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Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party

Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party [Kindle Edition]

Joshua Bloom , Waldo Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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"There have been at least a half dozen books and films by former Panthers, or about them, over the last decade. 'Black Against Empire,' however, is unique among them in the scope and depth of its scholarship." -- Hector Tobar Los Angeles Times Book Review 20130127 "Vivid renderings of scene make this scholarly tome thoroughly accessible; a "you are there" tone adds immediacy to the ideological concerns underpinning Black Panther Party history... [the authors] make comprehensible both the movement and the times." STARRED REVIEW Publishers Weekly 20121112 "A comprehensive and compelling history of the Black Panther Party ... it is the book I would recommend to anyone wanting to read just one book about the Black Panthers." -- Ron Jacobs Counterpunch 20130208 "Twelve years of archival research helped the authors produce this first comprehensive book on the Black Panther Party, its members, its leaders, and its resistance to the politics of the American government." Los Angeles Magazine 20130102 "Lets you understand what happened-and why." American History 20130201 "An account that should be called, above everything else, 'definitive.' ... A downright scientific analysis of a subject that leaves most readers understandably unable to stay neutral." -- Cord Jefferson Bookforum 20130201 "Black against Empire breaks new scholarly ground in providing the first comprehensive history of the Black Panther Party." -- Jeremy Kuzmarov History News Network 20130210 "A welcome addition to the literature about the Oakland-born organization that spread across the country like a prairie fire in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968 and that altered the consciousness of African Americans." -- Jonah Raskin San Francisco Chronicle 20130222 "What Bloom and Martin have given us is as authoritative, respectful and complete a record of the Black Panther Party's workings as we are likely to get." -- Mark Reynolds Pop Matters 20130411 "A comprehensive history." New Yorker 20130429 "Black Against Empire may well become the definitive document of one of the most important American social movements of the 20th century." -- Justin Remus Smooth Magazine 20130521 "The first comprehensive history of the party, a history which, as Bloom and Martin explain, has been mostly 'forbidden'." -- Fredrick Harris London Review of Books 20130620 "In their thoroughly researched, definitive history of the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, Bloom and Martin offer a fascinating, compelling analysis of the politics of armed self-defense against police brutality... Exceptional. A must read." -- W. Glasker Choice 20130801 "A riveting and thoughtful narrative of the Party's formation and ideational evolution... Black Against Empire is essential reading for those looking to understand the rise and fall of movements for social change." -- Mary Potorti Confluence 20131015 "Future historians of the Panthers and American radicalism will find Black Against Empire a foundational text." -- Michan Connor Southern California Quarterly 20131101 "A bracingly narrated, voluminously researched history of the Black Panther Party. It plumbs rare archives and provides trenchant analysis of how and why the Panthers tapped the historical moment and emerged as a potent force." FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2013 -- Christopher D. Cooke Progressive 20140101 "The first high-quality history of the Black Panther Party... For the first time, one can read, in a single volume, a well-researched history that explains the origins of the Panthers in the context of Oakland neighborhood politics and the group's transformation into a social service organization. For that reason alone, the book will become a classic in the growing black power scholarship." -- Fabio Rojas American Historical Review 20140401 "Black against Empire is easily the most impressive, sweeping, and substantive scholarly history of the BPP... Black against Empre is a masterful work. It is analytically sophisticated, superbly researched, and a fine addition to the disparate histories of the most audacious and significant black leftist group of the period." -- Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar Journal of American History 20140301

Product Description

In Oakland, California, in 1966, community college students Bobby Seale and Huey Newton armed themselves, began patrolling the police, and promised to prevent police brutality. Unlike the Civil Rights Movement that called for full citizenship rights for blacks within the U.S., the Black Panther Party rejected the legitimacy of the U.S. government and positioned itself as part of a global struggle against American imperialism. In the face of intense repression, the Party flourished, becoming the center of a revolutionary movement with offices in 68 U.S. cities and powerful allies around the world.

