"...that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..."
The Civil Rights Movement is perhaps one of the proudest moments not just of the United States, but also of the entire industrialised world. A country created with a declaration that enshrined the rights of man, and a constitution that protected slavery, America has always been a paradox: a land of the free where nothing, not even the most basic goods or services, are free; the richest country on earth where millions live in abject poverty to sustain a privileged few; the vanguard of "democracy" where one man rules supreme. The Civil Rights Movement is memorable, then, because it symbolized the oppressed and the downtrodden, having decided enough was enough, rising up against a corrupt, rotten system which allowed no opposition to its racist foundations.
Nowadays, media moguls and politicians try and write off the significance of the black struggle against the United States, its repression and discrimination. Not once in any history book is the true nature of the Civil Rights Movement related to the global wave of national liberation movements that swept the world and brought imperialism and racism to its knees, for to do so would be to highlight just how far the reactionary political elite is willing to go to maintain its privileges and its authority. Instead, the struggle is simplified, and no attempt is made to relate the issue of American racism to the more general economic and political discrimination of the capitalist system, which to this day continues to exploit the vulnerable.
I have heard people sincerely argue that there is no longer any issue of racism in America, that the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act solved everything. This is pure fantasy. While much has been achieved, racist attitudes remain. More important, however, is that the economic and class divisions within the United States have not changed. In a society ruled by the dollar, politicians are not likely to reform the "free market", or even to substantially redistribute wealth, because this undermines their political authority, which is based upon their material wealth. This aspect of the Civil Rights Movement, the abolition of the socio-economic causes of oppression, has been forgotten, replaced by a fairy-tale where everyone goes home happy
The simplification of the Civil Rights battle has gone so far as to portray the non-violent groups, Martin Luther King and so on, as benevolent prophets of change, and those unwilling to turn their head in the face of repression, Malcolm X and the other so-called militants, as thugs and intolerant black terrorists. King, good, Malcolm, bad - this is how the bosses want the Civil Rights Movement to be remembered, how they want children to grow up and learn it. They want, no they need people to never consider even the most basic type of direct action or self-defence - they want people to march, holding hands and making speeches, in hope that the bosses will compromise with the masses. They never want to see another Black Panther Party!
Ah, the Black Panthers. Even Martin Luther King was attacked for condemning the capitalist exploitation of the developing world majority , and yet the Black Panthers never flinched and never stood down from their total opposition to the American government and, eventually, American capitalism. Following in the footsteps of Malcolm X, they recognised that remaining passive and "respectable" wasn't going to get them anywhere, and that they had to stand up for themselves. Understanding that true equality, true freedom, comes not from laws and governments but from the streets, they stood up and took direct control of their own communities, hoping to finally achieve their goal of "All Power to the People".
Established at first to defend black and minority communities from the racist politicians and their lackeys, the police, the Black Panthers built a grassroots revolutionary movement, aiming for international working-class unity and popular emancipation from capitalism, racism and all other inherently discriminatory systems. Working with white revolutionary Parties, the Panthers established themselves as the vanguard of a true revolutionary movement, unafraid of taking on the roles of a government that was dedicated solely to suppressing all opposition. Their empowering, "Do It Yourself" attitude towards self-organisation and black and working-class liberation should today serve as a model for downtrodden workers of all countries.
Just as we must remember the revolutionary arm of the Civil Rights Movement, which managed to convince the street gangs to turn their efforts to productive ends, fed thousands and thousands of black children a free breakfast every day, and operated a great many other similar programmes, just as we remember it, so we must remember why it was necessary. With the approval and direction of the federal government, the FBI destroyed the Black Panther Party through the illegal assassination of its leaders, ruthless police brutality, and the corruption of its members through the use of narcotics and deceit. The Panther leaders, serving as the political consciousness of the movement, were hunted down and liquidated, leaving those black Americans who sympathised with the Panthers with the same sense of alienation and social disillusion as before, but none of the political guidance. African-Americans may have won the vote, their "civil rights", but they - and workers of all colours, creeds and sexes - have still not managed to secure their inalienable human rights.
They came down on us because we had a grass-roots, real people's revolution, complete with the programs, complete with the unity, complete with the working coalitions, we were crossing racial lines. That synergetic statement of "All power to all the people," "Down with the racist pig power structure" -- we were not talking about the average white person: we were talking about the corporate money rich and the racist jive politicians and the lackeys, as we used to call them, for the government who perpetuates all this exploitation and racism."
~ Bobby Seale, co-founder and Chairman of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defence, interviewed in 1996