.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: Yellow power to yellow people.

HAMPTON: Black power to Black People.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: Black Power to Black people.

HAMPTON: X power to those we left out.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: X power to those we left out.

MURCH: And I honestly think this is why they were so targeted by municipal, county, state and federal law enforcement - because they realized the potential for doing this very broad revolutionary organizing among young people and being integral to the fight against anti-communism, the Vietnam War and these kinds of interventionist foreign policy of the U.S. all over the world.


HAMPTON: They had them caught up in their movements based on racism when the Black Panther Party stood up and said that we don't care what anybody says. We don't think to fight fire with fire. We think to fight fire with water, baby. So we're going to fight racism not with racism, but we're going to fight with solidarity. We said we're not going to fight capitalism with Black capitalism, but we're going to fight it with socialism.

MURCH: And the students always say to me, the truth is exactly the opposite of what we learned in popular culture.


HAMPTON: We're going to fight their reactions with all of us people getting together and having an international proletarian revolution.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #3: (Chanting) Power to the people. Power to the people. Power to the people. Power to the people. Power to the people.

ARABLOUEI: I'm Ramtin Arablouei.


I'm Rund Abdelfatah.

ARABLOUEI: This week on THROUGHLINE from NPR, the real Black Panthers.


SHANNON: This is Shannon (ph) from Chicago, and you're listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR. I love THROUGHLINE because it's both fascinating and infuriating.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Part 1 - Survival Pending Revolution.

ARABLOUEI: During this year's Oscars, you're going to hear the name of a film over and over again. "Judas And The Black Messiah," starring Daniel Kaluuya and directed by Shaka King, is nominated for six Academy Awards. It tells the story of Fred Hampton, the leader of the Black Panther Party in Chicago. You heard his voice earlier in the opening of this episode.

ABDELFATAH: The film, released by Warner Bros., has sparked renewed mainstream interest in the Black Panther Party at a moment when the country is going through a reckoning on race. But what Donna Murch said about her history students at Rutgers is probably pretty true for many of us. Pop culture has given us a really distorted basic view on the Black Panthers.

ARABLOUEI: So in this episode, we're going to talk to Donna, who wrote a book on the topic called "Living For The City: Migration, Education, And The Rise Of The Black Panther Party In Oakland, California." The history of the Black Panther Party spanned decades and is incredibly complex. The party varied greatly from chapter to chapter, city to city. And the fact is some of its members engaged in violence and crime, but we're not going to provide a definitive history in this episode.

ABDELFATAH: Instead, with Donna Murch's help, we're going to explore the original philosophy and practice of the Black Panther Party. What were they all about? Where did they come from? And why are they still so misunderstood? To try and answer all of this, we're going to start in 1965, when the seeds of the Black Panther Party were planted.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR: And no longer are we going to allow police officers to beat us and trample over us and use horses and billy clubs on us in a corner.

MURCH: This was a Black radical organization that emerges...


KING: We're going to make it necessary for them to do it in the glaring light of public opinion.

MURCH: ...At kind of the height of the southern civil rights movement.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: This evening, Los Angeles remains hot, quiet, tense and dangerous. And 28 people are dead.

MURCH: Just after the Watts rebellion...


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Then came summer 1966.

MURCH: ...And then the takeoff of the urban rebellions.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: The violence struck not just where it was expected in the humid ghettos of the major urban centers in Brooklyn, Chicago, Cleveland. Americans were stunned to learn the other unexpected datelines of violence, from Amityville, N.Y., to Menlo Park, Calif.

ARABLOUEI: ...To Oakland, Calif. That's where the Black Panther Party was officially founded on...

MURCH: October 15, 1966. And it was founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, who were college students at Merritt College, which had previously been known as Oakland City College. They first became really politicized by a study group called the Afro American Association.

ABDELFATAH: The Afro American Association was based on the nearby University of California campus in Berkeley.

MURCH: It was a Black nationalist study group. And it grew out of the convergence of domestic and international developments.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Here is the symbol of the turmoil in the Congo - the late Patrice Lumumba, the left-leaning nationalist agitator, head of the Congolese national movement, which catapulted him to the premiership.

MURCH: In response to speeches that Minister Malcolm X was giving...


MALCOLM X: We never initiate any violence upon anyone.

MURCH: ...And the murder of Patrice Lumumba in Congo...


MALCOLM X: But if anyone attacks us, we reserve the right to defend ourselves.

MURCH: ...They decided to invite Malcolm X to campus because they wanted a new form of Black politics. And even using the word Black was new.


MALCOLM X: So to accuse us of being violent is like accusing a man who is being lynched simply because he struggles vigorously against his lyncher.

