Black history is a level of intelligence that requires consistent daily acknowledgement. One month is not enough.
Founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California, The Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPP) became known as one of the most notorious organizations in black history. Armed with mighty knowledge bound to revolutionary acts in the face of activism and community leadership, the young men and women of The Black Panther Party were eager to establish a change in their communities. Taking authoritative measures in a notably militant stance, members started to promote a sense of black liberation with consciousness on the structure of white supremacy. The organization’s slogan “all power to the people” was a mental commonality among founding members which was a strict demand for social equality as black men and women in America. A mentality that eventually brewed the context of hip-hop lyricism.
When it comes to members of the Black Panther Party, many often recall greats such as Fred Hampton, Assata Shakur, Stokely Carmichael, and countless more as being the most influential members. But, what about those who often go unsung? Those Black Panthers who became political prisoners, social activists, or renowned figures in black history, who are they? The following list is a selection of 10 members of the Black Panther Party you should know in order to have a well-rounded knowledge of the historical collective.
1. Mumia Abu-Jamal
At the young age of 14, Mumia Abu-Jamal found his way into the ropes of the Black Panthers after he was beaten down by white racists and policemen for making an attempt to protest at a George Wallace presidential campaign rally back in 1968. His presence pioneered the Black Panther Party Philadelphia chapter, and he was quickly appointed the position, Lieutenant of Information. In December 1981, his brother William Cook was stopped by Philadelphia Police Officer, Daniel Faulkner and the instance quickly escalated into a physical matter. Mumia, who was stationed in the area as a Taxi driver, reportedly saw the confrontation, and ended up being arrested and charged with the first-degree murder of Officer Faulkner leading to a unanimous death sentence in 1982. Mumia is currently a renowned world journalist, activist, and certified political prisoner who continues to fight for his freedom and right due justice that has been masked with racial bias.
2. Pete O’Neal
Known as the founding Chairman of the Kansas Chapter, Pete O’Neal has spent the last 46 years of his life living exile in Tanzania in the name of the Black Panthers. In October of 1969, just months into his profound duty, O’Neal was sentenced to a two-four year prison term by a Federal judge for transporting a gun across state lines. He was arrested shortly after he interrupted a Senate subcommittee hearing in Washington piercingly accusing a Kansas police chief of supplying multiple white supremacist groups with weapons. Once O’Neal was released on bail, he decided to flee out of the country and ended up making his first stop in Sweden. Then he swayed over to Algeria, and in late 1972, O’Neal finally landed into the country of his new residency, Tanzania. His wife Charlotte, certified as his comrade fled with him, and the couple has since developed a true high culture in Tanzania. Together, the O’Neals have purchased four acres of land, and have also started the United African American Community Center (UAACC), a center focused on tying the culture gap between blacks in America and African through the arts. The UAACC also stands as an orphanage where he houses and nurtures nearly 100 local Tanzanian children a day.
3. Robert Hillary King
Being a body of the Angola Three, a collective of three former prison mates who were all kept in solitary confinement for over 25 years, also Black Panthers, Robert Hillary King successfully managed to aid his said innocence. An avid radical, his steady activism lead him to the land of Angola, Louisiana, which became the stomping ground of his Black Panther coming. In 1973, King was accused of the murder of another inmate shortly after his move to Angola. He was immediately convicted and placed in solitary confinement. After several attempts at appealing, King’s conviction was overturned in 2001. The furious former Black Panther became the first out of the Angola Three to be released to the general public.
4. Charlotte Hill O’Neal
Charlotte Hill O’Neal defines the phrase “ride or die chick.” Known to be the wife of founder and former Chairman of the Kansas Black Panther Party branch Pete O’Neal, who fled the country after being sentenced two-four years for transporting a gun across the state lines in 1969, Charlotte is a living example of an action prone Panther. In 1972, the couple went exile to the North African Swahili speaking country of Tanzania. Stamped by Arusha natives as Mama C, she is uplifted as an African American pioneer who has embraced her ancestral homeland and developed her homestead. Mama C continues to reflect the Black Panther principal of “We Want Freedom. We Want Power To Determine The Destiny Of Our Black Community,” as a co-founder of the United African American Community Center (UAACC). The UAACC is a non-profit organization that propels programs that aid in the intellectual excellence of Arusha youth.
5. Geronimo Pratt
Without a doubt, the case of Ji-Jaga is a solid account to approach when it comes to making an exhibition about the process African Americans faced when being wrongly convicted of a crime. Considered to be one of the most prominent members of the Black Panther Party, Geronimo “Ji- Jaga” Pratt respectively held the title of Deputy Minister of Defense of the Southern California Chapter. In 1972, Ji-Jaga was tested and eventually convicted of the murder of elementary school teacher Caroline Olsen, serving 27 years in prison with 8 years in solitary confinement. With the helping hand of the late Johnnie Cochran, Pratt was released from prison in 1997 after his conviction was vacated due to concealed evidence that owned mass potential at affecting the verdict. During his time in prison, Pratt’s identity to many was symbolic to the cords of injustice plagued against blacks in America, influencing like acts all over the world. One year after his release, Cochran helped Pratt file and win a federal civil lawsuit against the FBI and LAPD over malicious prosecution and false imprisonment, a 4.5 million settlement. Pratt relocated to Tanzania in his later years and prematurely passed away from a heart attack in 2011. He is also known to be the godfather of late hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur.