Black against Empire is the first comprehensive overview and analysis of the history and politics of the Black Panther Party. The authors analyze key political questions, such as why so many young black people across the country risked their lives for the revolution, why the Party grew most rapidly during the height of repression, and why allies abandoned the Party at its peak of influence. Bold, engrossing, and richly detailed, this book cuts through the mythology and obfuscation, revealing the political dynamics that drove the explosive growth of this revolutionary movement, and its disastrous unraveling. Informed by twelve years of meticulous archival research, as well as familiarity with most of the former Party leadership and many rank-and-file members, this book is the definitive history of one of the greatest challenges ever posed to American state power.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 4008 KB
  • Print Length: 560 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (29 Nov 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #418,596 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars valuable but could have been better 26 July 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Factually interesting but could have been better. The last chapter is disappointing. The authors reveal their lack of political perspective
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  28 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I thought I knew. 25 Feb 2013
By M.H. - Published on
I have read a lot about the Black Panthers including most of the memoirs (Seize the Time, Taste of Power, This Side of Glory, Soul on Ice, Assata, Panther Baby) and several good books on narrower pieces of the history (Living for the City, Survival Pending Revolution, Murder of Fred Hampton). So I was looking for a big picture, and didn’t expect to learn much detail here. But I was shocked. There was something new on every page. Who knew that the FBI paid a highly placed agent (William O’Neal) to write stories in the Black Panther encouraging party members to torture suspected informants? Or that the commonly reproduced “October 1966” ten point program is actually from July 1968? Or that women Black Panthers hotly contested gender dynamics in the Party at the United Front on Fascism Conference? And even the events I was very familiar with (like the early police patrols in Oakland, or storming the Assembly in Sacramento) the authors put these in a whole new light, placing the events in a broader context and relation to one another in a way that it all makes sense.

Most important for me was the analysis. The authors show HOW the Black Panther Party built POWER, step by step. In Part I, they trace the roots of the Panthers’ political practices, and explain their initial successes patrolling the police. It’s telling that when black people figured out how to use gun laws to build political power, Reagan and the Republicans enacted laws to restrict the right to bear arms! In Part II, the authors show how the Party shifted gears once they couldn’t legally run the armed patrols any more. They go through this on all levels (theoretical discussion, lots of historical detail). I especially liked hearing about how the Party got organized in New York, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, and cities across the country. It is hard to believe how quickly the Party grew. In Part III they discuss the service programs, the repression, and mobilization by allies. I hadn’t realized the breakfasts and other community programs only came about in 1969. The authors show that the Party kept growing even when the government was attacking it the hardest. The Panthers were able to sustain their armed self-defense because they attracted support from so many sources. Not just radicals! I couldn’t believe organizations like the Urban League or mainstream politicians like Willie Brown were taking real action to oppose the repression of the Panthers. So much has changed today. And I knew there were Asian, and Latino, and even white groups that had copied the Black Panther Party. But I didn’t understand how important broader allies were in organizing on the ground support for trials, and community programs, and the newspaper, and keeping the Party growing. Part IV the authors talk more about those alliances, and some of the incredible international work the Panthers did, with China, Algeria, Vietnam, Cuba.

As a long-time activist, these were the most important lessons for me. We can’t just take up arms and take over our communities. Anyone with sense knows that wouldn’t work today. But neither can we just march and sit in and demand civil rights and turn the other cheek. More black people are in jail today than were slaves before the Civil War. How can we do something about that? The authors don’t give easy answers to these questions. But they really helped me think about what it would take. If we are going to resist authority, we will be repressed. So who is going to help us face that repression?

The last few chapters where the Party unravels were the hardest part of the book for me to read. So sad that things had to come to that. But ignorance is bliss, right? I was really grateful that the book didn’t pull any punches. And I think I am convinced by the authors’ arguments that the tensions that tore the Party apart were larger than the personal and organizational conflicts through which they played out, and had a lot to do with growth of the black middle-class, and the repeal of the draft.

Thank you Drs. Martin and Bloom! Your book really changes things for me.

Marquez Harris
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, Accurate, Provocative. The Black Panthers Come to Life. 24 Jan 2013
By Publicagent - Published on
"You state that the Bureau under the CIP [COINTELPRO] should not attack programs of community interest such as the [Black Panther Party] "Breakfast for Children." You state that this is because many prominent "humanitarians" both white and black, are interested in the program as well as churches which are actively supporting it. You have obviously missed the point..." J. Edgar Hoover

Black Against Empire is one of the most important books of the year. With anti-gun legislation in full swing, the Occupy Movement nowhere to be found, and surviving Black Panthers still around, the first comprehensive history of the Black Panther Party could not have come at a better time. The history and political analysis provided by Martin and Bloom is fresh, compelling and inspiring.

