The armed struggle from Oakland

Jan Hudeček

When I was deciding what topic to pick for my diploma thesis I saw a document named ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution’. I instantly knew I wanted to know more about the group. Not only was this topic really interesting, it included both fields of my study – the English language and history.

People such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are known all over the world, not only as leaders of the African American Civil Rights Movement but also as sources of inspiration for young people. Both tried to fight racism in their own way. Two people inspired by them were Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, young African Americans from Oakland, California. In my diploma thesis ‘The armed struggle from Oakland’ I did my best to tell their story, from the humble beginnings of the party, when the leaders were following police cars and selling forbidden books by Mao Tse-tung to students, just to raise a few dollars, through the times they were famous across the USA, had chapters from the West Coast to the East Coast and were publicly labelled ‘the greatest threat to internal security of the country’ by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, to the point where the group destroyed itself from the inside.

While working on the thesis I found out that there were several versions of almost every event that involved the party, and that these were usually in clear contradiction with each other. On one hand, the police usually portrayed the Panthers as violent provocateurs who shot at them whenever possible. On the other, we had the version officially presented by the Black Panther Party, in which they did nothing wrong, never even had their own guns at the scene and did their best to cooperate in all cases. Whichever version was the truth, there were more shootings and more deaths every year. The police brutality often went so far that defenceless members of the party, such as Bobby Hutton or Fred Hampton, were basically executed by police officers. Besides the local police forces, the revolutionary group was targeted by the FBI’s famous Counter Intelligence Program, which used more subtle tactics, such as bribery, planting agent provocateurs and misinformation.

Another thing that makes this thesis quite interesting is the amount of primary source materials used – from contemporary documents about the topic, newspaper articles, video recordings, official FBI files released online, autobiographies of the members and interviews with the leaders to Facebook posts written by Bobby Seale, who is still an active public speaker, just a few weeks before the deadline.

Although the work was incredibly exhausting and finding the truth was often an impossible task, I have to say that I am proud of what I have created.