Against Fascism: The Black Panther Party and Interracial Organizing (by Miriam Raffel-Smith)


Standards: CA Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies Grade 11-12:

Key Ideas and Details: #2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Integration of knowledge and ideas: #7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

#9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

History Social Science Content Standards for CA Public Schools Grade 11:

Content Standards 11.10 – Students analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights.

#5. Discuss the diffusion of the civil rights movement of African Americans from the churches of the rural South and the urban North, including the resistance to racial desegregation in Little Rock and Birmingham, and how the advances influenced the agendas, strategies, and effectiveness of the quests of American Indians, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans for civil rights and equal opportunities.

Content Standard 11.11 – Students analyze the major social problems and domestic policy issues in contemporary American society.

#6. Analyze the persistence of poverty and how different analyses of this issue influence welfare reform, health insurance reform, and other social policies.


Overview:

This lesson plan will educate students about the Conference for a United Front Against Fascism (UFAF) organized by the Black Panther Party (BPP), and its connection to broader examples of interracial organizing and the development of the New Left during the late 1960’s. It will focus first on the context of the conference and the growth of interracial class-based organizing during the late 1960’s. The teacher will highlight the leadership role of the Black Panther Party within the conference, and how this was indicative of changing dynamics around interracial organizing within the BPP. The conference will be contextualized as an example of the growing power and popularity of the New Left, and the self-identification of those within the New-Left as anti-imperialist/anti-capitalist. Next, the lesson plan will cover the events of the conference, specifically its focus on local police control, legal support for political prisoners, and self defense. The curriculum will identify notable speakers and events, including Seale’s opening speech in which he stated that, “we will not be free until Brown, Red, Yellow, Black, and all other peoples of color are unchained.”1

Studying the Conference for a United Front Against Fascism will provide students with more intensive and tangible knowledge about the Black Panther Party in the 1960’s, and highlight the ways in which black power organizations were connected to both traditional civil rights organizers and revolutionary communist/socialist political groups.This lesson plan will challenge a hegemonic educational and political narrative — in which the Black Panthers are typically only taught in opposition to mainstream African American leaders like MLK — by providing a more holistic and organizing based narrative.  This lesson plan will explain how the Conference for a United Front Against Fascism is simultaneously a departure from the earlier stances of the BPP which focused largely on the black community, and a continuation of the BPP’s radical political and organizing efforts. The Conference for A United Front Against Fascism is a poignant reminder of the role that the Black Panther Party played within the broader New Left Movement, and the ways in which their actions and ideological framework served as an example for other race liberation movements.

1. Spencer, Robyn C. “The Black Panther Party and Black Anti-Fascism in the United States.” Duke University Press. 26 January 2017, https:// dukeupress.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/the-black-panther-party-and-black-anti-fascism-in-the-united-states/


Essential Understanding:

Students will understand the broader implications of the Conference for a United Front Against Fascism as a demonstration of the central role of the Black Panther Party within the New Left and the increased growth of interracial organizing during the late 1960s.


Questions:

  1. Who/what was the Black Panther Party?
  2. How did the Black Panther Party’s approach to organizing change overtime? Especially in regards to their collaboration with other organizations and political movements.
  3. What was the New Left and how was it connected to the Black Panther party?
  4. What did organizations like the Black Panther Party mean when they used the term “fascism?” How was the cause of “antifascism” used to unite a myriad of racial and ethnic groups?
  5. What was the purpose and focus of the Conference for the United Front against Fascism (UFAF)?

Glossary:

  • Fascism – “extreme authoritarian, oppressive, or intolerant views or practices.” (Oxford Dictionary)
  • Black Power – “A movement in support of rights and political power for black people, especially prominent in the US in the 1960s and 1970s.” (Oxford Dictionary)
  • Imperialism – “the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas” (Merriam-Webster)’
  • New Left – “a political movement originating especially among students in the 1950s, favoring confrontational tactics, often breaking with older leftist ideologies, and concerned especially with antiwar, antinuclear, feminist, and ecological issues” (Merriam-Webster)
  • Popular Front – A coalition of communist, socialist, and radical organizations that gained power and popularity in various countries, including Spain, France, and the United States, in the 1930s. (adapted from Oxford Dictionary)

Introduction:

The Conference for a United Front Against Fascism was a three-day event in July, 1969 which brought over 4,000 activists to Oakland, CA. The conference was organized by the Black Panther Party, a famous black militant political organization founded in 1967 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. The Black Panther Party was largely created in response to the inequalities and injustices experienced by African American people living in urban cities. While the Civil Rights Movement had been existence for over ten years when the Black Panthers’ were founded, many African Americans were disappointed by how the Civil Rights Movement had failed to fix issues of police brutality and housing inequality. The Black Panther Party was initially focused on addressing the plague of police violence by patrolling the police in their neighborhoods with guns. Their use of weapons and guns to challenge the police force gained national attention and continues to be one of the defining narratives surrounding the Black Panther Party. While the Black Panthers embodied a form of militant activism through their use of guns and their outward physical presentation, as the organization developed they became involved in a myriad of other activities. By 1967, the Party was primarily focused on providing direct services, like free breakfast for children, to the broader community. By the 1970, the Black Panther Party had grown in scope and size with offices open in 68 cities. Throughout their existence, the Black Panther Party continued to embrace the idea of black power, embodying this ideology in their organizing events, clothing choices, music, and much more.

