Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Origins of Black Panther Party Health Activism

By Briana Whiteside

In chapter 2 of Body and Soul, Alondra Nelson explains the origins of the Black Panther Part for Self-Defense (BPP)—at Meritt College in Oakland, California, where the founding members, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, attended school. In addition, Nelson notes that the founders were “children of the Great Migration, that mass movement of blacks from the segregated South to the northern and western United States in two waves between 1919 and 1970” (54). 

Newton and Seale, who were outraged with the lack of concern that their black peers had about the institutions and neighborhoods housing them, developed a philosophy, which advocated “direct confrontation with the forces of racial and economic oppression with a gun and a helping hand” (54).

Nelson points out that both party founders were employed at an Anti-Poverty Center in the summer of 1966, which would also serve as their first headquarters and a recruitment ground. By the fall of that year, Seale and Newton developed a name for their activism group, "the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (later shortened to the Black Panther Party)" and recruited two members under the platform of “economic citizenship” and “social rights” (55). By recruiting members who had experience within state organized antipoverty centers, BPP was able to concentrate on the limitations state-supported programs. 

More than simply adopting Mao Zedong’s phrase “the people” and his saying that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” the BPP studied several thinkers and writings, including Fran Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth and Mao’s “little red book” in order to sharpen their ideologies and approaches (69). Their embrace of “political theory,” observes Nelson, “conditioned and informed the Party’s health activism” (71).

Related: URG: Notebook on Alondra Nelson's Body and Soul

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Black Studies Program.

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