If you talk with two people who claim to know the Panthers, it's evident how controversial they are. Their history is often disputed, and many have strong opinions about their legacy in the context of the revolutionary movement. It's well-known that J Edgar Hoover and the FBI listed the Black Panthers as the number one threat to the internal security of the United States, and sought to destroy the Party through various means, including a massive disinformation campaign. It is precisely because of this disinformation that one has to be careful when considering their source of information about the Panthers.

Black Against Empire contains over eighty pages of extensive notes from a wealth of primary sources that include memoirs, interviews, recordings, the Black Panther Newspaper, newspaper articles, audio reels, COINTELPRO documents, posters, dissertations and more. When reading the book, it immediately becomes evident that the authors know what they are talking about. A historian and sociologist by profession, Martin and Bloom spent fourteen years compiling research for this project.

The rise of the Black Panthers is handled smoothly beginning with mini-biographies of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. The emergence of the Black Panther symbol is traced to its origins, and various black revolutionary organizations before the formation of the Panthers are highlighted. The uprisings in Watts, Detroit, and other urban areas that the media wrongfully dismisses as "riots" are described as cogent uprisings in response to excessive and racist brutality by the police.

Throughout the entire text, everything is placed in historical and political context. The successes and failures of the civil rights movement, the assassinations of Black leaders that inspired people to action, the burgeoning anti-war movement, the changing national politics, and the revolutionary movement that saw the Panthers as the vanguard are all flushed out. The Black Panthers are thus viewed as a creative and intelligent organization that meets the demands of black people where the government and the police not only failed them, but outright killed them.

Classic Black Panther tales of policing the police, escorting Betty Shabazz to the airport, and storming the courthouse in Sacramento with guns are given just enough time as to be thorough without going over extraneous details. When the Panthers expand beyond Oakland, the authors go city-by-city to Chicago, Los Angeles, New Haven, New York, Seattle and elsewhere to provide accounts of the most significant of 68 chapters across the United States.

This book retains a broad and sweeping focus throughout. The issues that it discusses, like the rise of insurgent movements, are primarily kept at a national, and international level. Local issues are discussed that involve key points of Panther history such as the shooting of Denzel Dowell in Richmond, California, only as they are relevant to the larger issues at hand. Even at 400 plus pages, it's impossible to do everybody justice, but most key Panther figures like George Jackson, Geronimo ji Jaga, and Angela Davis arise at some point or another.

A favorite part of mine is the chapter not just about the free breakfast program, but about the free shoes, free clothing, free health clinics, free schools, free ambulance, and free bussing to prisons programs that were among the greatest legacies of the Black Panther Party. The above quote from Hoover indicates just how far COINTELPRO went to discredit the Panthers. Accounts of raids on free health clinics by the police, to take one example, are described. Students of COINTELPRO know this history, but those unaware of the extent of Panther repression may be surprised at what they find.

More time is spent is time on the Black Panther's rise than their demise. This is a judicious choice since it is not their demise, which if anything sounds fairly typical, but their rise to a position of power that is truly extraordinary, and the authors argue, unparalleled. Yet the demise is handled deftly so that it's evident what remains disputed about their unraveling, and what does not. Ideological splits, government concessions, internal strife, agent provocateurs, seemingly endless court cases, imprisonment, and the changing times, are all discussed.

There are other books about the Black Panthers, but from what I can gather, this is the only truly comprehensive account. In addition to conducting their own research, and establishing new archives, the authors read every single book about the Black Panthers where not surprisingly author biases often obscured the truth. The bias here is to set the record straight, and to answer the question of why the Party rose to revolutionary stature as emphatically, briefly, and powerfully as they did.

Waldo Martin and Joshua Bloom have succeeded admirably in getting the job done.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Black Panthers, the FBI, and the Vietnam War 25 Mar 2013
By Mal Warwick - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
When I moved to Berkeley in 1969, the Black Panther Party was in its heyday. Only three years earlier, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale had begun building the party around an image and a name they'd appropriated from other Black organizations then active in those turbulent years of the Vietnam War and exploding ghettoes. Yet before the decade of the 1970s was out, the Black Panther Party had all but disappeared. Black Against Empire, Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin's excellent study of the Panthers and their politics, makes clear why and how they grew into such a force -- and why the party collapsed so few years later.

