Members of the Black Panther Party, Japanese American National Museum (JANM), National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, and Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation convened recently for a special event called “Solidarity: The Black Panther Party — History and Future of Coalition Building.”
Nearly 100 community members packed the Tateuchi Democracy Forum on the JANM campus in Little Tokyo near downtown — a museum dedicated to preserving the history and culture of Nikkei, or Japanese Americans.
“This is a unique opportunity to take these chapters of American history and explore what was achieved,” said Democracy Center director James Herr. “In particular, the common ground shared between Black and Japanese histories and legacies”, he touted.
Panelists included Fredrika Newton, president and co-founder of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation; Robert Lee Johnson, founding member of the 125 Historical Society and leading member of the BPP Compton branch; and Clark Bailey, founding member of the Party’s musical group, The Lumpen.
National Nikkei Reparations Coalition (NNRC) member Kathy Masaoka moderated the discussion on what the BPP was, what they did, how they did it, and what they were up against.
“When I came into the Party,” recalled Newton, “I saw how the coalition worked with other like-minded organizations. That was a direct contrast to the media’s portrayal of a racist organization. The Party worked with White, Asian, Latino, and even gay and lesbian rights organizations to form alliances.
“People didn’t know about the coalition’s 63 Survival Programs, where the Party met the basic needs of the people that the government wasn’t providing, like the Free Breakfast for Children program running nationwide. The Black Panther Party was a revolutionary organization based on love with an ideology,” she noted.
“The difference the Party made was not sitting around articulating problems,” declared Johnson, “but developing solutions. The cadre in Oakland had created templates for cities on how to organize various communities like Compton using the Survival Programs. [Party co-founder] Huey would say people will react better when they can see what you’re doing and get involved.
“A successful Free Breakfast program wasn’t something the BPP was running. It became successful once the community got involved. The Survival Programs became community programs,” he stated.
“From the very beginning of our party, we had a worldview,” cited Bailey. “We weren’t alone. We studied [Chinese Revolutionary] Mao, [Cuban Revolutionary] Che, and revolutions from all over the world, and dispatched comrades to places like China, Korea and Japan to discuss solidarity. We had a worldview, but our subjective view was in the Black community.”
“Even in the early days with Eldridge [Cleaver], we had solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Japanese communities like New York, Chicago, Baltimore, and Seattle because we knew it was going to take everybody to come up with something humane to change the madness we lived in, then and now,” he stressed.
“For many Black Panthers who were terrorized by [FBI counterintelligence program] COINTELPRO, the Party was a place for reconciliation,” Robert Lee Johnson concluded.
“For those who don’t know anything about the Party, or who were taught false narratives like those of [alleged informant] Richard Aoki, [JANM] will be a place to learn about and critically analyze American history,” he said and then cheered, “All Power to The People!”
Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation is dedicated to preserving and promoting the true legacy and ideals of the Black Panther Party and is the number one source for historical preservation and archival collections about the coalition. For more information, visit itsabouttimearchive.com