Throughout history the winning side usually writes the account of events that has transpired. Because this is often the case, any and all biases the recorders have will inevitably distort what really took place. Very important details are added and/or omitted, which does a great disservice to future generations and their understanding of the past and any effort to reconcile it with the present. As is often the case, the minorities in the any story usually never have their side told in a way that reflects their point of view. This is a truism in American history which often disadvantage black people disproportionately. One such organization that is often vilified is the Black Panther Party and their attempts to gain equal justice guaranteed by the constitution along with their origin story.
The origins of this group surprisingly begins in Lowndes County, Alabama, with the black citizens struggling in their attempts to gain the right to vote. This is a place which had a violent history regarding civil rights which attracted the help of outside organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who assisted in gaining the franchise for black people. In order to combat the forces opposing their right to participate in the democratic process the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, an independent third party, was formed. The goal was to take control of local government through grassroots organizing. The voter registration drives were often elicited violent reactions from whites in the area who did not believe black people should be able to vote. With the passage of the voting rights act – citizens registered to vote by the hundreds – which could potentially change the balance of power throughout the country. When the next elections were held the LCFO chose the black panther as their symbol because it is a peaceful creature until it is cornered. State law in Alabama required symbols to represent political parties because of the high illiteracy rate.
In the summer of 1966 the organizers from the LCFO and the SNCC mobilized candidates in support of the Black Panther Party. The party focused a great deal of their initial efforts toward voter registration, selecting the right people to run for office, and establishing health clinics for the area. In order to accomplish this task, it was vital that they create an informed electorate by running education workshops. By election day the efforts of the LCFO and SNCC managed to get a great deal of people to the polls, but it was not enough to take over the county. Voter suppression efforts – usually violent tactics – stymied any chance of victory. Undeterred by the loss at the ballot box, the Panthers pressed on in their battle for democracy and efforts to improve the community.
The experience of community organizing is something that Making It to The Finish Line does quite a bit through various programs. Nothing like change the seats of power in local government, but we play a part in community enrichment. Knowing the true history of an organization and putting it into the correct context is important to honoring those who fought the good fight, and figuring out how lessons and battles of the past can be useful and inspirational to people today.
Jeffries, H. K. (2016, September). Lowndes County and the Voting Rights Act. Retrieved November 6, 2016, from http://www.zinnedproject.org