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In the mid-1960s, the United States was aflame with racial tensions. While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had outlawed segregation, racial violence and bigotry were still common throughout the country — often committed by white police officers assigned to protect black neighborhoods. In an effort to protect their own communities from racism and police brutality, two college students in Oakland, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1966.
Later renamed the Black Panther Party, it adopted a 10-point program that outlined its agenda. Central to its beliefs was the idea that American capitalism was fundamentally oppressive in its economic exploitation of black people and that by adopting socialist values, America could mend its racial inequalities. The right to bear arms was also seen as essential for black people's freedom and their ability to police the police. On May 2, 1967, when a new California bill threatened to limit their right to carry, a group of Black Panthers, led by Bobby Seale, stormed the state capitol with their weapons in a dramatic display of their Second Amendment rights.
In the years that followed, the Black Panthers established chapters across the country with its members totaling in the thousands. They held community drives, which offered free clothes, education, food, and medical care for those in need, regardless of color — but by the end of the decade, their controversial use of guerrilla tactics to disrupt the status quo had garnered the attention of the FBI, which labeled the group as a terrorist organization that sought to overthrow the US government. Violent confrontations with the police left several prominent party leaders dead or in jail. By the end of the 1970s, much of the Black Panther Party had dissolved.
These pictures show the impact of the Black Panthers on America in the 1960s and ’70s.