Organizing Rage: Understanding the Black Panther Party Movement and Ideology (by Sergio Rodriguez)

TITLE:

Organizing Rage: Understanding the Black Panther Party Movement and Ideology

STANDARDS: 

California Common Core State Standards

Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

3. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Craft and Structure:

6. Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

8. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

2. Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

9. Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

OVERVIEW:

This project will focus on Eldridge Cleaver’s 1969 Credo for Rioters and Looters and its reflection or contribution to Black Panther Party ideology. By analyzing Eldridge Cleaver’s words, beliefs, and sentiments, this will help students understand the political and historical context of the late 1960s, define Black Panther Party ideology, and reflect on continuities in today’s history.

FRAMEWORK: 

It is important that students in high school are introduced to differing civil rights movements, ideologies, and perspectives so that they can feel empowered and learn more about other suppressed narratives in history books. This lesson will attempt to showcase the Black Panther Party in a more critical manner where students will challenge the assumptions and ideas they have made through socialization and state suppression efforts. The students will be able to exercise the following skills: Internet research skills, effective writing skills, critical thinking skills, effective argument-making skills, and public speaking skills.

Through an intensive five-day teaching plan, students will be able to focus more on the party’s significance and contributions it made to the Civil Rights Movement. First, the lesson will ask the students to brainstorm about the ways society has painted the Black Panther Party and highlight the students’ knowledge of the movement and claims they have heard attributed to the Black Panthers. They will then read two primary sources, one containing the ideology of the Black Panther Party by a Black Panther and the other source, a credo, issued by the Black Panther Party. The last two days will allow the students to become more personally involved with the text through a journal entry and newspaper article. This will allow them to see the ways in which strong sentiments and emotions can play a big role in fueling social change and mobilization. Lastly, they will decide whether their perspectives have changed throughout the five-day lesson plan, whether the Black Panther Party is inherently “evil, violent, and radical,” and whether any of the events happening during this era are happening and relevant today.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING:

Students will understand Black Panther Party ideology through the words of a Black Panther himself, challenge assumptions and mass-media portrayal of them, understand their feelings during the late 1960s and demonstrate whether historical continuities or shifts have taken place today.

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS: 

  1. In Cleaver’s Credo for Rioters and Looters, what are some prominent forms of ideology that are central to the Black Panther Party ideology? Are there any differences?
  2. Does Cleaver attempt to exhibit his opinion in his Credo for Rioters and Looters or does he try to incorporate solely Black Panther ideology?
  3. In 1969, to what extent was Cleaver’s looting and burning America a call for civil disobedience versus a call for righteousness?
  4. Why does current public high school education resort to either eliminating the history of the Black Panther Party or framing it in a negative manner?
  5. How does Cleaver’s Credo for Rioters and Looters reflect historical continuities today?

GLOSSARY: 

Credo (noun)any creed or formula of belief; a statement of the beliefs or aims that guide someone’s actions.

Black Panther Party: an organization of revolutionary community organizers. They fought against white racial prejudice and were extremely critical of the gap between American democratic ideals and the reality of segregation and discrimination in America.

Eldridge Cleaver: also known as Leroy Eldridge Cleaver, was an American writer, and political activist, who became an early leader of the Black Panther Party.

Loot (verb): to carry off or take (something) as loot; plunder or pillage (a city, house, etc.); to rob

Riot (verb): to participate in a noisy, violent public disorder caused by a group or crowd of persons, as by a crowd protesting against another group, government policy, etc., in the streets. 

Marauder (noun): a person who marauds; a raider.

Blue Ribbon Commission: in the United States, a blue ribbon commission (or a blue-ribbon panel) is a group of exceptional people appointed to investigate or study or analyze a given question.

Stokely Carmichael: officially Kwame Touré, was a Trinidadian-American revolutionary active in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and later, the global Pan-African movement.

Rap Brown: officially Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, and during a short-lived alliance between SNCC and the Black Panther Party, he served as their Minister of Justice.

SNCC: short for Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, often pronounced “snick,” was one of the most important organizations of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. SNCC played a major role in the sit-ins and freedom rides, a leading role in the 1963 March on Washington, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

LeRoi Jones: also known as Amiri Baraka, was an African-American writer of poetry, drama, fiction, essays and music criticism.

