A sanitized, “hyper-political” lesson on the Black Panthers at a San Diego high school presents a narrow view of American history and gives students a one-sided perspective of the militant black nationalist group, a former teacher and a parent claim.
“It’s deeply political,” Becca Williams, a former charter school teacher, told The Epoch Times. “It is historical, but the subject matter is political and it’s a very one-sided portrait of history.”
Williams, who is running for the San Diego Unified School Board, heard about the lesson from a parent whose son attends Point Loma High School. The parent said her son has been complaining about his eleventh-grade U.S. history class.
Though Williams agrees the Black Panther Party was an important part of history, and “absolutely” should be covered in class, she said history shouldn’t be taught through a political or racial lens.
“What’s happening with these programs is that they are hyper-political, and they present a portrait of history through the lens of race, usually,” she said.
The lesson at Point Loma High School, called “The Black Party & Their Influence Today,” is divided into two parts. One is about the Black Panthers “challenging police and promoting social change,” while the second focuses on “how the Black Panthers influenced music and fashion.”
Students are asked to answer the questions: “Who were the Black Panthers and why was the government against them? How can we still [sic] their legacy and influence still today?”
The lesson includes images, articles and two video links.
‘Something Extremely Positive’
The first video, “The Dawn of Black Power,” begins with images of the Black Panthers and William Sales, Prof. of Black Studies at Seton Hall College stating they were a positive influence.
“What they represented for the black community was something extremely positive,” Sales says in the video segment.
Robert Woodson, the president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, says in another segment that the civil rights movement of 1954 to 1968, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a middle-class movement that “sought equality” with white Americans, but that the Black Power movement “assumed equality” and originated among lower-income and unemployed black Americans.
The film shows historical footage of a Panther listing the group’s a 10-point program of demands: “Number 1: We want freedom. We want the power to control the destiny of our black communities. Number 2: We want full employment for our people. Number 3: We want an end to the robbery by the white man of our black communities …”
“We want land, justice, housing, education, clothing and peace, and as a major political objective a United Nations supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colonies of America in which only black people will participate to decide or determine the will of black people as to their national destiny,” the Panther states in the video.
The Panthers also demanded that “all black people when brought to court be tried by a jury of their peers—or people from their black communities—as defined in the Constitution.”
“As the Panthers organized voter registration drives, health centers, and food distribution programs, they won growing support in black communities nationwide. But an escalating cycle of shootouts, arrests, and eventually what Panthers claimed were assassinations by police, led to the almost complete elimination of the Black Panther Party by the early 1970s,” the narrator states in the video.
Manning Marable, a political science professor at the University of Colorado, states in the video that the FBI systematically destroyed the Black Panthers.
“How did they die?” Marable says in the video. “Hey, in 1969, the FBI through its counter-intelligence program targeted the Panthers for elimination. There’s plenty of documentary evidence that shows this. In that year alone, in 1969, 26 Panthers were killed by local law enforcement agents and 750 Panthers were imprisoned or jailed. The organization was largely destroyed systematically by the local and federal authorities.”
Music, Fashion, Guns
Another part of the high school lesson covers the influence the Black Panthers have had on music and fashion. It discusses pop-music star Beyoncé’s 2016 Super Bowl performance of “Formation,” which many critics claimed paid homage to the Black Panthers. The lesson shows a photograph of dancers who wore Black-Panther-style berets and black leather outfits during the performance—but doesn’t show them posed with raised fists after the halftime show which was widely covered by the news media at the time.
The lesson links a second video by the New York Times, “Black Panthers Revisited.” The caption on YouTube reads: “This short documentary explores what we can learn from the Black Panther party in confronting police violence 50 years later.”
The video shows images of predominantly black American protesters chanting “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and carrying Black Lives Matter signs, contrasting today’s movement with the Black Panther Party era.
“In 1966, California law allowed civilians to carry loaded weapons as long as they were not concealed, as do many states today. And the newly formed Black Panther Party took advantage of the law,” the narrator states.
“We would stop. We would get out of the cars. We would walk up to the scene. Those who had rifles would carry them in the open and clearly visible,” original Black Panthers member Sherwin Forte says in the video.
Black Panthers leader Huey Newton describes how the Panthers would “stand at a distance” so that police couldn’t claim the Black Panthers were interfering with arrests, “and make sure there was no brutality.”
However, Ray Gaul of the Oakland Police Department, says in the video that the Black Panthers would take their weapons and “sweep the barrel right over the police officers. “It was pretty intimidating,” he said.
A segment shows news footage of a gun battle between police and Panthers in Houston and includes reports of other shootouts in Chicago and New Orleans.
“Obviously, we are nowhere near this today. In fact, we may be at a transformative moment,” states the narrator. “People of all ages and races are recognizing the problems with policing in black communities and are protesting. Now there’s a chance for real change but police departments and political leaders must not overreact as they did 50 years ago. They need to listen.”
It shows protesters chanting, “No justice, no peace.” One sign reads “Stop Killer Cops!”
