In May 2016, we celebrated the anniversary of Malcolm X birthday on May 19, who would have been 91-years-old, and the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party 51 years after the assassination of Malcolm X on February 19, 1965. With Beyonce’ controversial “Formation” halftime Super Bowl performance, the era of Black Lives Matter and the recently released documentary film by award-winning director Stanley Nelson called, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution has brought attention to these two historical entities that still cast a shadow of responsibility for this current generation.
“If they had not murdered Malcolm X, there probably never would have been a Black Panther Party”- Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party 2016 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party to be celebrated in Oakland, California where it all began but the Black Panther Party starts its chronology at the assassination of Malcolm X 51 years ago this past February 21 and Malcolm’s 91st birthday had he lived. These two controversial, influential entities would leave a lasting impression for generations to come along with a legacy activism- Malcolm and the Children of Malcolm.
The definition of a progenitor is an ancestor in direct line or a forebear. Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, co-founders of the Black Panther Party, both said that the nature of the panther animal is when you drive it into a corner and don’t let it go left or right, it will come out of that corner to destroy its enemy absolutely and completely. In the Autobiography of Malcolm X, writer M.S. Handler wrote in the Introduction about the reaction of his wife to Malcolm after having invited him to their home and served him some tea while he discussed the book with her husband. Handler described what she thought of Brother Malcolm after he departed their residence in these words, “You know, it was like having tea with a black panther”. Mr. Handler thought about that description and concluded that the Black Panther animal is an aristocrat in the animal kingdom. Like Malcolm, the panther is beautiful and dangerous. As a man, Malcolm X had the bearing of a born aristocrat and was potentially dangerous to the white power structure. No man of our time aroused as much fear and hatred from the white man as Malcolm X, because in him the white man sensed an implacable foe who could not be had for any price. Black People, like a cornered black panther, have had our collective backs against the walls of oppression by white supremacy, imperialism and colonization. Brother Malclom was the one who came out of that corner to confront the enemy of his people.
Malcolm X was always quoted as saying, “History is best qualified to reward all research”. When studying the history of Black people in America in dealing with oppression of the power structure, he saw the necessity for our people to strike back against our oppressors in self-defense and self-determination. Because of the oppression, repression and psychological warfare of self-hate, we have seen ourselves as inferior and not worthy of confronting the reactionary racists at any level of society in a systematic social order enforced system. Behind closed doors, Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King, A. Phillip Randolph, Whitney Young, Roy Wilkins and others would use Malcolm’s defiant words as a “counter” to them in order to obtain civil rights cooperation from the power structure. Those leaders would tell government officials, “Look, we are non-violent but outside is that other brother and he is not like us”. US officials would be more flexible in their positions and more willing to negotiate with them or eventually be confronted by Malcolm X – The Progenitor Panther. The Civil Rights leaders’ main emphasis was based on the morality of having an equal society for all to bring about social change. But Malcolm and later the Black Panther Party knew that the system’s opposition had nothing to do with mortality but everything to do with power in a one-sided Capitalistic social order.
The Black Panther Party would declare “All Power to the People” and organized the people in direct opposition to the power structure which proved to be the best way to empower the powerless people of all people in an oppressive system. Peter Bailey, a close aide to Malcolm, recalled, “Brother Malcolm was one of the first people I heard talking about the system.” “He never said, It’s the George Wallace types, Brother Malcolm said oh no, we are talking about the whole system. Malcolm would lance our sense of inferiority because a people that did not think much of themselves or their history will not have the confidence to fight for their rights as equal citizens. Alex Haley, who wrote Malcolm’s autobiography , was startled by a statement Malcolm made about himself when he told Alex, “ I am a part of all I have met “, meaning that everything he had encountered in his life had synopsized into the Malcolm X we know and admire today since his assassination in 1965. Most Black revolutionaries and nationalists start their chronology at the death of Malcolm X, including the Black Panthers. Bobby Seale recalls going to McClymonds High School in Oakland to hear Malcolm X speak and indicated that had Malcolm not been killed, the Black Panther Party probably would not have developed. He would have followed Malcolm in the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), modeled after the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on the African continent. Malcolm X aka El-Hajj Malik El Shabazz would inspire young revolutionaries like Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, Assata Shakur, Stokely Carmichael and many others who yearned to be a free, independent people – By any means necessary.
