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3 REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY The Black Panther Party supports you and all your efforts in your effort for the liberation of all black people....Not only do we have 26 chapters of the Black Panther Party...but our struggle for liberation is supported by black, brown, red, and yellow brothers and sisters all over the world. Our Minister of Education, George Murray and Captain Ford of New York went to Cuba and the brothers and sisters there say The sky is the limit if our Minister of Defense, Huey P. Newton, is not set free. —Black Panther, September 1968 From 1966 to 1971 the BPP grew from a small Oakland-based group to an international organization that operated at one time or another in sixty-one American cities and had more than two thousand members.1 The Panther Party ’s rapid growth was fueled by its militant reputation, which attracted large numbers of adventurous and politically curious youth. Young blacks across the country became involved in the Free Huey campaign. Panther offices opened seemingly overnight, and urban streets were filled with demonstrators demanding not only Newton’s freedom but also self-determination, community control of police, and an end to the Vietnam War. The dangers of unregulated growth, however, quickly became clear when police infiltrators convinced some young Panthers to engage in provocative actions that resulted in many arrests and convictions. Others needed no persuading . They were convinced that the revolution had come and that it was time to pick up the gun. By late 1968, however, the police were prepared to handle the earlier Panther tactics.These methods had become too dangerous and counterproductive. National headquarters discouraged conducting citizens’ arrests, patrolling the police, and carrying weapons. Newton’s conviction and the need for a more disciplined organization forced the central committee to begin purging undis- regional development of the black panther party / 47 ciplined members and instituting PE classes and survival programs. The central committee tried to build a disciplined organization that would obey orders without asking questions.2 Community activists working in the Free Huey movement outside of California began claiming Panther status in 1968. Official charters, however, were only awarded to groups that agreed to meet the standards set by central headquarters in Oakland. Aspirants who wanted to begin chapters were summoned to Oakland (or came on their own) for six weeks of training, PE, and indoctrination in the ten-point program and platform and the party rules and regulations . Volunteers also attended classes to learn administrative procedures. Local chapters were ordered to submit weekly written reports that covered organizing activities, progress in implementing programs, significant proposals for new operations, relations with other groups, and content of PE classes. Financial reports were to be filed monthly.3 Leaders were then approved to form a chapter and allowed to assume a title such as deputy chairman, deputy minister of defense, or defense captain. Local offices were controlled and vetted in this manner because the central committee wanted to exclude police agents and “rally Panthers.” “Rally Panthers” were those who never worked on more mundane tasks. They specialized in showing up for special events where they could display their leather jackets and berets.4 The central committee also became familiar with out-of-state personnel through other means. A national retreat was held in November 1968, and an ideological institute for leaders was begun in 1970. These activities allowed members to become familiar with each other and party policy. Panthers believed these face-to-face relationships were very important in building trust and unity within their besieged organization. There were thirteen BPP chapters, twenty National Committee to Combat Fascism (NCCF) offices, several community information centers, and an international section in Algiers. The NCCFs began in 1969 as a Panther organizing bureau after undisciplined elements were purged.5 NCCFs sold the Black Panther , established community programs, held PE classes, subjected themselves to the same discipline, and adhered to the party’s political line like regular chapters. An NCCF office was sometimes started from a former Panther branch that had been disbanded for not having enough members or failing to obey or- 48 / chapter 3 ders. The NCCFs were technically open to whites. So far as is known, however , whites worked only in the Berkeley, California, office. Black NCCF of- fices saw membership as an opportunity to demonstrate their suitability for full BPP chapter status. For instance, NCCF workers...


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