‘Politically Motivated Agenda’
Former teacher Becca Williams said the lesson is a “politically motivated agenda” but stopped short of accusing the school of deliberately glorifying the Black Panthers, promoting violent protest, or suggesting students of color shouldn’t trust the police.
“That’s possible,” she said, “but at the very least this is an incredibly narrow reading, and it doesn’t do justice to what kids deserve at any level in terms of an accurate telling of history.”
Most Americans expect history to be “accurate and truthful, and not related to a political agenda … and this is an example where that falls far short,” she said.
Williams questioned the rationale behind depicting the Black Panthers in such a positive light without mentioning the criminal element associated with the movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Black Panthers were not a “cookie-cutter fit” in history and held a wide range of ideas—many that are covered in the lesson, she said.
However, the lesson omits several key facts “to fit a particular agenda of the day,” said Williams.
Some of those omissions are heinous crimes—including murder and torture—that members of the Black Panthers committed.
Black Panthers History
The group was originally called the “Black Panther Party for Self-Defense” and stated its mission was to monitor police and challenge police brutality. Known for wearing black berets and leather-clad clothing, the Black Panthers called for the arming of all “Afro-Americans.”
The Party’s official newspaper, The Black Panther, often referred to police as “pigs” and published slogans such as “Guns Baby Guns.” It used terms such as “cracker” and “honky” when referring to white people.
In one newspaper issue, an illustration of an armed man was paired with a quote from communist revolutionary leader Che Guevara that read, “The great lesson of the invincibility of guerrilla warfare is catching on among the masses of the dispossessed. The galvanization of the national spirit, the preparation for more difficult tasks, for resistance to more violent repression, hate as a factor in the struggle; intransigent hate for the enemy, which takes one beyond the natural limitations of a human being and converts one into an effective, violent, single-minded, cold killing machine.
“Our soldiers must be like that; a people without hate cannot triumph over a brutal enemy.”
In the late 1960s, the Black Panthers had 2,000 members and ran chapters in several major U.S. cities, but the militant rhetoric, radical propaganda, and escalating violent protests led to repeated shootouts in the streets with police and other rival groups.
The black nationalist group demanded the exemption of black Americans from the draft and from every aspect of so-called white America. The Panthers also demanded reparations payments and the release of all black Americans from jails.
The newspaper glorified Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X, Marxist militants, and communist dictators including Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Ho Chi Minh.
Angela Davis, a California member of the Communist Party of the United States of America, persuaded her comrades to join forces with the Black Panthers in the early 1970s under the auspices of fighting racism, strengthening the bond between far-left ideas and black nationalism.
Marxist ideology and the distrust of police also exist today within the Black Lives Matter (BLM) leadership. Embattled BLM leader, Patrisse Cullors, for example, has stated she and other leaders are “trained Marxists,” and BLM has pushed for cities to defund local police departments.
And just as Huey Newton urged the Black Panthers to support the gay pride movement in the 1970s, Cullors has worked to further entrench pro-LGBT ideology into the black power movement.
Crimes and Convictions
Today some former members of the Black Panther Party as well as the Black Liberation Army, a militant group largely made up of former Black Panthers, remain behind bars, while others were released after serving time.
• Bobby Seale was one of the original Chicago Eight arrested on conspiracy charges related to protests during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Seale’s case was severed from other defendants, changing the “Chicago Eight” to the “Chicago Seven.” Though he was ultimately not convicted on conspiracy charges, Seale was sentenced to four years in prison for criminal contempt of court. The charges were reversed on appeal.
In 1970, Seale faced trial in the New Haven Black Panther trials over the death of Alex Rackley, who the Black Panthers suspected as a police informant. Rackley was tortured, shot in the head, and his body dumped in a swamp. Though Seale was accused of ordering Rackley’s execution, the jury couldn’t reach a verdict and the charges against him were dropped. Nine other Panthers, known as the “New Haven Nine” were convicted on charges related to the Rackley torture and murder case.
• Huey Newton, who wrote the Black Panther Party’s 10-point manifesto, was arrested for his involvement in a shootout which led to the death of one police officer, John Frey, and injured another. Newton was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to prison, but the conviction was overturned in May 1970. After his release from prison, Newton succumbed to alcohol and cocaine addiction as faction fighting splintered the Black Panther Party. He was shot to death in 1989 by a member of the Black Guerrilla Family, a rival black power group that opposed the Panthers.
• Eldridge Cleaver, the editor of the Party’s official newspaper, The Black Panther, was convicted of burglary, assault, rape, and attempted murder. After serving in Folsom and San Quentin prisons, Cleaver was released on parole in 1968. Shortly after his release from prison, he was allegedly involved in an attack on police in Oakland in which two officers were injured. He fled the U.S. as a fugitive from the law and later supported the idea of a Marxist revolution in Algeria, where he was hiding. There he killed a Panther whom he accused of sleeping with his wife.
Cleaver eventually returned to the U.S. in 1975. He disagreed with Newton on a number of key ideas and was eventually expelled from the Black Panther Party. He became a Mormon and a Republican later in life, but he continued to struggle with a crack cocaine addiction and was arrested for possession. His health began to decline, and he died at age 62 in Pomona, Calif.