MURCH: They were really the first generation of Black college attendees in any large numbers. You didn't have Jim Crow in California, but you did have informal segregation. And so there were just a handful of Black students.

ARABLOUEI: And among the Black students who were there, many were...

MURCH: Actually African students coming from newly decolonized countries like Kenya and Ghana. So there was a whole kind of culture of radical decolonization. And, you know, Berkeley became this amazing seedbed.

ABDELFATAH: But a seedbed without that many seeds. Growing the Afro American Association was a challenge on the Berkeley campus because there just weren't that many Black students.

MURCH: So they started recruiting on local community college campuses, and one of the closest was Merritt College. It was 15 minutes south of UC Berkeley's campus. And that's how the Afro American Association began to recruit Bobby Seale.

ABDELFATAH: Bobby Seale was in his late 20s, an Air Force veteran who grew up in Oakland.


BOBBY SEALE: You know, I met Huey.

MURCH: Huey Newton.

ABDELFATAH: Huey Newton, who also grew up in Oakland, was a few years younger than Bobby Seale.


SEALE: And he told me that he first learned how to read real good coming out of high school. One of these counselors in school told him that he couldn't be college material.

MURCH: In this period, higher education is free in California. And it's a time where part of the worldwide global revolution of 1968 had to do with this unprecedented access to the university. And so you're getting all these people whose parents didn't go to college, who in some ways are much more talented than traditional elites. And just like people that have been excluded that suddenly gain access to a resource, they used it in ways that others hadn't.


SEALE: So Huey got mad. He didn't like no white man telling him what he couldn't do. And Huey learned how to read. And Huey went to Oakland City College, and I went right there with him. And Huey got a 4.0. That's an A in sociology, psychology, political science, law...

MURCH: They were different than many of the students at Berkeley - much more working class. Many of them were migrants from the rural south. Huey Newton's family was from rural Louisiana, Bobby Seale from East Texas.

ARABLOUEI: Children of what became known as the second Great Migration.

MURCH: They brought with them a different kind of sensibility. They, one, were acquainted with armed self-defense. So a lot of people are coming from rural areas, so being armed is part of a militant tradition in the South, a way that people fought the Klan and white supremacy. And they ended up in California cities where their children could attend high school. Many people in the South didn't even have the opportunity to attend high school. So for the parents, California represented this incredible land of opportunity.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Today, California's fourth largest city is a booming center of industry, commerce, art and culture.

ABDELFATAH: And all those people looking for opportunity changed places like Oakland, Calif. In 1940, Oakland's Black population was about 3%. By 1960, it had risen to about 23%. The number would keep going up until the 1980 census, when Oakland would become majority Black.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: But Oakland's new glamour and prosperity are not shared equally by all of its citizens. Nearly half of the city's population is non-white, and many are poor. They do not hold their share of the jobs created by Oakland's new industry port and transportation facilities.

MURCH: Their children grew up really feeling surveillance of the police, housing discrimination, violence in schools. And the Panther Party was a direct reflection of that experience.

ARABLOUEI: And that experience for a young Black person in the mid-1960s was a matter of life and death.

MURCH: When the party is first formed, they call themselves heirs of Malcolm X.


MALCOLM X: I do believe that the Black man in the United States and any human being anywhere is well within his right to do whatever is necessary, by any means necessary to protect his life and property, especially in a country where the federal government itself has proven that it is either unable or unwilling to protect the lives and property of those human beings.

MURCH: It's an important thing to understand about the Panthers that they're influenced by Malcolm X. But Malcolm X is killed in February 1965, and the Panthers aren't formed until October 1966. So it's in this period during the Black Power movement that people are trying to imagine what would Malcolm have done had he lived.

ARABLOUEI: So they called themselves the Black Panther Party For Self-Defense.


HUEY P NEWTON: When we first started, we had a police alert patrol, and we would patrol communities. If we saw the police brutalize anyone, we would put an end to that. Usually, the police wouldn't brutalize anyone if we were on hand because we were armed.

MURCH: Armed struggle - and this is where you have the formation of police patrols that would drive around the city and Oakland and San Francisco Bay Area. And whenever they saw a Black person being stopped by the police or being harassed, they would drive up, and they were carrying loaded unconcealed weapons, which was legal at the time. And then they would read to them from a California law book to inform them what their rights were.

ARABLOUEI: A direct approach to stopping police brutality. For the first Black Panthers, it was a rational response, a rational strategy. But it also became the source of misconceptions for the general public. Young, angry, irrational Black people with guns. It is the image of the Black Panthers from "Forrest Gump" that made Donna Murch escape the theater all those years later. And it's the image that lasts until this day.

MURCH: And that's part of the catalytic spark of the Panthers. Then it spreads across the rest of the country. And they do this largely through negative publicity.

