Old vs. New: Clash of the Panthers

By Aaron Kase
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 11 | Posted Aug. 17, 2010

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King Samir Shabazz, chairman of the Philadelphia branch of the New Black Panther Party, is gaining notoriety around the city. Shabazz is known for shouting his message on the subway, South Street, at the Clothespin by City Hall and in one instance in front of a Fairmount Avenue polling booth. That message? “The white man is the devil!”

The New Black Panthers should look familiar. They borrowed their name, logo and much of their "black power" rhetoric from the original Black Panther Party, which gained notoriety by organizing for the self-defense of black neighborhoods in the late '60s and early '70s. The New Panthers’ 10-point program is based on a similar document written by the original Panthers, advocating ideals such as full employment in black communities, decent housing and education, and an end to police brutality.

However, many members of the original Panthers reject the hyper-racial view of the new group, which has been classified a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Molded by their time in the trenches, original Panthers say activism is still necessary, but within the domain of all people and all races.

The Huey P. Newton Foundation, founded in 1993 to honor the co-founder of the Black Panthers following his death in 1989, has released a statement titled “There Is No New Black Panther Party,” which reads: “As guardian of the true history of the Black Panther Party, the Foundation, which includes former leading members of the Party, denounces this group's exploitation of the Party's name and history. Failing to find its own legitimacy in the black community, this band would graft the Party's name upon itself, which we condemn.”
“The Party operated on love for black people, not hatred of white people.”

“A few of them are not for the liberation of black people,” King Shabazz says of criticism leveled by original Panthers. He claims that Newton’s co-founder Bobby Seale expressed support and guidance for the New Panthers through a telephone call to National Chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz. However, Seale’s website links to the Newton Foundation’s statement, and Seale spoke to CNN in July about the New Panthers. “It’s a misrepresentation of what we were about,” he said. “Black community unity, yes, but only as a catalyst to help humanize the world.”

The original Panthers’ goal was to eliminate racism, not perpetuate it, he said. “We crossed all racial lines and ethnic lines. We was trying to get rid of institutionalized racism in America.”

Some former Panthers living in Philadelphia take a nuanced view.

Barbara Easley Cox grew up in Philadelphia and has lived here most of her life, with stints in Oakland, North Korea and Algeria. She was active in the Black Panther Party in Oakland in the early '70s and is currently vice chair of Treehouse Books, a nonprofit youth outreach center and bookstore in North Philly.

Cox says she rejects the racist view of the New Panthers but supports the continued agitation for better conditions in black communities.

“They call themselves new because they’re not the same—we weren’t out-and-out racists, bigots or anti-Semitic,” she says. But she adds: “I can’t reject them outright. Their program is not much different from ours."

Cox says she was turned off at a rally led by former New Black Panther Chairman Khalid Muhammed. “Everything about him was forceful, anti-Semitic, chauvinistic,” she says. “He started calling old Black Panthers punks.”

“I’m saying to myself—never put your ancestors down. Some of the things we went through you’ll never go through.”

Dr. Yvonne King says that while she might not agree with all the tactics of the new group, the fact that they cite the original Panthers as an influence is a validation of the party’s reach. “There may be many groups who believe they’re taking up the mantle,” she says.

King was a member of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers and is now an administrator at Community College of Philadelphia. “So many are studying us. People are seriously trying to understand the phenomenon of the Black Panther Party,” she says.

Dr. Muhammad Achmad says he won’t comment on the New Black Panthers specifically, but says: “I can say...those of us who are older activists who have gone through real struggle, realize that all white people are not racist.” Achmad was with the New York Panthers and is now an assistant professor of African American studies at Temple.

“You need the broadest coalition power to bring about major social change,” he says. “I’m talking about people of various colors, races, religions, ethnic groups.”

The old Panthers are unanimous that activism is still relevant, change still necessary—for African-Americans but also for any group feeling the heat of injustice.

“People are still struggling for human rights,” Cox says. “Activism is necessary. You can be 101 years old and be active.”

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Comments 1 - 11 of 11
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1. Janice said... on Aug 18, 2010 at 12:13AM

“Kudos to the Old Black Panther party for seeing this group for what it is. A racist organization. Its unfortuante that the DOJ has refused to prosecute this group for voter intimidation. Where is the outrage? Why did the author decide not to discuss the voter intimidation situation. It is a civil rights issue.”

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2. Black Glory said... on Aug 18, 2010 at 12:22AM

“If the New Black Panther Party should be considered racist and negative backlash, then the Tea Party should be considered racist and get the same negative backlash.”

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3. Janice said... on Aug 18, 2010 at 01:14AM

“Well Black Glory, the NAACP has already labeled the Tea Party racists. (When really the NAACP are the ones who perpetuate racism. They would be out of a job otherwise, but that is a different issue) Are there racists in the Tea Party movement? One can probably bet on it. Your bound to have a few in a large group. The Tea Party was founded due to the spending of our out of control government. They were not founded as a racist group against blacks. The New Black Panther party was founded as a racist group against whites. That is the difference.”

5. Thomas said... on Aug 18, 2010 at 02:47PM

“No Janice. The difference is that the Tea Party has a MILLION RACISTS in it, and the New Black Panthers are just 5 losers.”

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6. Janice said... on Aug 18, 2010 at 04:07PM

“Oh yes Thomas, I forgot, anyone who doesn't agree with Obama policy is a racist. Your liberal race card is played out.”

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7. Thomas said... on Aug 18, 2010 at 05:04PM

“I don't think you know what "the race card" means, you should probably google it.”

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8. Janice said... on Aug 19, 2010 at 04:00AM

“Here is the definition for you Thomas. Sounds like you doesn't it?
Playing the race card is an idiomatic phrase referring to an allegation raised against a person who has brought the issue of race or racism into a debate, perhaps to obfuscate the matter.”

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9. People are Stupid said... on Aug 24, 2010 at 12:13PM

“Funny how the black racist pigs refer to Tea Party members as racist although not one anti-black statement has ever been made by any member of that movement. And funny how this story is not about the Tea Party, but the black racist Pig Panthers. When you're too stupid ignorant and primate-bred to provide constructive rebuttal, the black racist pigs divert attention from the crux of the story to some arcane comment about a totally different subject.”

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10. william said... on Sep 12, 2010 at 10:56AM

“The New Black Panther Party is what it is not because of the progress in this country but because many situations are worse today than they were 44 years ago. Some Anglo Saxons need to stop looking only of themselves and start thinking at the country as a whole without exceptions. At the history and how to repair it. Government is responsible as well. To do this would be a giant step forward!”

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11. paul s said... on Mar 4, 2011 at 03:48PM

“You know when I hear people calling out for fiscal responsibility, accountability and a federal govt held to the parameters set out by our founders, yes what I'm really hearing is "Kill they babies". It is amazing how more people don't see the identical message. It takes honesty and a small degree of courage to hear what is being said instead of what you want to hear. Maybe you are right, maybe all of America would be looking forward to socialism if only our poor president were white. It is not socialism we fear, it is the black man. Really?”


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