1969 — The Black Panther school in Oakland; the decline of the Party
In 1969, a variety of community social programs became a core activity of the Black Panther Party. The Party instituted the Free Breakfast for Children programs to address food injustice, and community health clinics for education and treatment of diseases including sickle cell anemia, tuberculosis, and later HIV/AIDS. The Panthers' Free Breakfast for Children programs were instituted in many of the cities with active Panther Chapters, and were an important influence in the expansion of public school lunch programs, especially in urban areas where children from poor families faced food shortages at home.
Black Panther Party membership reached a peak in 1970, with offices in 68 cities and thousands of members, but it began to decline over the following decade. After years of villification of its leaders by members of the mainstream press, public support for the party waned, and the group became increasingly isolated. In-fighting among Party leadership, fomented largely by the FBI's COINTELPRO operation, led to expulsions and defections that decimated the membership. Popular support for the Party declined further after reports of the group's alleged criminal activities, such as drug dealing and extortion of Oakland merchants. By 1972 most Panther activity centered on the national headquarters and a school in its home city of Oakland, CA, where the party continued to influence local politics. Even though it was under constant police surveillance, the Chicago chapter also remained active and maintained their community programs until 1974.
This photo was taken at the Black Panther school and lunch program in Oakland, California.