The Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland in 1966 as a way to address police brutality throughout the city, but its work expanded beyond the streets. In its early years, the Panthers did a lot of work in the community, with many women in leadership roles. At one point, writes Suzanne Cope, the author of Power Hungry: Women of the Black Panther Party and Freedom Summer and Their Fight to Feed a Movement, the Panthers’ Free Breakfast for Children Program fed more kids each day than the state of California did. But why, to this day, is this part of their history not as known?
By late 1969, Hoover was waging an all-out war against the Panthers. Federal and local law enforcement agents were bent on destroying the Panthers’ free breakfast programme and what it represented. They confiscated food meant for poor children or destroyed it by soaking it with water or urinating on it; they spread lies about the breakfasts being poisoned, or the Panthers teaching hate and ‘anti-American’ rhetoric.
The Panthers knew that food was the conduit to the community, a direct line to public health, and a means to model a more just community. Imagine what they could have accomplished if their efforts were supported and not destroyed.