Leaders of the Black Panther Party

Black panturing marching with flags during Free Huey protest.
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In 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale established the ​Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Newton and Seale established the organization to monitor police brutality in African-American communities. Soon, the Black Panther Party extended its focus to include social activism and community resources such as health clinics and free breakfast programs. 

Huey P. Newton (1942-1989)

Huey Newton Talks to Reporters
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Huey P. Newton once said:

"The first lesson a revolutionary must learn is that he is a doomed man."

Born in Monroe, La. in 1942, Newton was named after the state’s former governor, Huey P. Long. During his childhood, Newton’s family moved to California as part of the Great Migration. Throughout young adulthood, Newton was in trouble with the law and served prison time. During the 1960s, Newton attended Merritt College where he met ​Bobby Seale. Both were involved in various political activities on campus before creating their own in 1966. The name of the organization was the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

Establishing the Ten-Point Program, which included a demand for improved housing conditions, employment, and education for African-Americans. Newton and Seale both believed that violence might be necessary to create change in society, and the organization reached national attention when they entered the California Legislature fully armed. After facing prison time and various legal troubles, Newton fled to Cuba in 1971, returning in 1974.

As the Black Panther Party dismantled, Newton returned to school, earning a Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1980. Nine years later, Newton was murdered. 

Bobby Seale (1936- )

Bobby Seale Gives Black Power Salute.
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 Political activist Bobby Seale co-founded the Black Panther Party with Newton. He once said,

"[Y]ou don't fight racism with racism. You fight racism with solidarity."

Inspired by Malcolm X, Seale and Newton adopted the phrase, "Freedom by any means necessary." 

In 1970, Seale published Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton. 

Seale was one of the Chicago Eight defendants charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Seale served a four-year sentence. Following his release, Seale began to reorganize the Panthers and changed their philosophy from using violence as a strategy.

In 1973, Seale entered local politics by running for mayor of Oakland. He lost the race and ended his interest in politics. In 1978, he published A Lonely Rage and in 1987, Barbeque’n with Bobby.

Elaine Brown (1943-)

Elaine Brown next to Ms. Little and Larry Little at conference.
Elaine Brown (standing) introduces Ms. Little and Larry Little during news conference.

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In Elaine Brown’s autobiography A Taste of Power, she wrote​: 

"A woman in the Black Power movement was considered, at best, irrelevant. A woman asserting herself was a pariah. If a Black woman assumed a role of leadership, she was said to be eroding Black manhood, to be hindering the progress of the Black race. She was an enemy of the Black people[...] I knew I had to muster something mighty to manage the Black Panther Party.”

Born in 1943 in North Philadelphia, Brown moved to Los Angeles to be a songwriter. While living in California, Brown learned about the Black Power Movement. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Brown joined the BPP. Initially, Brown sold copies of the news publications and assisted in setting up several programs including the Free Breakfast for Children, Free Busing to Prisons, and Free Legal Aid. Soon, she was recording songs for the organization. Within three years, Brown was serving as the Minister of Information.

When Newton fled to Cuba, Brown was named the leader of the Black Panther Party. Brown served in this position from 1974 to 1977. 

Stokely Carmichael (1944-1998)

Stokely Carmichael Speaking at podium during Civil Rights Rally
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Stokely Carmichael once said:

"Our grandfathers had to run, run, run. My generation's out of breath. We ain't running no more."

Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad on June 29, 1941. When Carmichael was 11, he joined his parents in New York City. Attending Bronx High School of Science, he became involved in several civil rights organizations such as Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). In New York City, he picketed Woolworth stores and participated in sit-ins in Virginia and South Carolina. After graduating from Howard University in 1964, Carmichael worked full time with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Appointed field organizer in Lowndes County, Alabama, Carmichael registered more than 2000 African-Americans to vote. Within two years, Carmichael was named as national chairperson of SNCC.

Carmichael was displeased with the nonviolent philosophy established by Martin Luther King, Jr. and in 1967, Carmichael left the organization to become Prime Minister of the BPP. For the next several years, Carmichael delivered speeches across the United States, wrote essays on the importance of Black nationalism and Pan-Africanism. However, by 1969, Carmichael became disillusioned with the BPP and left the United States arguing “America does not belong to the Blacks.”

Changing his name to Kwame Ture, Carmichael died in 1998 in Guinea. 

Eldridge Cleaver (1935-1998)

Eldridge Cleaver with Back to Student Crowd
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"You don't have to teach people how to be human. You have to teach them how to stop being inhuman."
—Eldridge Cleaver

Eldridge Cleaver was the minister of information for the Black Panther Party. Cleaver joined the organization after serving almost nine years in prison for assault. Following his release, Cleaver published Soul on Ice, a collection of essays concerning his imprisonment.

In 1968 Cleaver had left the United States to avoid returning to prison. Cleaver lived in Cuba, North Korea, North Vietnam, the Soviet Union and China. While visiting Algeria, Cleaver established an international office. He was ousted from the Black Panther Party in 1971.  

He returned to the United States later in life and died in 1998. 

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Lewis, Femi. "Leaders of the Black Panther Party." ThoughtCo, Oct. 9, 2021, thoughtco.com/leaders-of-the-black-panther-party-45340. Lewis, Femi. (2021, October 9). Leaders of the Black Panther Party. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/leaders-of-the-black-panther-party-45340 Lewis, Femi. "Leaders of the Black Panther Party." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/leaders-of-the-black-panther-party-45340 (accessed March 27, 2023).