ABDELFATAH: The patrols were part of a larger effort to catch the attention of people everywhere. Their style, their stance and their symbolism were all intentional, confrontational, unflinching. And some would call it simple. Donna Murch sees it differently.

MURCH: Actually, I wouldn't call it simple. I would call it clear. Those two things are not the same. Real intellectuals, radical intellectuals, they don't make things complicated. They make them clear. But to do that is actually very hard.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Do you distinguish between Blacks and whites on the police force? Are they all...

BILLY: They all the same.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: The Blacks are...

BILLY: That question gets asked a lot of times, so we put it like this - see, a pig is a pig is a pig - black, green, yellow, polka-dotted, orange.

ABDELFATAH: That word - pig - it has become iconic. But it's easy to mistake it for a flippant insult. It was not. It was a carefully selected word.

MURCH: They figured out a language to delegitimize power.


MURCH: And in Huey Newton's autobiography, he talks about having read Nietzsche because he was trying to understand how people that have historically been powerless, given the incredible differential of power - the U.S., at this time, is the Cold War hegemon in the entire world - so how did teenagers mobilize their own community and pit themselves against this imperial power?

And so his idea was that he who controls language also controls power. So they had a newspaper, and they were very concerned with making ideas legible. Some of their parents and grandparents had been illiterate. So one of the core things is they did start to call the police pigs. And this was a self-conscious project of showing that police are not legitimate. They were trying to undo all of the accumulated history of law and order. But they did it in a vernacular that was understood by their own families, right? These are Southern rural migrants, and so pigs were associated with being unclean.


BILLY: See, a pig is a pig is a pig - black, green, yellow, polka-dot or orange.

ARABLOUEI: This attempt to make complicated ideas legible didn't stop with the characterization of the police. The Black Panther Party also had a carefully thought-out political platform.

MURCH: They drafted a 10-point program.


SEALE: Just basic - we don't want to go real elaborate with all these essays and dissertations and all this stuff 'cause the brother going to look at that, he going to say, man, I ain't got time for that. I got to go see what I can do for myself. Just a basic platform that the mothers who struggle hard to raise us, that the fathers who worked hard, that the young brothers in school who come out of school semiliterate - say, all - we just want a basic platform to outline Black people's basic political desires and needs. First...

MURCH: We believe of the right of the Black community to self-determination.


SEALE: We want power to determine the destiny of our Black community.

MURCH: Very standard Black nationalist demand. But then they folded in things and language that were taken from the Declaration of Independence. They demanded a right to full employment, to housing, you know, traditional socialist demands.


SEALE: We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county jails - city prisons and jails.

We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people.


MURCH: And then a plebiscite of the Black colony in the United Nations.

ARABLOUEI: In other words, representation at the U.N. The Black Panthers also demanded a right to fair trials and an end to predatory capitalism. And at the very basic level, they just wanted.


SEALE: Peace.


SEALE: This is the basic platform, in case you never knew it or not. Of all...

MURCH: So from the very beginning, they were bringing together these Black Power, Black nationalist impulses with socialism and then wedding that to this Black radical internationalism of Malcolm X.

ARABLOUEI: By 1966, '67, '68, dozens and dozens of countries like Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria and India had fought and won independence from their colonial rulers. In a very short time, people in what we now call the Global South had drastically altered international politics. Suddenly, a successful revolution led by Black and brown people in California didn't seem so far-fetched if you saw yourself as part of a bigger world.

MURCH: You cease to see yourself as a kind of domestic minority and instead understand yourself as part of a global majority in the context of anticolonialism.


MURCH: If you look at Panther art, you have lots of revolutionary images, especially influence from Cuba, but also coming from Angola and Mozambique, you know, of essentially women carrying babies and holding rifles.

ABDELFATAH: The Panthers had fused international revolutionary politics, self-defense and bold imagery. And then...

MURCH: The party goes through a transformation.

ARABLOUEI: Given the fact that authorities were beginning to target many of the male leaders in the party, women stepped into leadership roles.

MURCH: And I don't think it's an accident that as you begin to have a transition from this kind of police patrols, explicit iconography of armed struggle, you also see the party functions begin to shift - survival pending revolution.

ABDELFATAH: Survival pending revolution. In other words, the party recognized that armed revolution would be suicide, at least in that moment. So a practical strategy would be to wait, bide their time, build the community and prepare the ground - survival pending revolution.


HAMPTON: Leaders take people into situations where the people can be massacred, and they call that a revolution. That's nothing but child's play. It's folly. And it's criminal because people can be hurt. We say that they are doing exactly what the pigs want them to do. Play around - and the pigs are prepared for this, and they'll wipe all of those young people out.