The pivotal event in the history of the Black Panther Party was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Before that day, the Party was just one of hundreds of activist African-American organizations, most of them vanishingly small, in Black ghettoes and on university campuses all across the country. The Panthers were set apart from others by their distinctive black outfits, by carrying guns in public to defend themselves against police brutality, by their outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, and, perhaps most of all, by their willingness to encompass people of other ethnicities. As a result, they had grabbed headlines locally and were growing at a fast pace, attracting African-Americans in their late teens and twenties who were disillusioned by the timidity of their elders in the Civil Rights Movement -- but the party's activities were largely limited to Oakland, Berkeley, and nearby cities. However, when Rev. King was murdered, the Black Panther Party quickly emerged as the leading organization nationwide with the credibility and the activist ideology that could channel the fury and the hope of young African-Americans and attract alliances with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and other largely non-Black radical organizations. The Party quickly began opening offices around the country -- a total of 68 cities by 1970 -- and for three years remained a powerful and ever-present force in the activist politics of the day.

Soon, however, the party's rapid decline began in earnest. Bloom and Martin emphasize two key factors -- the Panthers' establishment enemies and the shrinking U.S. engagement in Vietnam under Richard Nixon -- to which I would add a third: the explosive personality dynamics of the Panthers' leaders themselves.

The Black Panther Party's sworn enemies included the FBI, the Oakland police, and, later, police in Chicago and many other cities. J. Edgar Hoover personally led the FBI's campaign against the Panthers, introducing informers and agents provocateur to trigger violence and sow dissent within their ranks. The Bureau's efforts went so far as to hand out explosives, spread destructive rumors to undermine the marriages of Panther leaders, and arrange the assassination of key Panther activists. The Oakland police used violent and often illegal tactics, invading Panther homes and offices without search warrants and arresting individual Panthers on transparently trumped-up charges. The most egregious incident took place in Richard J. Daley's Chicago, when police, acting on information from an informer, illegally burst into an apartment in the middle of the night and murdered Fred Hampton, the local chapter leader, sleeping in his bed. All told, police murdered dozens of Panther activists around the country.

Richard Nixon played a pivotal role, too. "Nixon was the one who rolled back the draft, wound down the war, and advanced affirmative action." The cumulative effect of these strategic moves was to erode the foundation of the Panthers' support both in the Black community and among white radicals (whose popularity among young people, it became clear, was largely grounded in fear of the draft). Once regarded not just by themselves but by other self-appointed revolutionary organizations as the vanguard of the revolution, the Panthers increasingly found themselves alone as liberals attacked them and the revolution on the nation's campuses went the way of the draft. The party was officially dissolved in 1982.

So far as it goes, this analysis of the principal forces that undermined the Black Panther Party is right on target. However, I would argue that the personality dynamics of the party's leadership played a significant role as well. Judging from my own observations as well as the evidence advanced in Black Against Empire, the three leading figures in the party were all brilliant men. It's idle to speculate what roles they might have played in society had they been born white in middle-class families -- but it's clear that their life experiences as African-Americans growing up in America in the 1950s and 60s, not to mention the cruel frauds worked on them by FBI agents and informers during the late 1960s and early 70s, wreaked havoc on their mental health. Of the three, only Bobby Seale survived the Panther years whole and sane. Both Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver were, by all accounts, unhinged in the final years of their lives. So far as I'm concerned, no further proof is needed than the bitter feud that erupted between the two of them, which led to dangerous and sometimes violent splits within the Panther organization.

For anyone who lived through those unsettling times on the margins of the day's events, Black Against Empire is illuminating. Though I crossed paths with a number of the individuals named in the book, and we had a great many mutual friends, I was quite unaware of the Panthers' early history and of the party's years of decline. If you have any interest in East Bay history, Berkeley politics, or African-American history and politics, you'll find Black Against Empire essential reading.

