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By Robert A. Vella

When I was a teenager in the San Francisco Bay area, The Free Huey movement captured the attention of many young Americans like myself who were disillusioned by the Vietnam War, racial injustice, and an increasingly authoritarian political establishment.  First JFK was assassinated, then Malcolm X, then Martin Luther King Jr., and then Robert F. Kennedy.  All of these men had one thing in common, they each – in their own way – attempted to change America to be a more just and equitable nation.  But, those with vested interests in keeping America unjust and inequitable resisted – often using clandestine and brutal means.

If you don’t believe these four assassinations – and many more – were connected at some level, you obviously weren’t there.  I was, and that connection forever defined America from the 1960s onwards.

“Free Huey” referred to the populist movement demanding officialdom to release Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton from jail.  The specifics of his case, as well as his true guilt or innocence, are irrelevant because of the broken relationship between law enforcement (a.k.a. the “pigs” as they were called at the time) and the counterculture that had taken root in the nation’s minority communities and in its white youth.  To us, the police could not be trusted in any way.  They were the enemy.  How police officers felt about us, I cannot say.  There was little-to-no constructive dialog.

What I do know is that an undeclared war began to be waged against us which was planned and coordinated inside the halls of the highest offices in the land – inside state houses and governor mansions across the country, and at the highest levels of the federal government in Washington, D.C.  In 1967-1968, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover secretly launched the COINTELPRO operation against Vietnam War protesters, civil rights activists, feminist groups, and especially against the Black Panther Party.  The operation was a masterpiece of fascist, totalitarian oppression that observed no legal or ethical bounds.  People were assassinated.  Many more people were sent to prison on trumped-up charges.  It was a national disaster of monumental proportions.

After the Kent State massacre of students by the Ohio National Guard, the establishment’s authoritarian strategy began to fall apart.  Police began to see themselves as unwitting pawns.  The Vietnam War was lost, and President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace.  The dramatic shift in public opinion was key, but it transpired much too late for far too many.

Please check out this excellent Independent Lens documentary centered around the lives of Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver.  It is an extremely important part of our history;  and, keep in mind that those who don’t remember their history have neither a past nor a future:

The Black Panthers – Vanguard of the Revolution

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5 thoughts on “What happened to the Black Panther Party? Independent Lens documentary tells the shocking story

  1. This is as relevant today – more so that the 10 point Panther goals are unfulfilled. But as you say, having lived through the time it can help a younger generation see more clearly how they might pursue social justice today.

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  2. Not only ‘If you don’t believe these four assassinations – and many more – were connected at some level, you obviously weren’t there…’, you obviously have not been paying attention.

    The forces then are still afoot, albeit not so individually incarnate. Now those forces are embodied in an ‘inverted totalitarianism’ that has no single mind/power-source but are embedded in social/cultural/economic forces that are intent on assuming all wealth and power. One has only to recognize the current Gilded Age re-play to acknowledge this.

    I am afraid that far from ‘the establishment’s authoritarian strategy [beginning] to fall apart…’, the Surveillance State watching us as we speak, is plain evidence that the authoritarianism’s violence has broadened it’s target. The Black Panther Party’s fellow-travellers include a great number of us. We, like the frog in the gradually heated pot, are being boiled alive, hardly noticing it.

    We may very well have a very dim future!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said. My remarks spoke to the temporary recession of authoritarianism that occurred in the immediate aftermath of Vietnam when anti-war and civil rights protests diminished, Hoover died, and Nixon resigned. I didn’t intend to suggest any permanent end to authoritarianism. I was just noting the end of that particular episode and era.

      Yes, we are like the slowly cooking frog with a very dim future. How sad.

      Like

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