Leadership Issues of the Black Panther Party, 1966-1971
Winston Alan Willis
Thesis DT 3.5 1993 W735
viii, 203 leaves; 29 cm.
This thesis will examine a number of leadership issues of the Black Panther Party (1966-1971). The thesis will demonstrate that as the Black Panther Party evolved, its leadership had to contend with a complex set of internal organizational issues and external political forces that are important lessons for present and future Black activists. The role of the Black Panther Party leadership will be treated as a case study within the broader context of African American radical activism. This case study shall take the form of a socio-political history of the Panther leadership as organizers of a significant movement concerned with empowerment, self-defense, and self-determination for African American people nationally. That the Black Panther Party no longer exists may help to explain why the problems that plague urban African American communities are as pervasive today as they were over 25 years ago.
Primary source material provides a foundation for this historical study. In addition to relying on an array of underground newspapers, including the Black Panther Party's official organ The Black Panther, this thesis benefits form interviews conducted with activists associated with the Black Panther Party. Other primary sources, such as autobiographies and essays written by Panther leaders, provide further depth. The aforementioned materials, supported as they are by worthy secondary sources throughout the work, help to obtain the particular perspectives of leading Panther activists.
The Black Panther Party leadership maintained organizational autonomy in its dealings with Black and White political groups alike. Panther organizational relations with Black groups tended to suffer from the distrust, intergroup competition, and political immaturity that often characterized the period. The Panther leadership enjoyed a more productive relationship with White groups, influencing the trajectory of leftist politics in the United States. As Panther leaders dealt with these external organizational issues, however, the internal question of what the role of women in the Black Panther Party should be came to the fore as female Panther activists challenged sexism and patriarchy in the group. The gains these women made were due more to their struggle against marginalization than to the actions of Panther males.
The leaders of the Black Panther Party operated within a climate of intensifying state repression at the local, state and national level which was the pivotal cause of the group's demise. A number of former Panthers remain incarcerated as political prisoners because of this repressive apparatus. The leaders of the Black Panther Party met with successes and failures in carrying out their political activities. That the leadership of the Black Panther Party succeeded to the extent that it did is a testament to the overall achievement of the organization.