The Black Panther Party was a well-known activist group famous for its work during the Civil Rights movement. Although it is stated that there was never an actual number of members given, the numbers were likely a little over 1,000 members nationwide.
We hear about Black Panthers in Oakland, CA who carried guns and monitored police activity. We hear about protests outside Safeways and in public spaces. Given Baltimore’s history, I thought it would be interesting to find out what the Black Panther Party was doing in Baltimore from 1968 to its closing in 1972.
Baltimore is a city with a rich history. While most people see Baltimore as a “ghetto” or a sports town, one must not forget the part it played during the Civil Rights movement.
The Black Panther Party arose in 1968, just after the Baltimore uprising over MLK Jr.’s death. However, a number of things led to African-American unrest: Poor living conditions, lack of clean water, poor schooling, and police suspicion to name a few. They would meet at a house on East Eager street near the Maryland State Penitentiary. The group’s founder was Warren Hart, but he was quickly replaced by John Clark because he was not acting like a serious leader. Their primary source of funding was their newspaper that they used to spread information around the city. The average Black Panther was in their 20-30s. They were attending college or worked a blue-collar job. All came from working-class families.
As stated earlier, one of the reasons the chapter was founded was to address the police’s behavior regarding African-Americans in the city. The police did not make it easy for the group, and after Hoover’s comment about the Black Panthers being a dangerous threat, the group faced many challenges. Police would disguise themselves, and go undercover to gain information regarding rallies and protests.The Baltimore Sun even revealed that these same undercover cops would get “arrested”in order to spark fights with cops and lead to more arrests. They would also break up rallies, even if the Panthers had permits.
The chapter closed in 1972. I never really found out why. There were some theories including lack of funds, lack of volunteers, police threats, and more. Some members went to Oakland, CA to join their chapter, some stayed behind in order to offer Baltimore support.
While the chapter ultimately collapsed, there were many successes! For starters, the Panthers prevented many rioters from committing acts of violence in the name of MLK Jr. They also had a breakfast program that was offered donation by many, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore. (Which is a pretty big deal if you attended/are attending a Catholic School in the city) They fed about 200 children a day with this program. Along with this, they started a Free Lunch program in the summer, and offered free dry-cleaning services. The group also had a small free medical clinic. They also supported their city by teaching them basic survival without the need for a weapon.
While the group may have a bad reputation, there was actually quite a lot of support for the group in Baltimore. This chapter was a community lifeline. The group may have a bad reputation today, but when we examine what the group actually promoted, and refuse to believe the strategic media smear, we can see the group was a very important part of the Civil Rights movement and Black social justice.