The Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCDO) was established by Stokely Carmichael in Alabama in 1964. This organization later changed its name to the Black Panther Party. In October 1966 Bobby Seale and Huey Newton formed the Black Panther Party (BPP) in Oakland, California. They named the new organization after the emblem adopted by the Lowndes County Freedom Organization.
The Black Panthers were initially formed to protect local communities from police brutality and racism. The group also ran medical clinics and provided free food to school children. Within a couple of years the Black Panthers in Oakland were feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school.
Prominent members of the Black Panthers included Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Fred Hampton, Fredrika Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Kathleen Cleaver, David Hilliard, Angela Davis, Bobby Hutton and Elaine Brown.
The Black Panthers had chapters in several major cities and had a membership of over 2,000. Harassed by the police, members became involved in several shoot-outs. This included an exchange of fire between Panthers and the police at Oakland on 28th October, 1967. Huey Newton was wounded and while in hospital was charged with killing a police officer. The following year he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
On 6th April, 1968 eight BPP members, including Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Hutton and David Hilliard, were travelling in two cars when they were ambushed by the Oakland police. Cleaver and Hutton ran for cover and found themselves in a basement surrounded by police. The building was fired upon for over an hour. When a tear-gas canister was thrown into the basement the two men decided to surrender. Cleaver was wounded in the leg and so Hutton said he would go first. When he left the building with his hands in the air he was shot twelve times by the police and was killed instantly.
In November 1968 Fred Hampton founded the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. He immediately established a community service program. This included the provision of free breakfasts for schoolchildren and a medical clinic that did not charge patients for treatment. Hampton also taught political education classes and instigated a community control of police project.
One of Hampton's greatest achievements was to persuade Chicago's most powerful street gangs to stop fighting against each other. In May 1969 Hampton held a press conference where he announced a nonaggression pact between the gangs and the formation of what he called a "rainbow coalition" (a multiracial alliance of black, Puerto Rican, and poor youths).
The leaders of the Black Panthers were influenced by the ideas expressed by Malcolm X in the final months of his life. The Panthers therefore argued for international working class unity and supported joint action with white revolutionary groups. The Black Panthers eventually developed into a Marxist revolutionary group.
The activities of the Black Panthers came to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Hoover described the Panthers as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country" and in November 1968 ordered the FBI to employ "hard-hitting counter-intelligence measures to cripple the Black Panthers".
In 1968 Bobby Seale was charged with inciting riots during the Democratic Party National Convention. When Seale repeatedly interrupted court proceedings the judge ordered him to be bound and gagged. Seale was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison for 16 counts of contempt of court.
While in prison Seale was charged with murdering Alex Rackley, a former Black Panther suspected of being a police informer. On 25th May, 1971, the trial ended in a hung jury and the judge ordered all charges against Seale to be dropped.
In the early hours of the 4th December, 1969, the Panther headquarters in Chicago was raided by the police. The police later claimed that the Panthers opened fire and a shoot-out took place. During the next ten minutes Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed. Witnesses claimed that Hampton was wounded in the shoulder and then executed by a shot to the head. The panthers left alive were arrested and charged with attempting to murder the police. Afterwards, ballistic evidence revealed that only one bullet had been fired by the Panthers whereas nearly a hundred came from police guns.
After being released from prison, both Bobby Seale and Huey Newton renounced political violence. Over a six year period 24 Black Panthers had been killed in gun fights with the police. Another member, George Jackson, was assassinated while in San Quentin prison in August, 1971.
The Black Panthers now concentrated on socialist community programs including free breakfasts for children, free medical clinics and helping the homeless.
While in exile Eldridge Cleaver had disagreements with Huey Newton and in 1971 he expelled him from the Black Panther Party. Soon afterwards Cleaver formed the Revolutionary Peole's Communication Network and Kathleen Cleaver returned to the United States to establish the party in New York.
In 1973 Bobby Seale ran for mayor of Oakland and came second out of nine candidates with 43,710 votes (40 per cent of votes cast). The following year Elaine Brown was elected party chief and helped to turn it into a supporter of women's rights. Under her leadership the party successfully supported Lionel Wilson in his campaign to become the first black mayor of Oakland.
In 1975, Frank Church became the chairman of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. This committee investigated alleged abuses of power by the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Intelligence. The committee looked at the case of Fred Hampton and discovered that William O'Neal, Hampton's bodyguard, was a FBI agent-provocateur who, days before the raid, had delivered an apartment floor-plan to the Bureau with an "X" marking Hampton's bed. Ballistic evidence showed that most bullets during the raid were aimed at Hampton's bedroom.