Joshua Bloom, the principal author, is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at UCLA. His collaborator, Waldo Martin, is a Professor of History at UC Berkeley specializing in African-American history.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular overview of an important movement 12 May 2013
By Millie Grenough - Published on
I returned to the USA in 1969, after three years in Bolivia and Peru, where massive movements were shaking those countries. I just happened to land in New Haven, CT in time to be here for Bobby Seale's trial and the accompanying turmoil. I remember being awakened by the rumble of the National Guard tanks coming down Chapel Street, thousands of people gathering on the Green, and Kingman Brewster opening the gates of Yale to receive protestors.
During those weeks and in the ensuing years, it was very difficult to sort out exactly what was going on, who were the "good guys" and who the "bad guys," and where it was all leading.
Black Against Empire provides much of the information I was seeking. Bloom and Martin's engaging history sheds light on the complexity of the times and on the aspirations of the key players: the Panthers themselves, J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI, President Nixon. I have been devouring the book and the footnotes, especially the many official government documents.
If you want a fuller knowledge of the Panthers, if you're hungry for a fresh overview of those troubled years, even if you want a more realistic take on the intention of the 2nd Amendment, I highly recommend this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Letting the archives and transmissions tell the story 11 April 2013
By John L Murphy - Published on
Certainly, after the quick rise and repression of the Occupy Movement, this study on an earlier radical faction who advocated more violent urban occupation and resistance merits reflection. Joshua Bloom (UCLA) and Waldo E. Martin, Jr. (UC Berkeley) collaborate to present a study which relies not on oral interviews or "retrospective accounts" colored by bias or filtered through idealism, but a sober analysis. They base their work on five years of Bay Area archival research: first to assemble nearly all of the over five hundred copies of the Party's newspaper, and then to investigate audio recordings from radio stations aired in the 1960s and 1970s about social movements. Bloom and Martin apply an academic approach over four hundred pages of carefully organized and accessibly phrased text that combines a contemporary perspective from which to approach the material with a way to revive the voices in print and on the air--the latter otherwise (perhaps) evanescent.

As other reviews on Amazon have covered the testimony, my overview will offer a quick nod to the sections. "Organizing Rage" tracks what had started in May 1967 for black anti-imperialism and "policing the police." This led in "Baptism of Blood" to the very quick eruption of the Black Panther Party to national prominence. In 1968, armed self-defense, self-determination, and armed opposition emerged as Party platforms and programs. While as one interested in a parallel time when Irish republicanism revived to rally another nation of "internal exiles" across the world, I found no direct correlation made by Bloom and Martin to the Irish struggle, certainly (as Brian Dooley's "Black and Green" documents), parallels to a First World as well as the many Third World liberation movements of the late '60s on point to the continuing inspiration that the Party's leaders and their revolutionary rhetoric--combined with efforts such as the famous Oakland free breakfast programs--left in nations at first sight far removed from the ghettos of Northern California.

Part three looks at "Resilience," and part four, "Revolution Has Come!" Rebels burst onto the scene, internationally, happened as the 1960s gave way to the 1970s. Accidentally or symbolically, the transfer in the methods for social change advocated for urban guerrillas to actively fight the state led to understandable media and increasingly (un-)popular attention. The role played by informants, provocateurs, and dirty tricks has often been featured in coverage; this volume collects such FBI COINTELPRO factionalism as an object lesson in how the growth of a grassroots movement creates its own increased repression.

For instance, when I attended UCLA decades later as a grad student, I heard about the Black Studies Program and a fatal shootout by the US organization against the Panthers in the building next to the one where I took most of my courses. As the authors note in the type of aside showing the scope of their survey, under the leadership of Ron Karenga, US can be credited for starting the holiday of Kwanza. (141) As Kwanza illustrates in miniature, the advances made by black activists can be seen around us in education, culture, politics, and employment in the nearly fifty years since the Party's power.

Ramifications of the divide and conquer strategy cynically employed by the government demonstrate the fear that many Americans had, stoked by media coverage, of the Party. "Concessions and Unraveling" as the final section speaks for itself. It reminds me of the Occupy Movement if in less hard-headed fashion, as groups split and individuals watched as conflicting agendas and mutual dissension weakened, frayed, and then dissolved under the relentless forces of law-and-order crackdowns, political disdain, and popular caricature.
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