Fifty-one years ago today, the Black Panther Party was created in Oakland, California. A revolutionary black nationalist party, the Black Panthers made crucial connections between white supremacy and capitalism in the United States. They are largely known for their struggles over the rights of black people to carry guns in California state without police repression. However, less known is that they pioneered several community programs including children’s free breakfast programs, now common across North America.
Inner city, low income, largely black neighbourhoods were (and still are) mostly neglected by all levels of government. The BPP created food and other social programs that their communities desperately needed using grassroots methods and as part of a larger critique of white supremacy and capitalism. As King Collier writes, “By the end of 1969, the Black Panthers were serving full free breakfasts (including milk, bacon, eggs, grits, and toast) to 20,000 school aged children in 19 cities around the country, and in 23 local affiliates every school day” (2015). It is estimated that the BPP created about 65 distinct programs in the communities in which they organized (The Black Panther Party Research Project). As point 10 in their March 1972 Platform stated, “We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, peace and people’s community control of modern technology” (ibid).
It wasn’t until later that government institutions and not for profit organizations began to create free breakfast programs for children throughout North America. These programs, while important, lacked the BPP’s critiques of the racist capitalist system and also lacked the grassroots, from-below ethos of the original programs.
The next time you think of the BPP, think of children’s breakfast programs and the birth of the food justice movement as part of the struggle to dismantle white supremacy in North America. Although children’s breakfast programs have become institutionalized, the BPP continues to inspire people to connect the dots from urban hunger and malnutrition to the racist capitalist system. The BPP explored possibilities for the creation a radical urban commons that truly aimed to dismantle systems of oppression and exploitation. Their contributions should be widely known – and celebrated – by all food movement activists.
Black Panther Party Research Project <http://web.stanford.edu/group/blackpanthers/index.shtml>
King Collier, A. (2015). The Black Panthers: Revolutionaries and Free, Breakfast Pioneers. <http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2015/11/04/the-black-panthers-revolutionaries-free-breakfast-pioneers/>
Also, this looks like a fantastic documentary (although I haven’t watched it – yet)