ARABLOUEI: When we come back, the U.S. fights a war on two fronts.


KATHRIN GABRIEL-JONES: This is Kathrin Gabriel-Jones (ph) calling from Rockland, Maine, and you're listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Part 2 - The Last Are First.

ABDELFATAH: In 1966, the year the Black Panther Party was founded, the United States was in the midst of the hottest part of the Cold War.


LYNDON B JOHNSON: I am hopeful and I will try best I can with everything I've got to end this battle and to return our sons to their desires.

ABDELFATAH: The U.S. military was fighting a bloody war in Vietnam to oppose the expansion of communism.


ABDELFATAH: Still, communism's influence was spreading to countries throughout the world, including to the Caribbean and South America.


JOHNSON: Yet as long as others will challenge America's security and test the dearness of our beliefs with fire and steel, then we must stand or see the promise of two centuries crumble.


JOHN KERRY: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? And we are asking Americans to think about that. How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

ABDELFATAH: A massive anti-war movement started in the United States. Tensions were rising in cities across the country. And as the Black Panther Party was organizing and growing in Oakland, they also turned their attention to the war.


MURCH: One of the most famous Panther political cartoons was a picture of a pig dressed in the same uniform carrying a billy club that said napalm. And the first image was local police, the next image was National Guard, and then the third image was U.S. Marines.


NEWTON: In America, Black people are treated very much as the Vietnamese people or any other colonized people because we're used, we're brutalized. The police in our community occupy area in our community as a foreign troop occupies territory.

ABDELFATAH: That was Huey P. Newton.

MURCH: So this is an example of how they were able to bridge the connections between anti-imperialism, anti-communist foreign policy and then connect - and, essentially, to say, you being killed by the police is directly analogous to what's happening in Vietnam, with the millions of Vietnamese people that are being killed.


NEWTON: And the police are there not to promote our welfare or for our security and safety, but they're there to contain us, to brutalize us and murder as, just as the soldiers in Vietnam have their orders to destroy the Vietnamese people.


MURCH: So that kind of radical internationalism and anti-communist politics was - it was terrifying, I think, to cold warriors.


MURCH: Although maybe that's being too generous.


MURCH: If you look at the size of the Panthers, at their very largest they were 5,000 people. These were largely teenagers.

ABDELFATAH: Many of whom were just friends of the founders, like Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. And the reality is, during the first few years of the Black Panther Party, their numbers were probably in the hundreds. And yet...

MURCH: It's this organization that J. Edgar Hoover says is the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States.

ARABLOUEI: (Reading) The Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.

ABDELFATAH: This is from an actual memo J. Edgar Hoover wrote to FBI agents.

ARABLOUEI: (Reading) Leaders and representatives of the Black Panther Party travel extensively all over the United States, preaching their gospel of hate and violence, not only to ghetto residents but to students in colleges, universities and high schools as well.

ABDELFATAH: OK, so at this point, you might be asking why? Why was the FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, so concerned about the small group of radical Black college students and teenagers? Was it that they were Black and armed? According to Donna Murch, yes. But there was something else, something that you wouldn't know if "Forrest Gump" was your only exposure to the Black Panther Party.

MURCH: It was their ability, not that they were anti-white. It's that they were able to organize with whites.


SEALE: When the man walks up and says that we were anti-white, he says, well, I mean, you hate white people. I say, me, hate a white person? That's your game. That's the Ku Klux Klan's game.


SEALE: I say I wouldn't murder a person or brutalize them because of color of skin. I said, yeah, we hate something, all right. We hate the oppression that we live in. We hate cops beating Black people over their heads and murdering them. That's what we hate.


MURCH: So I think today people often think of it as identity versus class. This is not how the Panthers understand it. They were interested in how Marxism, especially as it had been adapted in the global South - in Cuba and Vietnam and China and parts of Africa - they wanted a global South interpretation of Marxism. And because of that, they thought it was natural to ally with other groups that had the same points of view.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #5: (Singing) No more brothers in jail. Off the pigs. The pigs are going to catch hell. Off the pigs.

KATHLEEN CLEAVER: Take this country and change it. Turn it upside down, and put the last first and the first last not only for Black people but for all people.

ARABLOUEI: All power to all people - wasn't that their, like, call?

MURCH: All power to all people, yes. And so the people that they saw as part of their coalition were the Red Guard Party...

ABDELFATAH: ...Which was a Chinese American youth radical group.

MURCH: ...The Brown Berets, so kind of radical Chicano leftists and communists.

ABDELFATAH: And in an era where open anti-gay or anti-queer sentiment was common, the Black Panther Party...

MURCH: Really in contrast to many of the other radical organizations of the period, they had an explicit alliance with both the feminists and what were at that time called gay radicals.