INTRODUCTION: 

The end of the World War II was a golden age in black American journalism and activism. Many organizations sprang up and shared sentiments of Pan-African unity, anti-capitalism, anti-colonialism and anti-racism were cultivated. African Americans, on a large scale, started to realize that their descendants came from Africa and soon began to see a shared “sense of kinship with colored and oppressed peoples of the world” (Eschen 7). The shared struggles of Blacks were also tied to the struggles against imperialism and exploitation in “India, China, Burma, Africa, the Philippines, Malaya, the West Indies, and South America” (Eschen 8). Hence, there was a sense of solidarity felt between these communities of color. For black communities, the black press became the main vehicle through which public intellectuals discussed issues in Africa, the Caribbean, and international affairs; thus, trying to create an international anti-colonial discourse.

When it came to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, history has, for the most part, idolized and patronized the movement headed by Martin luther King Jr. because it was nonviolent. However, the Black Panther Party arose in the late 1960s to fight against white racial prejudice and be extremely critical of the gap between American democratic ideals and the reality of segregation and discrimination in America. The Black Panther Party’s ideology served as an alternative to the prominent (and favored), strictly nonviolent forms of resistance in order to bring about equality in America, which in many ways, challenged peaceful coercion for blacks to submit to white supremacist institutions of justice. One prominent Black Panther was Eldridge Cleaver, whose fine and remarkable writing led him to become the voice of the organization. “Attracted to Newton’s courage, and building upon the Panther’s newfound fame, new Panther recruit Eldridge Cleaver used his networks and eloquence to forge powerful alliances with other leftists and black nationalists” (Bloom, Joshua, and Martin 98). The ideology of the Black Panther Party, thus, became the historical experience of Black people and the wisdom by Black people in their 400 year-long struggles against the system of racist oppression and economic exploitation.

In his 1969 “Credo for Rioters and Looters,” Eldridge Cleaver explicitly showcases his frustration with the American system of governance and hopes that by shooting, looting, and burning America – literally and figuratively – this can lead to the United States recognizing blacks’ sense of humanity and the need to restore dignity for all human beings. He puts an emphasis on police brutality and the hypocrisy of the United States in trying to provide freedoms for others but not for its own citizens. In addition, the source is evident of this time period’s anxiety, anger, and frustration with the civil rights movement and criticism of the Vietnam War.

MATERIALS: 

Cleaver, Eldridge. Credo for Rioters and Looters. Place of Publication Not Identified: Black Panther Party, 1969. Print.

Cleaver, Eldridge. On the Ideology of the Black Panther Party. San Francisco: Ministry of Information, Black Panther Party, 1970. Print.

ACTIVITES:

The way I envision this lesson to be taught in a high school setting is to have it come right after the students have learned about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and other prominent figures in the Civil Rights Movement. The importance of having this traditional background is that it will allow the students to compare and contrast the traditional non-violent movement versus that of a party who has traditionally been described as being “radical” and “violent.” This will also shine light on the continuous repression of the Black Panther Party by the state and the lack of historical mentions of the Black Panther Party in high school public education.

Ideally, this would a week-long lesson, during Advanced Placement United States History (APUSH) or non-AP United States history class in the student’s junior year in high school.

The lesson would follow the following agenda:

Day One: Reflection and Brainstorming [45-50 minutes]

The students will need a pencil or pen and a piece of paper to take notes on the following questions that will be asked by the teacher to get the students thinking. The teacher should also take notes of the students’ answers since they will need these for one of the final assignments.

Answer the following questions:

1. How many of you have heard of the Black Panther Party?

* Take note of the number of students who have heard of the Black Panther Party.

2. If you have heard of them, how? If you haven’t heard of them, why do you think that?

3. What are the things that you have heard about them?

4. Are they positive, negative or neutral? Why is that?

5. What is radical? What is violent? What are the connotations of the word? Can these ever be positive?

*Assign Eldridge Cleaver’s On the Ideology of the Black Panther Party as required reading for the next class. Ask the students to highlight the most important parts of the reading and pick out their favorite paragraph, phrase, or idea.

Day Two: Black Panther Ideology by a Black Panther [45-50 minutes]

Discuss the assigned reading in a socratic seminar style. Ask the students to share their favorite part about the text with the person next to them (this should take approximately 5 minutes). Afterwards, ask some students to share their favorite part or their neighbor’s favorite part of the reading (this should take approximately 5-10 minutes). Allow for a 15-20 minute conversation for students to share their findings and perspectives on the reading.

