PBS Premieres a Documentary about the Radical Black Panthers political party on February 16th, 2016.
Did you know the famous “Black power!” call was first coined by the late Stokely Carmichael in June 1966. Carmichael was also founder of the Black Panthers and he was later known as Kwame Ture.
The progress of the Civil Rights movement was running at a snail’s pace, and the number of martyrs dying and disappearing around the South was increasing. Frustrated that things were not happening fast enough, Stokely Carmichael left The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and formed a group for those interested in self-defense.
“The time for running has come to an end. You tell them white folk in Mississippi that all the scared [N-word]s are dead!” he announced.
Carmichael opened the first chapter in Lowndes, Alabama, in 1965. Lowndes was an 80% black, 20% white county where no African-American was allowed to vote. Carmichael had little to do with the organization after that.
After that, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale were the ones who made the Panthers popular. They almost didn’t make it. In 1966, they had opened a storefront in Oakland, but the concept didn’t really catch on until after the assassination of Martin Luther King.
By then, many young African-Americans became disenchanted with what was going on, and that made the idea of confronting police and brandishing weapons very appealing.
Soon after that, Panther chapters began to start up all over the country. Another thing that helped recruit members was when ex-con-turned-best-selling author Eldridge Cleaver came to the Panthers as Minister of Information. Eldridge Cleaver was a media-savvy spokesperson who was very good at soundbites. and his soundbites really antagonized the police and officials in the establishment.
Eldridge Cleaver really knew how to get people fired up, and he called then-Governor Ronald Reagan “a punk, a sissy and a coward.” He even challenged the Gipper to a duel to the death. And after Huey was arrested for involvement in the murder of a police officer, Eldridge threatened open armed war on the streets of the country, if Newton weren’t freed.
Around this time, J. Edgar Hoover decided to destroy the Black Panthers. He cooked up a counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) designed to bring the organization down. Hoover’s FBI embarked on a surreptitious reign of terror against the Black panthers, including frame-ups, disinformation, assassinations and infiltration.
The FBI program worked very well, and paranoia permeated the organization, and then it splintered after the leaders became suspicious of one another. When Huey called Eldridge a coward, Eldridge first quit and then called for hits against anyone still in the Party.
And that is The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. Directed by Stanley Nelson, known for Freedom Riders, it is a warts-and-all documentary.
This is a fascinating film, not only because there is a copious amount of real-life archival footage, but also on account of the many revelations that expose the dark underbelly of the organization that is often given a pass by those who identify with its stated goals. It was an organization with many flaws including misogyny and machismo.
It turns out that The Black Panthers revisited is less of a political party concerned about the welfare of the people than as an internecine power struggle between a couple of larger than life egos.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Excellent (4 stars) Unrated
Running time: 113 minutes Distributor: Firelight Films
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution Premieres on PBS-TV’s Independent Lens on Tuesday, February 16 @ 9 pm ET/PT (Check local listings)
Watch this trailer of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution