Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement

By Bettye Collier-Thomas; V. P. Franklin | Go to book overview

Chapter 13

“No One Ever Asks What a Man's Role
in the Revolution Is”
Gender Politics and Leadership in the
Black Panther Party, 1966–71

Tracye A. Matthews

By the middle of the 1960s, young black people in the United States were growing weary of civil rights leaders telling them to turn the other cheek so that they could “overcome someday.”1 The inspiring eloquence of Martin Luther King, Jr. had been challenged, even ridiculed, by the fiery message of Malcolm X. For black youth, who increasingly found themselves trapped in overcrowded northern ghettos, many of the old movement slogans and ideas—particularly nonviolence as a philosophy—were becoming obsolete.2 In spite of the gains of the southern black freedom movement, civil rights organizations and leaders, especially King, were slowly but surely becoming aware of growing dissatisfaction among blacks with the limitations of hard-won legislation, especially its failure to ensure economic gains and tackle seemingly intractable forms of southern and northern racism. The call for “Black Power” became the order of the day.

Beginning in 1964 and continuing each summer through 1968, disillusionment, frustration, and economic discrimination fueled urban rebellions in black communities across the country.3 It was within this context that the Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPP) formed and staked its claim for leadership of the black masses. In October 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale officially founded the Party in Oakland, California, one of many U.S. cities noted for its racist and repressive police force. The main targets of their initial organizing efforts were disaffected urban black male youth, and their activities

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