6. Fredrika Newton
The legacy of the historic party’s fallen founder, Huey P. Newton was left in the palm of her hands. In 1969, as a certified youth, Fredrika Newton joined the Black Panther Party and met her future husband one year later. Eleven years after their initial meeting, the pair got married and lived harmoniously until his disquieting murder in 1989. In 1993, Mrs. Newton established the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, an association dedicated to sustain and proclaim the positive history, potent ideals, and legacy of the Black Panther Party and its significant founder Huey Newton through the development of progressive educational resources.
7. Elbert Howard
Sanctioned as a pioneer of the Black Panther Party, Elbert Howard aka Big Man is a man whose heart has always been sincere to the goal of black liberation. It was the cries he heard in his community of Oakland, California that drew him into the Black Panther Party. After serving a couple of years in the United States Air Force, Howard met Huey Newton and Bobby Seale while he underwent studies at Merritt College. The three scholars spent time studying revolutionary theories and practices with a common cause to deal with the wavering misfortunes of their community. This desire to achieve black liberation lead to the birth of the Black Panther Party, making Howard one of the six founding members. Howard is instrumental in the history of Panther journalism as the first editor of its newspaper, The Black Panther Party Community News Service. Today, Big Man continues to achieve party goals by serving as an advisor to several groups in the country to improve the conditions of health care and education.
8. Ericka Huggins
Ericka Huggins’ journey into dedicating her heart, mind, and soul to black liberation makes her a beyond qualified figure to speak about black women in the struggle to nation zenith. Inspired by the 1963 March on Washington, Huggins became active in the black liberation movement and joined the Black Panther Party in 1968 at the age of 18. One year prior to joining, she married the leader of the Los Angeles Chapter, John Higgins who was later murdered by members of black nationalist group US Organization just two years into their marriage and after the birth of their first daughter in 1969. Higgins, alongside her husband, was also the leader of the Los Angeles chapter but she eventually became the leader of the New Haven chapter later that year, where her most memorable panther moment rests. She was arrested after allegations surrounding the murder of Black Panther member Alex Rackley were pointed in her direction along with Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale. A newly widowed and single mother, Higgins spent two years in solitary confinement awaiting trial, with the charges eventually getting dropped. Such experience has turned Higgins into a notable poet, educator, and human rights activist in light of her continuous effort to conduct social change.
9. Malik Rahim
A founding member in the development of Louisiana’s Black Panther chapter, Malik Rahim is a force who owned an unapologetic approach towards community building. Just months into developing the Louisiana chapter, Rahim became the defense minister due to his bold stance during police raids and overall racist encounters. The focal point of Rahim’s political activism was for the rights of political prisoners. He was determined in assuring political prisoners received adequate survival resources and housing upon release. Such desire was fueled after he was released from his five-year sentence for a Los Angeles armed robbery in the early 80’s. Over the past 40 years, he has been active in improving the housing conditions for blacks in New Orleans by working closely with the city’s housing authority, keeping the original motives of the Black Panthers, alive.
10. Sundiata Acoli
As the persona of a true black revolutionary totes freedom, justice, and equality, Sundiata Acoli is a man who is bound to the aforementioned principles due to his refusal to fall victim. Following years of civil rights work and a degree in Mathematics, Acoli joined the Harlem Black Panther Party chapter in 1968 as the branch’s finance minister. An active community devotee in issues surround police brutality, housing, employment, child care, and education, he contributed to the Black Panther’s elite status amid the black communities of New York City in the 1960s. Just one year after joining the party, Acoli was arrested under the notion of the Panther 21 conspiracy case where 21 members of the BPP were accused of fabricating a bombing and rifle attack on two police stations and one education building in New York City. After being held in jail without bail for nearly two years, Acoli was finally acquitted of all charges. Acoli is well acclaimed for his involvement in the fatal 1973 New Jersey Turnpike shooting of state trooper Werner Forester, which left Black Panther member Zayd Mailk Shakur dead, the iconic Assata Shakur to escape away to Cuba, and himself, a life sentence plus 30 years consecutive years at Trenton State Prison. Despite maintaining a stellar record on prison work, academics, discipline, employment offers, Acoli has been denied parole. The opposed have made several attempts to trigger him to denounce the Black Panther Party and his revolutionary, pro-black political profile, but, he has effortlessly dodged them. His refusal has caused New Jersey courts add a 20 year hit to his sentencing, affecting his likelihood of getting a chance at parole.
The intensity displayed in hip-hop lyricism is a product of the Black Panther Party. During the civil rights era, the demand for equality in the black community was understood on an extreme level due to being the direct experience of black youth in America. Consciousness about the reception opposed parties may brew was at large, giving birth to the mentality of transparent militancy and brazen expression. Such behavior is evident during the infancy of the hip-hop emcee when catchy lines showcased faulty times, yet demanding change and justice. The Black Panther Party is responsible for the activism found in several civil rights notables who reign from a variety of backgrounds where each member has their very own distinct experience. These experiences shall never go unsung, but instead, enlighten future generations about the depths of this historical collective’s iconic presence.