From Guns to Butter: Ruth Beckford-Smith

(Picture: Charles Bursey serving breakfast,

The BPP Free Breakfast was launched in Oakland in 1968 at Father Earl A. Neil’s St. Augustine Episcopal church. It was coordinated by local parishioner, Ruth Beckford-Smith. Ruth first found interest in the BPP after teaching a, Afro-Haitian dance class to young women at that same church. In one of her classes was LaVerne Williams, Huey Newton’s girlfriend. Ruth jumped at the chance to organize the program once she found out about it. Along with Father Neil, she consulted local nutritionists to construct a healthy menu for the kids and made sure the kitchen and church hall was properly inspected by the health and safety departments. To host a breakfast program, the space needed to be able to hold 50 people and have 10 people there working. It quickly became so successful that at the end of the very first week, Ruth was serving 135 children daily, as opposed to just 11 on the first day. As the program got bigger, it became mandatory for all chapters to have a program. 

  1. Joshua Bloom and Martin E. Waldo, Black against empire: the history and politics of the Black Panther Party (Oakland: U of California Press, 2016), accessed March 16, 2017. Print.
  2. Bloom and E. Waldo, Black against empire

National Geographic

History Makers

Anglican & Episcopal History 

The Breakfast Program


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s