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Up Against the Wall

Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party

Curtis J. Austin

Publication Year: 2008

Curtis J. Austin’s Up Against the Wall chronicles how violence brought about the founding of the Black Panther Party in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, dominated its policies, and finally destroyed the party as one member after another—Eldridge Cleaver, Fred Hampton, Alex Rackley—left the party, was killed, or was imprisoned. Austin shows how the party’s early emphasis in the 1960s on self-defense, though sorely needed in black communities at the time, left it open to mischaracterization, infiltration, and devastation by local, state, and federal police forces and government agencies. Austin carefully highlights the internal tension between advocates of a more radical position than the Panthers took, who insisted on military confrontation with the state, and those such as Newton and David Hilliard, who believed in community organizing and alliance building as first priorities. Austin interviewed a number of party members who had heretofore remained silent. With the help of these stories, Austin is able to put the violent history of the party in perspective and show that the “survival” programs, such as the Free Breakfast for Children program and Free Health Clinics, helped the black communities they served to recognize their own bases of power and ability to save themselves.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

After years of research that included often difficult-to-obtain interviews with former Black Panther Party members, historian Curtis J. Austin presents his extensive work in Up Against the Wall: Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party. In this book, he uncovers historical evidence related to the often misunderstood facts about the Black Panther Party and offers readers an interesting venue with which to ...

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pp. xi-xxiii

“Who in the hell are these niggers with these guns?”1 Bobby Seale, Bobby Hutton, Sherman Forte, and two dozen other compatriots, swathed in black leather and sporting berets and shotguns, marched through the state capitol in Sacramento in search of the California General Assembly. These self-appointed leaders of the fledgling Black Panther Party for Self- Defense, founded in Oakland ...


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pp. xxv-xxix

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1. Civil Wrongs and the Rise of Black Power

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pp. 1-47

BECAUSE THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY FIT into the context of a nationwide black struggle for human and civil rights, this chapter explores the origins and development of Black Power as a guiding philosophy and presents a history of armed self-defense that unfolds alongside the growing frustrations of younger, more radical activists. Given this context, the Panthers’ evolution from the earlier ...

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2. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

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pp. 49-88

AFTER ABOUT A MONTH OF GOING IN AND out of their office on Fifty-sixth and Grove in Oakland openly displaying their weapons, the moment of truth finally arrived.1 Bobby Seale wrote that by early 1967 “Huey was on a level where he was ready to organize the black brothers for a righteous revolutionary struggle with guns and force.” In addition to its founders, the Black Panther Party’s ...

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3. Speaking of Violence

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pp. 89-112

VIOLENT RHETORIC HAD TWO MAJOR effects on the BPP. One influenced its growth and the other helped to bring about its destruction. First, it served as a magnet for disaffected youth in America’s ghettos. White radicals and student activists also picked up on this current and followed suit with their own violent rhetoric. Second, and more ominously, Panther rhetoric placed a ...

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4. Publicizing the Party

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pp. 113-158

WHEN THE PANTHERS ORGANIZED AGAINST the violence that pervaded black lives, they inadvertently helped to set off a chain of events that eventually led to their violent repression. In 1968, however, the Panthers could not yet see the trajectory of their organization and were too invested to change tactics. Huey Newton’s murder trial dramatically demonstrated this fact. ...

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5. Growth and Transformation

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pp. 159-188

DESPERATELY TRYING TO GIVE THE NATION, and perhaps himself, a better understanding of the new black militancy that captured the hearts and souls of so many blacks, particularly the young, Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, “I should have known that in an atmosphere where false promises are daily realities, where acts of unpunished violence towards Negroes are a way of life, nonviolence ...

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6. Unjustifiable Homicides

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pp. 189-248

FRED HAMPTON, THE RISING CHICAGO leader of the Panthers, possessed a charisma and effectiveness that won him the uncoveted honor of being placed on the FBI’s Rabble Rouser Index, a monitoring program set up in August 1967 to “identify individuals prominent in stirring up civil disorders.” Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1948, his only crime had been to organize high school students to protest their ...

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7. Southern Discomfort

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pp. 249-272

PARTLY AS A RESULT OF THE INCREASING pressure to disband, in 1969 the Panthers began using a different organizational tactic. Chief of staff David Hilliard noted that “out of the United Front Against Fascism Conference in July, 1969 came the National Committee to Combat Fascism,” which “set up centers of operation in Black and White Communities across the country.” These ...

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8. To the East . . . and Back

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pp. 273-296

BETWEEN 1968 AND 1970, THE BLACK Panther Party spread from northern and Southern California all the way east to New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maryland. Before reaching the east coast, the party set up chapters and affiliates in places like Denver, Omaha, Nebraska, Kansas City, Missouri, Des Moines, Iowa, Dallas, Detroit, and Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio. In all these locales, the ...

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9. The Rift

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pp. 297-333

TOWARD THE END OF 1969 AND IN EARLY 1970, a rift began to appear in the BPP. Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown, among others, claimed this rift, primarily between leaders and followers of Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, resulted from ideological differences. Others insist such a division had a natural place in organizations like the BPP and the rift had always existed; only the public did not know ...

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pp. 335-348

The role violence played in the making and unmaking of the BPP is significant. The violence of dilapidated housing, long-term unemployment, and inadequate education helped lay the groundwork for the Black Panther Party. Once the extreme violence of police brutality entered into this mix, the stage was set for the BPP’s commencement. Panther leaders capitalized on the rampant police brutality of their day to get the ...

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pp. 349-352

Thanks to the Creator for giving us all a place in which to live, work, play, read, and write. I am grateful to a number of wonderful people who in no small way helped bring this project to fruition. Dr. Robert L. Jenkins, my dissertation advisor turned good friend has nurtured and guided me through the brier patch of writing a history of the living. His patience and realistic worldview have helped me to see the light of day on many a dark ...


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pp. 353-355


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pp. 356-358


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pp. 359-360


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pp. 361-395


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pp. 397-430


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pp. 431-438


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pp. 439-456

E-ISBN-13: 9781610754446
E-ISBN-10: 1610754441
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557288752
Print-ISBN-10: 1557288755

Page Count: 456
Illustrations: 20 photographs, 12 drawings
Publication Year: 2008