Answer the following questions:

1. Through Cleaver’s words, what is the basis of the Black Panther Party?

2. Do their actions condone or advocate for a non-violent and/or violent approach during the Civil Rights Movement?

3. Are they radical? Is that a good or bad thing?

4. How is the Black Panther Party different than Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks? How is it similar?

*Assign Eldridge Cleaver’s Credo for Rioters and Looters as required reading for the next class. Ask the students to highlight the most important parts of the reading and pick out their favorite paragraph, phrase, or idea.

Day Three: Credo for Rioters and Looters [45-50 minutes]

Discuss the assigned reading in a socratic seminar style. Ask the students to share their favorite part about the text with the person next to them (this should take approximately 5 minutes). Afterwards, ask some students to share their favorite part or their neighbor’s favorite part of the reading (this should take approximately 5-10 minutes). Allow for a 15-20 minute conversation for students to share their findings and perspectives on the reading.

Answer the following questions:

1. What are the main findings of this reading?

2. Does this Credo advocate for violence or nonviolence? Why?

3. Does it reflect Black Panther Party ideology?

4. Why is Eldridge Cleaver frustrated? Are his feelings justified?

5. Does Cleaver use literary and figurative devices? If so, which ones? Why? How do these literary techniques strengthen or hinder the main argument?

*Assign the students to do a journal entry to put themselves in Eldridge Cleaver’s shoes and describe the way in which he or she would feel during the time he was a Black Panther. This assignment should reflect the student’s comprehension of Black Panther Party ideology.

Day Four: Discovering Sentiments within the Black Community  [45-50 minutes]

Some students will be excited to share their journal entry. Please allow 20-25 minutes for students to share their entries in front of class and discuss them in detail. Ask the students how they felt when writing them. Lastly, make sure to ask about the feelings and sentiments of Eldridge Cleaver.

Afterwards, answer the following questions:

1. When writing, how did you feel? Why did you feel a certain way?

2. Was the assignment difficult? Why is that? If the assignment was easy, why was that?

3. Was there a feeling, an emotion, or a sentiment that was left out in your writing? Why or why not?

*Assign the students to go home and take some time, preferably 30-45 minutes, in research of a news article where a certain community of color used Black Panther Party ideology to act or take means in the United States to fight against oppression in present day. If possible, print the news article and bring them to class. If the student does not have printer access, they can go ahead and email them to the teacher so that he/she can print the students’ articles for next day’s class. If the student does not have internet access either, please ask them to let the teacher know so that he/she can give them a copy of the LA Times before they go home and they can find their article there.

Day Five: The Past, the Present and the Future — Historical Continuities and Shifts [45-50 minutes]

Take some time today, as the final day, to discuss some of the articles that students were able to find. If some students found the same article, they can group together and discuss their findings (this should take 5 minutes).

Allow for a 10-15 minute conversation about the Black Panther Party’s ideology and tactics. Ask the following questions:

1. Was the Black Panther Party effective? Why or why not?

2. Is it important to talk about the Black Panther Party in public education? Should history books continue to erase and/or silence this history?

3. Why does Black Panther Party ideology pose a challenge for United States history?

4. Are there any continuities of history’s past? Are there any shifts or evolutions in history? In other words, how is this

Lastly, reflect on how much they have learned and bring out the notes from the first day. Ask whether their their perspectives have changed or remained the same throughout the lesson plan. Finally, provide them with the additional resources (at the bottom of this page) if they would like to know more about Black Panther Party.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES: 

Bloom, Joshua, and Waldo E. Martin. Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. Berkeley: U of California, 2013. Print.

Cleaver, Kathleen, and George N. Katsiaficas. Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Panthher Legacy. New York: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Davenport, Christian. Media Bias, Perspective, and State Repression: The Black Panther Party. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Jones, Charles E. “The Political Repression of the Black Panther Party 1966-1971: The Case of the Oakland Bay Area.” Journal of Black Studies (1988): 415-434.

WORKS CITED:

Bloom, Joshua, and Waldo E. Martin. Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. Berkeley: U of California, 2013. Print.

Von Eschen, Penny M. Race against empire: Black Americans and anticolonialism, 1937–1957. Cornell University Press, 1997.

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