Analytically, the Black Panthers were much like the Minute Men during America’s early colonial period as a group of citizens who stood up to defend the community against the local English colonial power structure. While this is not a perfect analogy as it relates specifically to Black people, it is close enough to draw parallels. Malcolm would use the white power structure’s own history to justify our stand as a people who were by enlarge colonial subjects in the domestic confines’ of America. He observed that 22 million Black people, at that time, were just as justified to say, “Liberty or Death” after 400 years of slavery, hangings, exploitation and systematic racism in a country that talked democracy but practiced hypocrisy. The Black Panther Party followed Malcolm’s example by taking two paragraphs out of the Declaration of Independence of the United States written by the colonial subjects of England under the monarchy of King George III. One paragraph stated, “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to separate themselves from the political bands which has connected them to another and to assume amongst the powers of the Earth, the separate and equal stations in which the Laws of Nature and natures God has entitled them, with a descent respect to the opinions of mankind would require that they declare the causes which impel them to this separation”. The 10 point platform and program of the Black Panther Party was Black people’s Declaration of Independence or a statement of grievances against the government at that time for social change. Malcolm X had a tremendous impact on the leaders in the panther movement and would later be granted the distinction as “The Children of Malcolm”. When Chicago Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton was assassinated, along with panther Mark Clark, on a blood-soaked bed cover was a book with Malcolm X’s face adorning the cover which Fred was probably reading before he went to sleep after being drugged by a police informant named William O’Neal who had joined the Black Panther Party and elevated to head of Panther security.
Before Bobby Seale met with Huey P. Newton to start the Panther Party, he was preparing to fly out to join the OAAU after Malcolm’s visit to the Bay Area but with Malcolm’s assassination this paved way for Malcolm’s philosophical heirs to come to fruition via the Black Panther Party for Self Defense that was founded October 15, 1966 in Oakland California. The Black Panther symbol itself was taken from the Lowndes County Freedom Democratic Party in Alabama as an alternative to both the Republican and Democratic parties since Blacks were denied voting rights in the Deep South. The Self Defense part of their name came from the Deacons for Defense who were deacons in churches that organized to protect civil rights workers and voting efforts in the face of racist aggression. Not one incident of violence occurred when the armed Deacons for Defense on the scene because they were prepared to speak the language of the Ku Klux Klan, Citizen’s Council, local police or any other opposition if necessary. After Malcolm X left the spiritual utopia of the Nation of Islam and took a more engaging direct action position that would better affect the lives of everyday Black people outside of the NOI. Brother Malcolm had met with many revolutionary leaders like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Kwame Nkrumah and others which made him believe that revolutionary activism along with self-defense and self-determination was the best method to use in our struggle as he began to internationalize our plight- a perspective adopted by the Black Panther Party.
In his “Prospects for Freedom Speech” given in January 1965 he was quoted, “Power in defense of freedom is greater than power on behalf of tyranny and oppression, because power, real power, comes from conviction which produces action, uncompromising action”. The Black Panther Party understood the need for self-defense and determination that Malcolm said was our right as human beings. Malcolm stood before the entire world to bring the plight of African-Americans before the United Nations, Organization of African Unity, Third World leaders and others like the Panthers did a few years later. When Malcolm X took part in the famous Oxford Debate in England at the end of 1964 he, like Frederick Douglas a century earlier, condemned western imperialism and colonial domination upon the darker people of the Earth. He didn’t say it behind doors but right in their faces with no fear. Malcolm was the perfect black panther to strike out against oppressors who constantly put Black peoples backs against the wall, not a stuck up bourgeoisie negro or reactionary street thug, but a critical thinking, calculated , dedicated revolutionary that would give rise to the Black Panther Party. If we value Malcolm’s and his wisdom, we need to develop the character for the support of that wisdom because he was truly our Black Manhood, articulated by Ossie Davis at his eulogy, “ he was our manhood, our living Black Manhood , that was his meaning to his people and in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves”. Long live the spirit of Panther Comrade Malcolm X our Progenitor Panther and the Black Panthers who continued his noble mission.
In the Autobiography of Malcolm X, writer M.S. Handler wrote in the Introduction about the reaction of his wife to Malcolm after having invited him to their home and served him some tea while he discussed the book with her husband. Handler described what she thought of Brother Malcolm after he departed their residence in these words, “You know, it was like having tea with a black panther”.
Malik Ismail is an international traveler, historian and activist. He’s explored many cultures in Africa including Ghana, South Africa and Egypt. He’s traveled to Cuba and South America. He visited Rio de Janeiro and Salvador Bahia, Brazil including the favelas of Rocinha and Cidade de Deus (City of God) in Rio and recently returned from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. A former Panther Minister of Information (NPVM) whose writings have been featured in the L.A. Watt’s Times, It’s About Time BPP Newsletter, Rolling Out Magazine and The Black Panther International News Service. Author of the forthcoming book, From Old Guard to Vanguard: A Second Generation Panther. Email: [email protected] Website: http://malikaismail.wix.com/malikismail#!home/mainPage