Founded on this day in 1966 in Oakland, California, the Black Panthers took their name and symbol from the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, based in Alabama. The Nation published a story about the Oakland-based group, “The Black Panthers: Cornered Cats,” in July of 1968, written by Michael Harris, a longtime political reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle who died in October 2014.
For all the excitement, the Black Panthers seem to be a dead-end movement, growing out of the frustrations of life in Oakland, an industrial community on the east shore of San Francisco Bay where few neighborhoods, white or black, are designed to inspire man’s soul. It is a town on which the conservative establishment has long maintained a hold, and its slums have produced a force of young men willing to take arms because they are bereft of hope. The Panthers offer the recruits no “promised land.” There is no talk of a return to Africa nor even of a plan to carve out major parts of the United States as a black dominion. “Talk of such things at this time is irrelevant and romantic,” Huey Newton said. “We don’t want to organize all the blacks. We want to be a vanguard. When the time comes and we are organized, black people will petition the United Nations to hold a plebiscite to see what it is we want and where it is we want to go.” Thus, the most that can be held out is the prospect of still more futile gestures, in the style of the gun-brandishing episodes at the airport and in the capitol—dramatic scenes that produce brief moments of excitement and considerable publicity, but which also assure the Panthers that their movement will some day be crushed. The Panthers, who will not accept whites into their ranks, have won some white cheering on the side lines and a little white financial support. But there is, as Murray Kempton wrote after a visit to Oakland, “something quite disgusting about white kids moved by the high romance of Negro kids getting themselves killed.”
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.