The Black Panther Party created more than 60 Community Survival Programs, including the Free Breakfast Program, Free Medical and Dental Clinics, Free Food Programs and many more that focused specifically on children and elders.
Though it began in Oakland, CA in 1966, the Black Panther Party had chapters throughout the United States, in more than 30 cities, many of which were started by and led by women. Christina “Chuckles'' May, for example, was Deputy Minister of Culture for the Chicago Chapter, along with Yvonne King, who held the roles of both Field Secretary and Deputy Minister of Labor. The International Chapters were also led by a team of Women – Kathleen Cleaver, Barbara E. Cox, Connie Matthews, Charlotte O'Neal, and Janet Underwood.
By the early 1970s women made up nearly 70% of BPP members. These are just a few of the faces of the warriors who helped build the world we live in today. Captured by photographer and activist Stephen Shames, these photos (used to inform the mural’s design) show examples of BPP Community Survival Programs, such as free medical, voting rights, free education, and the most well-known free breakfast program. These survival programs existed in each of the 30+ chapters across the U.S. as well as internationally.
At the average age of 19, young women filled the roles of boots on the ground community organizers, Central Committee leaders, Survival Program administrators, BPP Newspaper writers, artists and editors, nurses, researchers, markswomen, community board members, teachers, mothers, and grandmothers. They were coalition-builders who learned from the people on the job, working side by side serving the people.
Unknown to most, women formed the foundation of the Party. They were at the core of the BPP’s 60+ Community Survival Programs created to improve human lives in the U.S. and around the world. Like many freedom movements throughout history, women were the glue and the backbone.
In March of 1972, the Black Panther Party gave away more than 10,000 bags of groceries to people and families in need throughout Oakland and Berkeley, CA.
photos by Stephen Shames