“I had read a pamphlet about voter registration in [Alabama], how the people in Lowndes County had armed themselves against Establishment violence. Their political group, called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization had a black panther for its symbol. A few days later, while Bobby and I were rapping, I suggested that we use the panther as our symbol,” (Huey Newton describing how he and Bobby Seal adopted the Black Panther for their party’s symbol, from page 44 of Black Against Empire).
On Oct. 29, 1966 — a month after 16-year-old Matthew Johnson was shot in the back by police in San Francisco — Stokely Carmichael, the chairperson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, spoke at the “Conference on Black Power and Its Challenges,” held in Berkeley and hosted by Students for a Democratic Society.
Carmichael told attendees about the Lowndes County Freedom Organization that SNCC had helped promote. The party was established to register African American voters, and help elect African American candidates to local positions, in a county that was predominantly African American.
Blacks in Alabama did not want to join the Alabama Democratic party, whose leader was the state’s governor, George Wallace. The party’s slogan was “White Supremacy” and its symbol a white a rooster. Party images were used back then to help a state with a large number of illiterate voters, Black and white, identify the party of their choice.
The LCFO’s logo must have caught Newton’s attention. After all, the logo was a metaphor for young, Black men living in virtual police states in urban ghettos everywhere. The logo’s symbolism is important, because it encapsulates the Panthers’ political philosophy of self-defense.
As John Hulett, the LCFO’s chairman, explained during a June 1966 interview: “The black panther is an animal that when it is pressured it moves back until it is cornered, then it comes out fighting for life or death. We felt we had been pushed back long enough and that it was time for Negroes to come out and take over,” (from page 42 of Black Against Empire).
Featured image: A pamphlet circulated by the Lowndes County Freedom Organization.