Oakland Historical Marker Commemorating the Organization of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense
At this location in June 1967, the Anti-Poverty Center began working with a group of local activists who would soon be known as the Black Panther Party. Together, these young men organized in response to the danger posed by speeding traffic at this formerly-unmarked intersection. The Black Panthers and the Anti-Poverty Center asked the city to install a stoplight after several children at the nearby Santa Fe Elementary School were killed and others had been injured by motorists. However, the Oakland City Council denied the request. Rather than allowing another death at this intersection until the city would agree to install a light, members of the Black Panthers directed traffic at this intersection. The young men also escorted children across the busy intersection, and no further automobile-related deaths or injuries occurred. However, the Oakland Police began harassing and arresting the young men for directing traffic without authority. These confrontations between the Panthers and the Oakland Police led the Panthers to demand changes in the way the almost all-white police force operated.
Backstory and Context
Originally called The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland, California, in November of 1966, by Bobby Seale, Huey Newton, Elbert Howard, Reggie Forte, Bobby Hutton, and Sherman Forte, as a sort of militia for the fight against civil rights. They believed that self-defense and mass organizing was the best way to tackle the problem of equality and civil justice the black community had.
In November of 1966, Huey Lewis, Bobby Seale, Elbert Howard, Reggie Forte, Sherman Forte, and Bobby Hutton came together in Oakland, California, to form the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, later known only as the Black Panther Party, changing the face of civil rights forever. Pulling from Malcolm X's philosophies, the Black Panther Party started with a strong sense of militant force, believing that self-defense, organization of mass protests, and resistance, would set African Americans equally free. In October 1967, Huey Newton was arrested for killing an Oakland police officer and his fellow Panthers initiated the "free Huey" movement. This gave them notoriety and spread the word of their organization nationwide, creating more Black Panther chapters. As the Black Panthers grew, they became known for supporting free health clinics, free breakfast programs for school children, and a variety of other community programs. They also provided support for African American men who had concerns about the draft during the Vietnam Era and spoke about the need to provide economic support for Black communities.
At the height of their fame, The Black Panther Party had only a few thousand official members owing to the rigorous vetting process and time-consuming training and educational programs. However, the Black Panthers had a much more significant impact on history than their relatively small membership thanks to the media attention they received, their outspoken opponents, and the many supporters of their programs that extended into dozens of communities.
Black Panther History Marker. Tactical Magic. Accessed April 23, 2017. http://www.tacticalmagic.org/CTM/project%20pages/BPP.htm.
Brown, Camille. Black Panther Traffic Light. Street Stories Oakland. Accessed April 23, 2017. http://www.streetstoriesoakland.com/items/show/57.
Abcarian, Robin. Decades before Black Lives Matter, there were the Black Panthers in Oakland. LA Times. December 02, 2016. Accessed April 23, 2017. http://www.latimes.com/local/abcarian/la-me-abcarian-black-panthers-20161202-story.html.