NEWTON: Homosexuals are human beings, and they're oppressed because of the bourgeois mentality that tries to legislate sexual activity. I don't think that the homosexuals should be harassed and badgered and brutalized because of their desire to have a sexual relationship that's not popular at this time.

ABDELFATAH: And they had an alliance with a group of white Appalachians who flew the Confederate flag. I'm going to repeat that - the Confederate flag. They were called the Young Patriot Association.


CLEAVER: Everybody knows that all the people don't have liberties. All the people don't have freedom. All the people don't have justice. All the people don't have power, so that means none of us do.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #5: (Singing) Off the pigs.

NEWTON: We plan in the future to make sure that we're - have solidarity with all oppressed people.


ABDELFATAH: Even though today the Black Panther Party is largely remembered in the popular imagination as gun-toting militants, in the late 1960s, that's not the reason the FBI targeted them. Donna Murch says it was the fact that they had a vision to organize workers across all racial and ethnic groups in the same way Marxists had done in Cuba or China or Vietnam. Even though there had been labor organizing and socialist parties in the United States, the Black Panthers had a unique vision.

MURCH: A vision that could serve as a point of unification, trying to knit together these disadvantaged groups inside the United States to oppose capitalism and expose U.S. expansionism. You know, this was a vision that placed the United States and the rest of the world and tried to use the internal domestic divisions of the United States as an analogy for understanding the United States' colonizing presence around the world. And it made sense.


HAMPTON: The workers needed to start to begin to learn that their job is to struggle against the bosses. And until they do this, their struggle is incorrect. It's like no struggle at all. We say that if you don't struggle correctly, you shouldn't struggle, but you should struggle. We said dare to struggle, and you dare to win. Dare not to struggle, and you don't deserve to win.

MURCH: I think the thing that made them the most dangerous was the way that they wed cross-racial organizing with explicit, anti-imperialist Marxist politics.


ELAINE BROWN: All of our thoughts, each of our actions should lead us to one goal - the emptying of the shit that fills the bowels of this country. We can no longer allow the senselessness of anarchy and arbitrary destruction. We need no more impulsive, opportunistic movements, groups or political parties that endure on socialistic rhetoric. We need socialism in practice.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Come on in, little brothers. Come on in, little sisters. Y'all can sit down and get something to eat.


ABDELFATAH: Remember that quote from J. Edgar Hoover about the Black Panther Party being the biggest threat to U.S. internal security?

MURCH: It happens at just the moment that the Panthers begin to start creating liberation schools and free breakfast programs.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: That's good for your teeth, man. It makes your teeth strong. Who left this milk over here?

MURCH: They created liberation schools so that the, you know, children could be instructed during the day. And they started inviting neighborhood children, and they realized that many of the children were hungry.


HAMPTON: And any program that's revolutionary is an advanced program. Revolution is change unending. Just keep on changing. That's what we do.

MURCH: And in response to that, they started breakfast programs where they essentially would invite any and all children to come to Panther headquarters, and they would provide their children with free breakfast.


HAMPTON: We take them people in there and take them through those changes. And before you know it, they are, in fact, not only knowing what socialism is - they don't even have to know what it is; they're endorsing it. They are participating, and they're observing. And they're supporting socialism.

MURCH: If you go back and you look at the FBI documents, one of the things they were most afraid of is that they were going to create a kind of self-perpetuating institutions that could have a much larger base in community.


HAMPTON: That's what people say. Socialism is the people. If you are afraid of socialism, you afraid of yourself.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Oh, you're going to (inaudible) now? All right, now. Right on. All power to the people.

MURCH: You know, we have all kinds of philanthropic and, you know, sororal and fraternal voluntarist efforts. But this was a way of, No. 1, shaming the state and saying we're teenagers and people in our early 20s, and we're finding ways to feed our community. And we see all the flaws in very, very limited social welfare provision.


MURCH: So the hammer came down on them very, very quickly.


ABDELFATAH: That hammer came in the form of the FBI program COINTELPRO, or Counterintelligence Program. The program started in 1956. And after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the program focused its attention on stopping the Black Panther Party. The FBI's own documents, which you can easily find online, show that of the 295 direct actions taken against Black radical groups, 233 were directed at the Black Panther Party.


CLEAVER: You have the outright, blatant police attacks. Then you have the police infiltration. And this infiltration is on many levels. Don't you think it's not.

MURCH: People have talked about that the Panthers suffered such repression because they believed in armed self-defense. We have the images of them marching on Sacramento in 1967. It's the image of a Panther with a gun. But what's interesting about the campaign of repression is that it actually accelerates as the party begins to move away from armed self-defense and to embrace survival pending revolution.