• Sundiata Acoli, 85, was convicted in May 1973 shooting of state trooper Werner Foerster. Acoli was released from prison on May 10, 2022, after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled he was no longer a risk to public safety.
• Jalil Muntaqim, born Anthony Jalil Bottom in Oakland, Calif., served 49 years in prison for the 1971 killings of New York police officers, Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini. He was released on Oct. 7, 2020.
• Herman Bell was also convicted in the murder of Jones and Piagentini and was released from prison in 2018 after serving more than 40 years.
• Mumia Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, remains in prison. He joined the Black Panthers at age of 15 in 1967 and was convicted for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. He served 30 years on death row until his sentence was commuted to life without parole.
• Veronza Leon Curtis Bowers Jr. was sentenced to life in prison for the 1973 murder of U.S. park ranger Kenneth Patrick at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, Calif.
• Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald was imprisoned for more than 50 years for the 1969 murder of Barge Miller, a mall security guard and the attempted murder of a California highway patrolman in a shootout following a traffic stop. He was sentenced to death, but California commuted his sentences to life in prison when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed capital punishment in 1972. Fitzgerald died at the age of 71 on March 28, 2021.
A Mom’s Perspective
A parent, who goes by the pseudonym Curl Cassidy to protect her son’s identity, told The Epoch Times the history lessons at Point Loma High School are “insulting” to her son and often leave him feeling “downtrodden.”
“I was very surprised at how washed over the actual classwork was and what he was asked to write about,” she said.
From reading the lesson, Cassidy said she didn’t get the impression that the Black Panthers had done anything wrong. They seemed to be portrayed as cultural visionaries that influenced today’s music, and they “had a really cool lifestyle and look and they fed people and they got them health care.”
Cassidy said it is “incredibly one-sided” and “naïve,” to see The Black Panthers as being so altruistic.
“They were violent against a lot of people,” she said. “There are still Black Panthers in prison today for some of the atrocities that they committed and that wasn’t reflected.”
Instead, the overall message in the lesson is that the Black Panthers were “standing up and fighting for good,” Cassidy said.
Near the beginning of the school year, students in the class were asked to take a test for “implicit bias.” When her son showed her the test, Cassidy told him he didn’t have to take it.
Cassidy’s son told her the teacher seems to believe everyone in the class is “implicitly racist.”
In the same week, the teacher gave the students a quiz “to learn more about them,” and they were asked about their political ideology—if they were Republican or Democrat. More recently students were asked to bring identification to school to pre-register to vote, Cassidy said.
According to her son, the teacher has devised seating arrangements that segregate students into racial groups, Cassidy said.
“There are two African Americans in the class, and they’re seated beside each other. The Hispanics are seated by each other, and he’s sitting next to other white kids in the class,” she said.
The class is all about “how America has wronged people,” she said.
Her son has told her the main message he gets from his teacher is how the “white man ruins all.”
However, her son can’t reconcile the picture of America as “such an awful place” with the reality that people with nothing but the clothes on their back are risking their lives to come here for better opportunities, she said.
Cassidy said the social justice ideology is spilling over from another class called Identity and Agency that weaves social justice issues and ethnic studies into U.S. history, because both classes are taught by the same teacher.
Two of her son’s friends who are taking the Identity and Agency class have the same presentations and same homework, so he is still being taught the same social justice issues even though he didn’t sign up for that class, she said.
“It’s harming my son, because I feel like he’s not being challenged to be a critical thinker. He’s being spoon-fed propaganda of the times that we’re in, and I feel that’s unfair to him,” she said. “But, more importantly, I feel it’s a tremendous disservice to all of the public-school students.”
Cassidy said she’s less concerned about her son because they talk a lot about his studies at home. But she wonders how some children must feel if they’re constantly told their lot in life is based on how they look.
“That’s not what America is about. We are the land of opportunity. We’ve got great freedoms, and we’ve got choices. Every day, we’re faced with choices and how we can make our lives better, and how we can make our lives better for those around us,” she said. “I feel so bad for public school kids in California.”
Neither San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) officials, the Point Loma High School principal, nor the teacher of the Black Panther lesson responded to Epoch Times inquiries.
Liberated Ethnic Studies
The San Diego Unified School District has adopted the “Liberated” Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (LESMC), a more radical or progressive version of the already controversial state-mandated curriculum. The “liberated” model was rejected as the official state-mandated model of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) but individual school districts are still allowed to adopt it.
The LESMC Consortium displays in large type on its website an unattributed quote on that reads: “White Privilege is your history being part of the core curriculum and mine being taught as an elective.”
One LESMC leader stated in a Nov. 20, 2021, webcast called “Demystifying Critical Race Theory,” while promoting liberated ethnic studies, “What you will see in the lessons that follow are how classroom teachers begin to use critical race theory connected to ethnic studies in a way to empower and to create social justice activists out of our students.”
The educators were later accused by teachers and parents of deception in how they teach Critical Race Theory in California classrooms.