Friday evening, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located at 515 Malcolm X Blvd., hosted the 50th anniversary of the original Black Panther Party, which was established by local activists here in Harlem’s St. Nicholas Park during June 1966. Throughout this historic event, founding members David White, Al Patella, Ted Wilson, Sam Anderson and chairman Muhammad Ahmed (formerly known as Max Stamford) laid out some seldom revealed, yet very relevant, points regarding the organization’s origin.
“Adam Clayton Powell Jr. told us we should seek a base for Black Power,” explained founding member White. White credited Powell as a major inspiration for starting the organization. He continued, “The Black Panthers were invited by Adam to the first Black Power Conference in July 1966 in Washington, D.C. At that time he gave us original copies of his Black Position Paper. That September we boycotted JHS 139 and demanded that a Black curriculum be implemented.”
The original Black Panthers out of Harlem were instrumental in ensuring locals were politicized and properly educated in public schools. They advocated for the Harlem community to be self-sufficient.
Patella explained how SNCC’s Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) was an instrumental figure who eventually became a liaison with Bobby Seale and Huey Newton after they established the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland, Calif., Oct. 15, 1966.
“The Harlem Black Panther Party’s purpose was to be a political party, coming off of what happened in Lyons County Alabama, to challenge the existing system, existing political machine, in Harlem and in New York,” revealed Wilson, who added that Percy Sutton advocated “the importance of getting people in office.”
Anderson detailed the self-determining factors the Black Panthers inspired Harlemites to have as they openly greeted one another in the streets with chants of “Black Power!” while simultaneously pumping their right fists in the air.
He revealed how local activists were making outsiders pay the poor rate for leaching off their Black communities.
“In that period the mafia was more frightened of us than we were of them, because of the atmosphere, the climate, the Black militancy that was all around us,” Anderson recollected. “We were at the center of the struggle in building a movement and the Panther Party out of Harlem was an essential component of that; as short-lived as it was, there was a lot done—it had a lot of influence.”
Ahmed, field marshal for Revolutionary Action Movement, was a comrade of Malcolm X’s and talked about how many members from Malcolm’s O.A.A.U. became Panthers, then shared how they carried out his Black nationalist ideologies.
“The importance of what we did was bridging the gap that Malcolm X was trying to make before his untimely assassination,” he shared. “We saw that in building the Panther Party we could build a Black united front.”
It was also revealed how the organization was destabilized the following year, with many members then joining the Oakland faction.
“We were infiltrated by men from BOSSE and there was a split in terms of where we should proceed,” said Wilson. “This Brother, Muhammad Ahmed, got the permission from Stokely Carmichael to start a political party. We were different from the brothers on the West Coast. We understood to take control over of the community we needed to put people in office.”
Brother Bob Law, also an original member, spoke from the audience about the Panther’s faction known as The Fair Play Committee, which ensured independent Black artists received radio rotations.
Patella also mentioned how fellow founder Eddie Ellis (who is now an ancestor) met with Newton as they discussed working together for the betterment of the community.