So within a year, the party faces enormous, enormous repression. And it's in that context that they're also thinking about the survival of the people and the survival of the party. And then they feel that in order for the party to survive, it has to move closer back to the people. And how do you move closer to the people? You move closer to the people by providing them their most essential needs.


ANGELA DAVIS: We know about Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins and Huey Newton and Lee Otis Johnson. And I could go on and on and on. The list is endless. We know that they were arrested on criminal charges as an excuse for removing them from their revolutionary work and activity among the people.

ABDELFATAH: When we come back, the Black Panthers move closer to the people, and authorities move closer to the Black Panther Party.

INEZ: This is Inez (ph) calling from San Francisco, Calif. You're listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Part 3 - The Southside Messiah.


ARABLOUEI: Just a few years into its existence, chapters of the Black Panther Party were popping up all over the country in cities like New York City, New Haven and Chicago. The organization had a central command in Oakland, but each chapter varied a lot. There were definitely tensions and rivalries between chapters. And on top of those problems, the party had a, let's just say, difficult relationship with many mainstream civil rights leaders.

MURCH: The Panthers had a different vision of Black politics. They were very critical of people that they saw as problematic Black leadership.


CLEAVER: Non-violence is a very non-functional approach in a society that's based entirely on organized force and violence, a country who was created in violence, land was taken in violence. Society was perpetuating itself through violence.

MURCH: So in their newspaper, they had something called the Bootlickers Gallery, and they put inside the Bootlickers Gallery all these Black political figures that had been elevated as kind of the fruit of the civil rights movement. So the person they hated the most was the head of the NAACP. They hated him because he had capitulated to Lyndon Johnson in supporting the Vietnam War.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: I'm saying there's never going to be a time when you're totally in control.

CLEAVER: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: That is a constant struggle.

CLEAVER: I don't see why Black people can't be totally in control of their destiny.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Oh, but you got to fight with your head as well as with your fist or with your guns or maybe...

CLEAVER: I think that all wars involved fighting on every level.


CLEAVER: You see; politics is warfare without bloodshed, and warfare is politics with bloodshed.


MURCH: Also in the bootlickers gallery was Thurgood Marshall, and they opposed Thurgood Marshall for similar reasons - that they felt that this whole generation of Black Democratic leaders had embraced Cold War politics.

ARABLOUEI: This position invited criticism from many civil rights leaders and isolated the party. Imagine - the Black Panthers were simultaneously characterized as anti-white, anti-civil rights movement and anti-American, all while experiencing the pains of growing as an organization. They were increasingly on their back foot, and the FBI seized on that.

MURCH: I mean, they literally were manufacturing false documents - not only correspondence between Panther leaders, but also, you know, as we've talked about, the Panthers were producing newspapers and pamphlets. A bunch of literature was produced by the organization. The FBI crafted its own fake coloring book, which was filled with these, like, anti-white images.

ARABLOUEI: This was a frequent tactic by the FBI. They made fake propaganda that would create friction between the Black Panther Party and other organizations or just make them look anti-white.

MURCH: Some of the images that were crafted in the San Diego chapter were explicitly anxieties around interracial sex. So there was an image that was supposed to come of the Panthers of a white woman lying on a bed with a Black Panther with a T-shirt that said BPP and a giant afro lunging, kind of leaning over her in the bed. And this was their way to try to represent interracial coalition - that at its core, this was a continuation once again of Black violence, about using the rape narrative of Black men's sexual violence against white women as a way to represent that's what was really driving the Panthers' interracial politics.

ARABLOUEI: How does this continue kind of - 'cause throughout American history, when there has been cross-racial rebellion or organizing, whoever is in charge of either the country at the time or whoever is in charge of the police force has come down really hard on that. Do you think this is a continuation of that kind of fear going all the way back to, you know, the rebellions in the 17th, 18th century?

MURCH: Yeah, like Bacon's rebellion.


MURCH: Yes, absolutely.

ABDELFATAH: (Reading) The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize the activities of Black nationalist hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership and supporters.

ARABLOUEI: The FBI caused rifts between Black Panther Party leaders, jailed members at all levels and attempted to stop their community-building efforts. But what J. Edgar Hoover was truly obsessed with was the possible emergence of what he called a messiah.

ABDELFATAH: (Reading) March 4, 1968 - prevent the rise of a messiah who could unify and electrify the militant Black nationalist movement.


HAMPTON: We always say in the Black Panther Party that they can do anything they want to us. We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you can remember I said with the last words on my lips that I am...


HAMPTON: ...A revolutionary.

MURCH: Fred Hampton as a leader - he, in many ways, had that potential, the greatest potential - I think even more so than the Oakland leadership, who were the founders - to create a mass movement. And that was because of how he was able to organize people.

