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United Farm Workers & Black Panther Party

Smithsonian NMAAHC

Children assembling bags, courtesy of the Smithsonian

The United Farm Workers, a largely Mexican American, nonviolent, rural and Catholic labour union founded in 1962 by Cesar Chavez. The Black Panther Party, an African American, militant, urban and socialist organization founded in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. The two organizations could not be more different. However, they had one factor in common. They were both minority groups in a common struggle against oppression. Therefore, it’s not surprising the two groups united by 1968 in support of each other. Even though the BPP’s “Ten-Point Program” demanded the right “to determine the destiny of, and end the robbery by the capitalist of the Black Community”, they really demanded the right for all minorities, not just African American. Bobby Seale called for all minorities to unite as the fight from oppression was not a matter of race struggles alone, but also of class. Cesar Chavez was able to employ similar tactics as the Black Panthers by boycotting and protesting against establishments like Safeway supermarkets. Safeway was stocking their shelves with non-union lettuce (lettuce farmed by non-union workers) and the United Farm Workers called the BPP to come in and help them protest and close down the Oakland Safeway stores. The BPP agreed and decided to boycott a Safeway in Oakland that refused to donate food to the Breakfast Program held at St. Augustine’s Church. The boycott was so successful, in part because the BPP shuttled people to other grocery stores, that they closed down the Safeway in a few days. With these efforts, the UFW gained national recognition. Hence, the BPP was able to acknowledge the efforts of the UFW against Safeway grocery stores as to make change happen. Ultimately, these two groups had very different ideologies and ethnicities. Yet, they were able to unit for a common cause showing that the struggles for oppression go beyond any political, social and economic difference.

  1. Lauren Araiza, “In Common Struggle against a Common Oppression: The United Farm Workers and the Black Panther Party, 1968-1973,” The Journal of African American History Vol. 94, No. 2, Spring 2009): 200-209.
  2. Araiza,  “In Common Struggle against a Common Oppression” 200-209.

 

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Hoover v. Panthers

Image Courtesy of Ontheblacklist.net

The BPP’s had a looming enemy, J. Edgar Hoover. He hated the Panthers and tried to shut them down at every possible chance, especially regarding the breakfast program. Historian Donna Murch summarized Hoover’s intent with her quote that “J. Edgar Hoover declares the Black Panther Party the greatest threat to the internal security to the United States in 1968, at exactly the moment they turn to providing social services.” The FBI and Hoover did not want the breakfast program to rally and solidify the black community around the Panthers.
Twenty-seven known political intelligence operations were used to disrupt specifically the breakfast program, around several others, like speaking engagements. The FBI sent letters to businesses supporting the movement to try and force them to stop their contributions, and to churches and other meeting places to tell their owners not to host BPP events. The FBI was even so bold as to send letters to members inside the group to create and exacerbate tension and to pit members against one another, creating rifts and a sense of paranoia.

  1. Charles E Jones, “The Political Repression of the Black Panther Party 1966-1971: The Case of the Oakland Bay Area.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 18, no. 4, 1988, pp. 415–434.
  2. Jones, The Political Repression of the Black Panther Party 1966-1971, pp. 415-420.

 

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Kent Ford and the Portland Panthers

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Image of Kent Jones sitting with children at the Portland Panthers’ Breakfast Program for Children, Courtesy of The Oregon Encyclopedia

April of 1968 was a major turning point in the civil rights movement due to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. As a result Black citizens protested in the streets and began to riot in major cities all over the country. Following Dr. King’s death, a small study group of about twenty members formed in Portland to study the writings of Malcolm X. When the police became known of this study group they beat and arrested Kent Ford, one of the groups members. Immediately after his release from jail, Kent Ford held a press conference in front on the steps of the police station stating, “If they keep coming in with these fascist tactics… we´re going to defend ourselves.” Ford and the remaining members of his small study group decided to restructure themselves as a part of the Black Panther Party and traveled to California to request approval from Huey Newton. Huey Newton accepted their request, and Kent Ford quickly opened their first Portland office on the southeast corner of Northeast Cook Street and Union Avenue (present-day Martin Luther King Boulevard). Kent Ford and the Portland Panthers acted quickly, opening up the first Children’s Breakfast Program at the Highland United Church of Christ by the end of that year. This program provided food for 125 children each morning before school. In addition to the Children’s Breakfast Program, the Portland Panthers also organized a Health Clinic extending free medical care five evenings a week, as well as a dental clinic.

  1. Martha Gies, Black Panthers in portland, (Portland State University and the Oregon Historical Society, 2017). pp. 15-20.
  2. Gies, Black Panthers in portland 

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The Panthers Provide Breakfast for Schoolchildren

breakfast program children

Image Courtesy of Independent Lens

Starting off in Oakland, California, the Free Breakfast Program for Schoolchildren became rapidly successful. Its goal was simple, to “provide a free, hot, and nutritionally balanced breakfast for any child who attended the program.” The meals provided for the children were easy to prepare and contained common ingredients, which made it easy for other organizations and groups to conduct similar programs. The average meal contained eggs, toast, jam, and bacon. The Panthers conducted a very organized system with capacity sizes for their spaces to feed at least 50 children at a time. They had to make sure there was a sufficient amount of utensils and plates every morning as well as enough space to place children who may have to wait before eating. The breakfast program had a minimum of ten people working each morning. Their jobs included traffic control to help the children cross the street, servers and table attendants, chefs, and a person running the sign-in at the front. The funds for these programs came from a wide variety of donors. These donors included community members, foundations, churches and other similar organizations. In order to build a community around the breakfast program, the panthers would ask the parents of the children to volunteer some mornings to help prepare the meals. Community members greatly appreciated all that the panthers had done for their children which lead to the success of the breakfast program.

  1. David Hillard, The Black Panther Party: Service to the People Programs (Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, 2008) accessed April 1, 2017. pp 30 – 35. Print.
  2. Hillard, The Black Panther Party: Service to the People Programs

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The Free Food Program

Image courtesy of People’s Free Food Program, Atlanta Blackstar

The Black Panther Party established the Free Food Program as a form of survival program in order to keep the revolution moving forward. They were aware that this program wouldn’t completely fix everything, but the party knew that this was a necessary step if they were going to achieve success. The program was designed to provide an ongoing supply of food to meet the daily needs of the community and also, to deliver periodic mass distributions of food to the larger segments that required more food. A great deal of thought and planning went into maintaining this program and the party required a large number of facilities and equipment. A minimum of a week’s supply of food was provided in each bag courtesy of donations from local grocery store owners and and wholesale food dealers. Through this program, the Black Panther Party was able to peacefully boycott the unfair prices that white store owners were charging to local black communities.

  1. David Hilliard, The Black Panther Party: Service to the People Programs (Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, 2008), accessed March 30, 2017. Print.
  2.  Hilliard, The Black Panther Party

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