The Rise And Fall Of The Black Panther Party

Published November 1, 2016
Updated June 12, 2023

In 1966, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton created the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary black socialist movement that would take America by storm.

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From Jack London's residence as an early 20th-century union activist to the 2011 Occupy Oakland Movement, the city of Oakland, California has historically been a hotbed for radicals -- and there is perhaps no better example of Oakland-born radicalism than the Black Panther Party.

Like so many cities at the time, post-World War II Oakland presided over a booming economy, one which lured many southern African-Americans and whites into the 350,000 person-plus town. By the 1960s, African-Americans constituted approximately half of the city population, while the police force — many of them recently-arrived Southerners — was all white. This dynamic, Oakland historian Steven Lavoie says, laid the groundwork for racial discord and police brutalization of African-Americans.

"The tension that resulted had a lot to do with who was hired, because a lot of the people from the South brought attitudes with them," Lavoie said. "Blacks, but also whites not willing to be as tolerant as Oakland historically had been."

Along with many other cities at the time, discrimination and violence against African Americans coursed through Oakland. Fed up with civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. calling for nonviolent resistance to brutalization and in search of a transformation of existing economic and racial power relations that they believed stood at the source of this violence, two Oakland residents — Bobby Seale and Huey Newton — decided to take matters into their own hands.

In 1966, they created the Black Panther Party, a radical political organization whose influence would soon extend far beyond the Bay Area.

Below, watch footage of Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver describe the purpose of the BPP in the mid-1960s:

Learn more about civil rights and African-American resistance with these posts on the Harlem Renaissance and how Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have A Dream" speech almost didn't happen.

Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.