ARABLOUEI: Fred Hampton was a leader of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party based in Chicago. He was the child of migrants from Louisiana. He started as an NAACP organizer, a really effective one. It was his voice you heard at the top of this episode, and you're about to hear it again.


HAMPTON: You are going to have to say that I am a proletarian. I am the people. I'm not the pig. You've got to make a distinction.

MURCH: He was known as Chairman Fred by his local comrades, and his speeches are incredibly powerful.


HAMPTON: And the people are going to have to attack the pig. The people are going to have to stand up against the pig. That's what the Panthers are doing. That's what the Panthers are doing all over the world.

MURCH: He orchestrated the first Rainbow Coalition, which was the bringing together of different gangs in Chicago.

ARABLOUEI: Which included Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican and white gangs to fight police brutality.

MURCH: So he is almost the embodiment of that community-based impulse of providing for one's community and, in doing so, being able to build a larger and larger platform for the party with, you know, reaching deeper into the Black community and other communities.


HAMPTON: No matter what color you are, there are only two classes. And I'm saying there is a class over here, and there's a class over there. This is the oppressed. This is the oppressor. This is the exploited. This is the exploiter. And these people in this class have divided themselves. They say, I'm Black, and I hate white people. I'm white, and I hate Black people. I'm Latin American, and I hate hillbillies. I'm a hillbilly, and I hate Indians. So we are fighting amongst each other, and why? 'Cause they want to teach you to believing that I'm your enemy.

MURCH: He was a brilliant organizer at doing that.


MURCH: This is why he was seen as such a threat.


HAMPTON: See; the Black Panther Party, a lot of people say we're violent. We're a self-defense organization that believes that the people should be educated of what's going on. Yes, we do defend our officers, and we do defend our homes. This is a constitutional right everybody has. There's nothing funny about that. The only reason they get mad at the Black Panther Party when they do it is for the simple reason that we're political. We're an organization that understands that politics is nothing but war without bloodshed, and war is nothing but politics with bloodshed.

ARABLOUEI: But Donna Murch warned us about buying into the great-man theory of history, where historical events can be boiled down to the heroic actions of a single individual. She pointed out that despite all his talents as a leader, part of what made Fred Hampton appear to be the messiah J. Edgar Hoover feared was that, unlike his Oakland colleagues, he was working out of a major U.S. city, Chicago, with a very large Black population.

MURCH: 'Cause it's not only about Fred Hampton; it's understanding Fred Hampton, the political geography of why he was dangerous. So it's his talent, but it's also his proximity to the enormous South Side of Chicago. Chicago was really one of the largest Black population concentration in the United States then. It's not an accident that our first Black president came out of Chicago. And he - remember; he went to Chicago because Barack Obama was nothing if not a brilliant, you know, strategist.

So the idea of having this very talented organizer - but, again, proximate, so it's not just a great-man history, but proximate to the center of Black political power, made - it provided the possibility of a much larger movement than what you saw in Oakland. So I think that, you know, both local law enforcement partnering with federal law enforcement saw the major cities as major battlegrounds.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: State's attorney's police arrived at Fred Hampton's west side apartment half a block from Panther headquarters at 4:45 this morning. They had a search warrant authorizing them to look for illegal weapons. The state's attorney's office says its men were fired upon after identifying themselves at the door and that Hampton and another man were killed in the 15-minute gun battle which followed.

ARABLOUEI: Fred Hampton was killed by Chicago police on December 4, 1969. He was 21 years old.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: Hampton's body was found in bed. Panther Bobby Rush charges it was the raiding party, not the Panthers, who did the shooting.

BOBBY RUSH: Murder. The pigs murdered our deputy chairman Fred Hampton while he laid in bed. I'll prove it. I'll prove it to the world that Fred Hampton was murdered by the pigs in cold blood, as he lay in bed asleep.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: The immediate, violent, criminal reaction of the occupants in shooting at announced police officers emphasizes the extreme viciousness of the Black Panther Party.


ARABLOUEI: Investigations later determined all but one bullet in this shootout in Fred Hampton's apartment was fired by police. One of Fred Hampton's trusted fellow Panthers was an FBI informant who slipped him a sedative the evening before the attack and allegedly provided a floor plan of Hampton's home to the FBI. These events are dramatized in the film "Judas And The Black Messiah."


MURCH: One of the lessons I learned as a Panther historian is that repression works. We can kid ourselves and say that it doesn't, but repression does work.

ARABLOUEI: The killing of Fred Hampton represented a devastating blow for the Black Panther Party. One of its youngest and brightest members was gone, just like that. And even though the party would continue to exist all the way into the 1980s, local law enforcement, along with the FBI campaign, successfully splintered the group and killed or jailed much of its leadership.