In general, the 1960’s was defined by widespread political organizing and activism. Many students of color across the country were organizing on their campuses for ethnic studies departments and increased resources for students of color. Other organizations, like the Young Lord’s Party or the Red Guard, drew inspiration from the Black Panthers and other black power groups, to form militant groups focused on the rights of other ethnic or racial minorities. At the same time, controversy surrounding the Vietnam War was fueling the anti-war movement and increasing government critique among large segments of the American public. Since their formation, the Black Panther Party had maintained an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist stance, which meant very broadly that they opposed both America’s use of power and influence in other foreign countries, and the existing economic system in the United States. When other organizing groups were developing across the country, many of them began to look to the Black Panther’s for advice and leadership. As the Black Panther Party began to grow as an organization and became more aware of their leadership role within the broader activist communities, they began to frame their struggle for black power and equality as connected to a broader fight for the rights and equality of all people of color and members of the working-class in the United States and abroad. One way in which the Black Panthers expanded the scope of their movement was by describing their efforts as part of a broader anti-fascist struggle. While the word fascism has a number of different interpretations, the Black Panthers typically used it to describe the state repression of these new political movements – in other words, attempts by the US government to limit the power of these radical, and often controversial, organizations that were developing throughout America.

By 1968, the Black Panther Party was increasingly involved in tangible protests and organizing events with other groups across the country. A perfect example of the work that the Black Panther Party did in coordination with other organizations is the Conference for a United Front Against Fascism which they hosted in the summer of 1969. The Conference for a United Front Against Fascism was a three-day event that was attended by a myriad of racial, ethnic and political organizing groups, including the Young Lords, the Young Patriots Organization, and the Students for a Democratic Society. This three-day event included events and speeches on a wide variety of topics such as armed self-defense, political prisoners, the role of women and sexism within these organizations, the connections between political organizations and religious groups, and much more. Speakers at the event included current Black Panthers, lawyers, and politicians. Scholars point to the broad nature of this conference and the diversity of those in attendance and those involved in leading the event as indicative of the Black Panther’s collaboration with a diverse set of organizations and political causes.


Materials:

  1. Black Against Empire Ch 13
  2. “No More” by The Lumpen
  3. “No More” Lyrics
  4. Powerpoint presentation – Black Panther Party pictures
  5. “The Black Panther Party and Black Anti-Fascism in the United States”
  6. Haunted by Hitler : Liberals, the Left, and the Fight Against Fascism in the United States Ch 6
  7. News Clip from the Conference for the United Front Against Fascism
  8. Stanford Daily article about the UFAF (original newspaper publication)
  9. Copy of text from Stanford Daily article
  10. Primary Sources Worksheet

Activities:

Prior to the first day: Students will read pages 288 – 301 from Black Against Empire.

Day 1 – Total lesson time = 55 mins

5 mins – students listen to the song “No More” by The Lumpen – lyric sheet will be provided to the students.

25 mins – Students will start class by answering the following questions:

[Students will first discuss their responses in small groups of 3-4 and then they will share their responses with the entire class.]

  1. “What did you know or had heard about the Black Panther Party prior to the reading last night?
  2. “What is something new you learned in the reading?”
  3. “Did the reading align with what you thought of the Black Panther Party? If not, what was different than what you knew or had learned before?

25 mins – The teacher will lecture on the history of the Black Panther Party and their growth as an organization over time. This lecture will be accompanied by a set of lecture slides with pictures of the Black Panther Party (linked above) — pictures will demonstrate various aspects of the BPP including armed protests, direct services programs, and aesthetic choices.

Homework:

  1. Students will read the article “The Black Panther Party and Black Anti-Fascism in the United States.”
  1. Students will read pages 159-164 of Ch 6 in Haunted by Hitler: Liberals, the Left, and the Fight Against Fascism in the United States.

Day 2 – Total lesson time = 70 mins

5 mins – Students will share with a partner something new or surprising that they learned in the readings.

10 mins – The teacher will briefly recap the readings from the night before and summarize basic introductory details about the UFAF.

5 mins – The teacher will introduce the lesson plan for the day – highlighting that students will be engaging with several primary sources to gain a greater understanding of the conference.

5 mins – The teacher will play the news-clip of the conference linked above.

20 mins – Students will use the news-clip to fill out the first half of the primary source worksheet provided above.

[Students will work in groups of 3-4.]

The teacher will pass out copies of the Stanford Daily newspaper article.

25 mins – Students will use the newspaper article to fill out the second half of the primary source worksheet.

[Students will work in the same groups of 3-4.]

Homework: Students will re-watch/re-read the two primary sources and utilize these sources to write a 1-2 page essay answering the following question: “What was the purpose and focus of the Conference for the United Front against Fascism (UFAF)?”

Day 3 – Total lesson time = 25 Mins:

20 mins – Students will turn in their assignments and discuss their responses/answers in groups of 3-4.

5 mins – Teacher will conclude the class by thanking students for their active participation and their involvement.


Additional Resources:

Buhle, Mari Jo, et al. Encyclopedia of the American Left. Garland Pub., 1990.

Laurent, Sylvie, and William J Wilson. King and the Other America : The Poor People’s Campaign and the Quest for Economic Equality. University of California Press, 2018.

Clemons, Michael L, and Charles E Jones. “Global Solidarity: The Black Panther Party in the International Arena.” New Political Science, vol. 21, no. 2, 1999, pp. 177–203

Spencer, Robyn C. The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland. Duke University Press, 2016.

Image result for conference for a united front against fascism
Poster advertising the conference.
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