How the Black Panthers Fought to Make Black Lives Matter in the ’60s and ’70s

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tags: Black Panthers, Black lives matter



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If you think the Black Lives Matter movement has been vehement, consider what the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense did in response to a similar litany of police brutality, institutionalized racism and social injustice. In May 1967, 26 members walked into the California State Assembly openly carrying weapons. It made quite a scene and loudly announced to the country that black people were no longer going to be passive victims of state-sponsored oppression.

The Black Panthers were different and broad based. The image of young, armed black men standing assertively in legislative chambers is indelible, but the Panthers also sponsored breakfast programs, organized voter-registration campaigns and ran for office. They were one of the most potent political organizations of the late ’60s and early ’70s. 

In the decades since, their legacy has become murky. Yes, they were militant but also socially aware. A party leader, Bobby Seale, ran for mayor of Oakland, Calif., in 1973, and out of a field of nine candidates, he finished second, forcing a runoff with incumbent John Reading. But Eldridge Cleaver, another party leader and the author of Soul on Ice, became a born-again Christian and spent much of the ’80s publicly supporting conservative Republican causes.




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