Earlier this month, a Black Panther Party chapter founder came to Hood College.
On March 7, in an event coordinated by Dr. Terry Scott of the History Department, Elmer Dixon, a founder of the Seattle chapter of Black Panther Party visited Hood. During the event he presented his speech: The Truth About the Black Panther Party and Community Organizing.
Dixon began his lecture by questioning the audience’s thoughts about the Black Panther Party. “You probably have heard that the Black Panther Party was like the black KKK,” said Dixon.
He attributed such misconceptions to the media. Dixon addressed there was a “deliberate attempt to hide what [they] were truly about.”
According to Dixon, efforts have been made to keep the “legacy and history of the Black Panther Party […] distorted and hidden” in the media and there have educational efforts in the same aspect as well.
As Dr. Scott said in her introduction, there have been “narratives of menace and fear” spread about the Black Panther Party through distortion in the media and the withholding of accurate information in classrooms across the United States.
During his speech, Dixon thoroughly explained who comprised the Black Panther Party, their goals, and means of operation.
According to Dixon, contrary to popular conception, the Black Panther Party was comprised of people who were heavily engaged in the study of law and political theory. They familiarized themselves with the Constitution and acted on their rights to bear arms in a state where they faced violent suppression enacted through governmental institutions such as the police department.
The Police Alert Patrols was an initiative of the Black Panther Party. It was developed to protect citizens from police brutality in black communities. Arriving at the scenes of black citizen-law enforcement encounters, the Black Panther Party clearly stated in detail, their legal right to use militia for protection from violence expressed by any sectors of the government.
This emphasis on taking advantage of the second amendment is the fraction of the Black Panther Party narrative often misrepresented by the press and circles of political discourse.
The Black Panther Party operated to protect black communities physically, legally, politically and economically and outlined how they would go about demanding both their Constitutional and “God-given” rights. This outline of steps and demands is formally known to the party as the 10 Point Program.
The programs points ranged from securing basic needs such as food and adequate housing to institutional issues such as education, ending police brutality, and trial before members of the black community.
The Black Panther Party was also the first organization to start a free breakfast program for children in poor communities. The Children’s Free Breakfast Program, created by the Black Panther Party, operated for over 10 years. This program was only one amongst 30 free programs implemented by the Black Panther Party to take care of poor communities that were suffering from hunger, medical issues, restriction to education for children and prisoners, and more.
For their efforts to establish social, political, and economic independence for not only the black community, but other minority communities in America and in other countries, the U.S. government took numerous measures to thwart the party’s progress. This attempt to bring recognition and power to all racially oppressed groups was known as the Rainbow Coalition. Its purpose was to empower and encourage all people of color to engage in similar practices to establish independence.
According to Dixon, first FBI director J Edgar Hoover referred to the Black Panther Party as the “number one internal threat to the U.S.” To offset this, he developed COINTELPRO, or the counter intelligence program, to disband the party.
COINTELPRO agents forged documents to create distrust among members and went undercover as bodyguards for the Black Panther Party. Fred Hampton, a respected party leader was killed in his home due to intelligence gathered by undercover body guards working for the FBI.
The FBI was able to accomplish its goal of toppling the Black Panther Party with several other events that took place. For example, the trial of the “Chicago Seven.” During this trial, eight people were present, but one was silenced in the courtroom the FBI.
The Black Panther Party is not just a part of history, a current Black Panther Party exists today. However, they are not as prevalent as their forefathers, who were able to spread worldwide influence through the 1960s and 70s.
With hope that community organizing will continue, Dixon, now a facilitator of the Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee in King County, WA, stated that contemporary issues such as mass incarceration of youth of color have to be dealt with by “changing how we handle kids early on to give them an opportunity to succeed at life, and those were the foundations of the Black Panther Party.”
There is a need for, “decent education, decent housing…all of those things that give young people an opportunity to develop character and understand who they are and where they came from so they can be successful,” said Dixon.
“These young people don’t think that their lives matter,” Dixon stated, “That’s why the Black Lives Matter Movement is so important. It’s to help these young black kids and brown kids that come from these families and environments where they’ve been thrown away.”
He concluded his speech by stating that working with these children is the kind of activism new political activists and community organizers should be involved in.