MURCH: I said repression works because just the number of political assassinations in the United States against Black leaders, it's hard to understand the trajectory of Black politics without that. And it's especially important in thinking about the 1960s. And there were two different wings of the movement. There was a wing that became the electoral wing, so that fought for having Black mayors, Black city councilmen, Black elected officials.

But there is also a parallel movement, and this was the movement of the Black radical tradition. And largely, that movement was attacked through incarceration of its leaders and also the broader criminalization and incarceration of the entire Black population in its aftermath. So that is the history of political prisoners. And so these, in some ways, grew out of the same tree - right? - the tree of Black liberation.

ARABLOUEI: What happened to the Black Panther Party is easy to view as some distant historical tragedy. But this would be a mistake because, ultimately, the idealism of the original Black Panther Party members represents the deep, long-held desires of many Black people in the United States to change this country so that it works better for all the people living in it. It was a dream based on a deeply held ideology, a dream that still applies today. And the fact is, many Black Panthers, like Fred Hampton, paid for that dream with their lives.


MURCH: This was a small group of people, literally all over the country, many of them high school students, college students. And I think that the kind of visionary, you know, like what Robin Kelley describes as freedom dreams, the ways that they really confronted the American understanding of itself as well as these enormous structures of material power was remarkable. And they did it largely through confronting it through political visions. And the Panthers were the single biggest group that was repressed by the FBI. And I think one of the real contributions of the new film about the Panthers is that it speaks to the depth of the U.S. police state and surveillance.


MURCH: Yeah, it's a hard thing to talk about.


HAMPTON: Black people need some peace. White people need some peace. And we are going to have to fight. We're going to have to struggle. We're going to have to struggle relentlessly to bring about some peace because the people that we're asking for peace, they're a bunch of megalomaniac war mongers, and they don't even understand what peace means. And we've got to fight them. We've got to struggle with them to make them understand what peace means.


HAMPTON: But that's all right because we said even before this happened and we're going to say it after this and after I'm locked up and after everybody's locked up that you can jail revolutionaries, but you can't jail a revolution.



MURCH: It's the scale of state resources that are mobilized against the Black radical tradition, and I think that we really have to acknowledge that and take it seriously, not simply to see it as a tragedy, but also to understand why we have limited political choices today. Some of our most important leadership have literally been killed by the state and incarcerated by the state. We don't like to think of the United States like that. The U.S. still believes itself to be - well, maybe not so much right now in this moment, but, you know, there's still the notion that we live in a free and open society. But when you look at the trajectory of the Panthers, you're forced to question that.


ARABLOUEI: Our guest on today's episode was Donna Murch. She's the author of the book "Living For The City: Migration, Education And The Rise Of The Black Panther Party In Oakland, California."


ARABLOUEI: On the next episode of THROUGHLINE from NPR...

DENIS HAYES: We were the most prosperous country in the world and as a consequence, the most polluted

ABDELFATAH: In the 1960s, all that pollution started setting off alarms.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: At the height of it, we were probably sending out maybe 10,000 pieces of mail a day. Our only organizing tools were the dial phone and mail.

ARABLOUEI: In 1969, a small group of activists began organizing an event unlike any before it in U.S. history.

HAYES: We said this is going to be a really big thing. This is going to be like the march to Selma or the march on the Pentagon.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #6: ABC News presents Earth Day.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #8: Earth Day demonstrations began in practically every city and town...

ABDELFATAH: It was big enough to launch so much of what we now think of as the environmental movement.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: So I never saw a disconnect between being an environmental activist and being a civil rights activist. To me, it's the same thing.

ARABLOUEI: Next week, the successes and shortcomings of Earth Day a half century later.


ABDELFATAH: That's it for this week's show. I'm Rund Abdelfatah.

ARABLOUEI: I'm Ramtin Arablouei. And you've been listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

ABDELFATAH: This episode was produced by me.

ARABLOUEI: And me and...







ABDELFATAH: Fact-checking for this episode was done by Kevin Volkl.

ARABLOUEI: Thank you to Yolanda Sangweni and Anya Grundman.

ABDELFATAH: And a special thanks to scholar and writer Jules Boykoff for helping with the background research for this episode. Our music was composed by Ramtin and his band, Drop Electric, which includes...

NAVID MARVI: Navid Marvi.

SHO FUJIWARA: Sho Fujiwara.

ANYA MIZANI: Anya Mizani.

ABDELFATAH: Also, we would love to hear from you. Send us a voicemail to 872-588-8805 and leave your name, where you're from and say the line, you're listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR. And tell us what you think of the show. We might even feature your voicemail on a future episode. That number again is 872-588-8805.

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