Politics

10 Things To Know About The Fight Over Using The Black Panther Name


Founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, the controversial and confrontational Black activist group Black Panther Party (BPP) was originally named Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The group worked to move the Black community toward self-sufficiency and a place of economic and political power. The revolutionary group was formed by college students Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. Its original purpose was to patrol African American neighborhoods to protect residents from acts of police brutality. 

As the group grew, so did its purpose. Eventually, the Black Panther Party developed into a Marxist revolutionary group that called for the arming of all African Americans, the exemption of African Americans from the draft and from all sanctions of so-called white America, and for reparations, among other goals. Group membership has been listed as 2,000 to 5,000 with chapters in major cities nationwide.

In 1989, the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) was founded in Dallas, Texas. Despite its name, the New Black Panther Party is not an official successor to the original Black Panther Party.

The NBPP traces its origins to the Black Panther Militia, which was created by original Panther member Michael McGee. The group later came under the reins of Aaron Michaels. He lost control of the group’s leadership to Khalid Abdul Muhammad, a former leading member of the Nation of Islam. Under Muhammad, the New Panthers shifted from the ideology of the original Black Panther Party to a more intense form of Black Nationalism.

Since the inception of the New Black Panther Party, there has been a fight over the use of the Black Panther Party name.

Here are 10 things you should know.

1. Black Panther: More than just a name

There is a philosophy behind the name. The Black Panther Party and the New Black Panther Party may have similar names, but their goals and philosophies are far apart.

The original Black Panther Party is viewed as a revolutionary organization with an ideology of Black nationalism, socialism, and armed self-defense, particularly against police brutality.

The activities of the New Black Panther Party have been slammed for promoting anti-Semitic bigotry. But there is proof that the NBPP was inspired by the BPP. An example is the “Official National NBPP Black Power Manual.” The manual consists of a 10-point action plan advocating full employment, safe and fair housing, equal and quality education, improved living and working conditions for Black people, and tax exemption. It also encouraged NBPP members to own a weapon and to be skilled at using it. These were similar points the BPP made.

2. Making money off the Panther name

Pro-Black pride made a comeback decades after the downfall of the BPP in the late 1980s and early 1990s. People started donning clothing with images of BPP former leaders, slogans, and logos. It was all unauthorized.

George Derek Musgrove, an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, wrote about this resurgence, in a research paper entitled, “’There Is No New Black Panther Party’: The Panther-Like Formations and the Black Power Resurgence of the 1990s.”

“Black Power fashion was a lucrative cottage industry,” Musgrove wrote. “African Americans spent millions yearly on Kente-patterned fabric, cowry shell jewelry, and Malcolm X hats. If money was being made off the Panther name and imagery, the elder New York Panthers wanted it to go to the men and women who had paid the price to make it famous: their comrades in prison and exile.”

Musgrove is the co-author of the book, “Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital.”

When people started wearing Black Panther clothing and images, former Panthers wondered, “Who gave you permission to wear this?” and “Where is the money going?”

But while those behind these products were merely trying to make money, there seemed to be a larger goal — people wanted to bring back the Black Panther Party. And by 1989, the New Black Panther Party cropped up.

3. Hijacked the Panther name

The name of both parties may be similar, but there is no connection. The New Black Panther Party has been accused of hijacking the Panther name.

“Most popular and scholarly studies of the Panther-like formations focus on the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) and its discontinuity with the BPP. In its oft-cited report, for example, the Southern Poverty Law Center states that the group has ‘no connection’ to the BPP and had ‘hijack[ed] . . . the Panther name and symbol,’” Musgrove wrote.

4. New Black Panther Party caused media confusion

Since the names are so similar, many in the media at first glance thought the NBPP was an offshoot of the BPP. But as the NBPP started to receive negative press due to controversial statements made by its now-deceased head Khalid Muhammad, original Panthers sought to set the media straight — the NBPP is not part of the BPP.

“As the NBPP transformed under Muhammad and gained increased media attention, many older Panthers turned hostile,” noted Musgrove.

5. Legal battle over Panther name

In 1996, when the NBPP made national news with protests seeking more Black representation on the Dallas School Board, former Dallas chapter chairman Fahim Minkah (Fred Bell) registered the “Black Panther Party” as a business in Dallas County. Minkah then sued Aaron Michaels, a former radio show producer and community activist in Dallas, Texas, who founded the first official chapter of the New Black Panther Party. Minkah sued Michaels for unauthorized use of the name.

“This might have remained a local dispute, but former Panthers’ ongoing efforts to shape their legacy moved many to take sides. Fresh from the BPP thirtieth anniversary reunion in Oakland, Seale traveled to Dallas to condemn the NBPP as a ‘Black racist hate group,’” wrote Musgrove.

In retaliation, Michaels slammed the original BPP member saying, “Now is time for them to write their books and memoirs and they want to make some money, but they can’t stand to see someone else come along and do what they should still be doing.”

6. Not legit

Despite its name, the NBPP is not an official successor to the BPP. Members of the original BPP have insisted that the newer party is not legitimate and “there is no new Black Panther Party.”

7. Panther-like organizations invited to consolidate power

There was a time when the NBPP tried to join forces with other Panther-like groups.

In 1997, NBPP held a Panther gathering, inviting other “Panther-like” organizations to meet and discuss ways to create a national Panther movement together. NBPP persuaded the New African American Vanguard Movement of Los Angeles, led by former panther B. Kwaku Duren, to change its name to New Panther Vanguard Movement. Various chapters of the Black Panther Militia in Milwaukee and Dallas formally merged into the New Black Panther Party.

8. Upholding Panther legacy?

According to the NBPP, not only is it using the Panther name but it’s also upholding the Panther legacy. It’s 10-point platform is based on original Black Panther Party goals, for example. But original members say the NBPP is nothing like the BPPP.

“We were never what you called xenophobic black nationalists,” founding member Seale told CNN in a 2010 interview. “We crossed all racial lines and ethnic lines, and we said all power to all of the people.”

9. Huey P. Newton Foundation speaks out

At one point, the Huey P. Newton Foundation issued an open letter denouncing the NBPP. It read in part: “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 … [T]hey denigrate the Party’s name by promoting concepts absolutely counter to the revolutionary principles on which the Party was founded. … The Black Panthers were never a group of angry young militants full of fury toward the ‘white establishment.’” 

And in 1997, the original Black Panthers sued the upstarts to prevent them from using the Panther name and the logo of a pouncing panther.

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According to the lawsuit, “The Black Panther Party Inc does not wish to be confused with the ‘New Black Panthers’, a group preaching racial division and the inappropriate use of arms to promote social change.”

A judge ordered the new group to stop using the Panther name until the case was heard. This didn’t stop the NBPPs from doing so. The New Black Panther group ignored the 1997 injunction by a Texas judge banning it from using the Panther name.

Michaels branded the original Panthers “has-been wannabe Panthers,” adding, “Nobody can tell us who we can call ourselves,” The London Sunday Times reported.

10. Fight between Panther parties gets physical

On Aug. 19, 2015, original BPP member and chapter leader Dhoruba Bin Wahad and a friend were assaulted by a faction of the NBPP while attending a conference in Atlanta. The event was being held by a faction of the New Panthers. Bin Wahad confronted the group about their use of the Black Panther name. Bin Wahad and his friend were ordered to leave, but they refused and Bin Wahad was attacked. He suffered a concussion, a broken jaw, and lacerations.

Photo: Armed members of the New Black Panther Party stand guard outside the Republican Party of Texas state convention June 16, 2000, in Houston. About a dozen men from the group showed up to protest Texas’ death penalty. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)



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