Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Black Panther Party - Harlem Headquarters

2026 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. Harlem, NY.

Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale established the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1966 in Oakland, California. The development of the organization was a response to the highly racialized and violent treatment of African Americans during the mid- 1960s and early 70s. Ran predominantly by the youth, the Black Panther Party’s main goal was to engender empowerment within Black urban communities, and to put an end to the police brutality that was rampant during this time. To accomplish these goals, listed in a 10 Point Program that included the education of youths and decent livable housing within the community, the Party sponsored survival programs which were drives that donated clothing, breakfast programs for elementary school children, and classes that specialized in politics and economics.

Throughout the tumultuous 60s and 70s the Black Panther Party grew to include chapters all over the country. One of those sites was Harlem, New York, created in 1968. We chose this site because we were interested in the ways in which racialized space manifested within the New York community and how the Black Panther Party worked to reform them. Racial subjection is a concept that may be applied in the study of this particular space and era. As a reminder, subjection is the construction by the powerful of spaces in which human beings are enabled to participate in the social life of public institutions, in the economy, and in the body politic of the nation. Subjection, therefore, has much to do with the ways in which physical spaces, through political, economic, and racial institutionalization, shape and perpetuate racial bodies and ideals. In Thomas Biolsi’s article ‘The Birth of a Reservation: Making the Modern Individual among the Lakota’, he spoke primarily about how reservations were essentially in-land racial islands that not only succeeded in isolating the Lakota people but also regulated them to processes that rendered them outside the body politic and subject to unequal and lowered status. This is an aspect of what took place in various Black urban communities during this time. Like the Lakota, African Americans were concentrated in communities where substandard housing, schooling, and protection was a social norm. The Black Panther Party, in number seven of their Ten Point Program called for ‘an immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people, other people of color, and all oppressed people inside the United States’.

The known address of the Harlem branch of BPP is currently defunct. This is possibly a result of a series of controversial events involving the New York chapter. In 1970 an alleged plot to bomb several New York department stores was linked to twenty one members of Harlem’s BPP chapter. They became known as the New York Panther 21. Seven of those individuals were released before the trial date and the remaining thirteen were dubbed the Panther 13. Of those 13, two fled to Algeria, which upset relations with the Oakland Panther Party. Following this incident, the Panther 13 were expulsed from the organization creating a lasting split between the two Parties, Harlem going on to assert itself as a separate Black Panther Party entity.

In learning about the fracturing of the New York branch from the larger Black Panther Party organization, I also came upon an article that brought to light another aspect of racial subjection that I think may apply conceptually to the split. In his review of Anne Anlin Cheng’s, ‘The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief’, Peter Kearly cites the author’s idea of the psychological effects of racial subjection. In the article, Cheng talks about how there are more than anthropological and sociological effects of racial subjection, but also psychological effects as well that result in a kind loss of self. I believe that through the growth of the Black Panther Party, an organization that saw both highly beneficial products of its inception such as the breakfast program, food and clothing drives, education of the urban community members, the protesting of unjust rent evictions, etc. as well as major downfalls, i.e. FBI infiltration that led to the disbanding of several chapters, scandals that involved misappropriation and use of funds within the BPP, a kind of erasure of original goals took place and that, especially towards the end of the organization in the early 80’s, this sense of self loss culminated in the disjunction of the entire organization.. In a sense, the Black Panther Party was fighting against being rendered invisible by oppressive governmental regimes. But through a kind of gentrification of the culture, i.e. negative media coverage and government infiltration, the original positivity of the organization’s goals was forfeited.

- Titilayo Derricotte and Aubrey Markson


‘Black Panther Party. Harlem Branch Collection –From The New York Public Library Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

‘The Ten Point Platform –From The Black Panther Party Dr. Huey P. Newton foundation, Inc.,1,1:14,1,1:15,1,1

Book Review ‘The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief’ by Anne Anlin Cheng –Book Review by Peter Kearly of Wayne State University, Article excerpts by Anne Anlin Cheng

‘The Birth of the Reservation: Making the Modern Individual among the Lakota’ By Thomas Biolsi – From American Ethnologist, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Feb., 1995), pp.28-53 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association

1 comment:

  1. The 2 members of the Panther 21 that had to go underground to Algeria was due to the FBI's seek and destroy tactics that had assassinated Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark and over 45 members by the end of 1970. These facts are on the Freedom of Information files and online.
    The entire Black Panther Party was infiltrated by the FBI and divided in order to have members go against each other. This is also in the FOI files.
    It is important to note these facts so that people have a clearer understanding of the Party and not only be purvey to the violence that mainstream media affiliates them with.