Like much of American history, the “tumultuous” 1960s and 70s are often remembered in black and white. But beyond hippies and desegregation, the era also marked a radical political awakening for Asian, Native American and Chicano communities — and saw the birth of a third world liberation movement inside the heart of the so-called first world.
The Black Panther Party (BPP) played an important role in the political development of non-Black liberation movements. The BPP, founded in Oakland, Calif. in 1966, was a revolutionary organization- calling for a radical, and, if necessary, violent transformation of society that went well beyond the integrationist calls of the earlier decades. Guided by a socialist perspective, the Black Panthers saw capitalism as the root cause of racial injustice and poverty in the United States.
The Panthers’ radical analysis rang true for Native Americans still fighting for land rights and the fulfillment of broken treaties, Chicanos familiar with the conditions of farmworkers, and Japanese Americans who just twenty years before had been labeled a “yellow peril” and corralled into internment camps. Organizations like the American Indian Movement, the Brown Berets and the Red Guard embraced the Panthers’ basic demands for fair housing, employment, health and community control of education and the police.
And the inspiration did not stop with ideas. The survival programs started by the Panthers to extend essential services to communities without access were emulated by other groups. The Intertribal Friendship House in East Oakland ran a breakfast program modeled after the Panthers’ program, and young Asian American activists ran health screenings for elderly and immigrant Chinatown residents in the same way the Panthers ran mobile health clinics in black neighborhoods. Even the berets worn by the Chicano Brown Berets were influenced by the Panthers’ own uniforms.
As each organization developed politically, alliances were forged and solidified around common struggles. During the late ’60s, many young people of color were among the first in their families to attend college and be exposed to radical political thought and community organizing. For those who grew up in segregated neighborhoods, it was also their first time interacting with fellow students from other racial and ethnic backgrounds. At San Francisco State and UC Berkeley, the Third World Liberation Front demanded the establishment of a Third World College that could teach students the histories and ideas so often overlooked in the official canons of academia.
The term “Third World” in the forging of alliances was not accidental. Globally, the ’60s and ’70s were a time of decolonization and resistance to American and Soviet imperialism or interventionism, particularly in Africa and Asia. The sense of internationalism and solidarity between liberation struggles in the global south had been crystalizing ever since the the 1955 Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, and heavily influenced the political analysis of Black Panther leaders like Huey P. Newton, who in the late ’60s began to frame the the situation of Black people as a colony within the U.S.
The Panthers’ analysis of domestic colonialism -a third world within the first world- mirrored many other groups’ experience of oppression, including Asian Americans who had only become political in opposition to the Vietnam War and now were spurred to address injustices faced by their own communities. The San Francisco-based Red Guard adopted their Chinese Communist-inspired name after the Panther leadership suggested they do so.
By the late ’70s, many organizations splintered or dissolved, due to the intensification of government counterinsurgency efforts like the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, along with internal political divisions within the groups themselves. However, their legacy forged the path and built the foundation for the social and racial justice movements of today.
Through the stories of movement elders, this project takes a look back at some of these organizations and the influence of the Black Panthers and multiracial organizing in their work.
Other helpful websites
The following links are a sample of organizations that have grown out of the movement for political, social, and racial equality among African Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanos, and Native Americans.
- Asian Health Services
Provides health care for immigrants, the uninsured, and low income Asians and Pacific Islanders in Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, Mien, Mongolian, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and English.
- Chinese Progressive Association
Fights for improved living and working conditions for the immigrant, working class, and low income Chinese in San Francisco.
- Color of Change
Nonpartisan organization focused on organizing African Americans to influence policy on addressing issues pertinent to the African American community.
- Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Working on socioeconomic issues facing diverse communities in urban America.
- Galeria de la Raza
Fosters public awareness of Chicano art and supports Chicano artists through exhibitions and programs, such as their community mural program.
- Green For All
Promotes a green economy that can provide jobs and opportunities that will help low income people find work and economic security.
- Kearny Street Workshop
Supports and develops Asian American art and artists through training and exhibitions in a variety of mediums.
- Manilatown Heritage Center
Works to preserve Filipino history and culture and advocates for equal rights for Filipinos in America.
- Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan
Student organization promoting higher education, culture, and history.
- United Farm Workers
Organizes farmworkers across the United States and advocates for policy and regulations that benefit them.
- Intertribal Friendship House
Center for urban Native Americans that promotes health and keeps cultural traditions alive through social and community events.
- Native American AIDS Project
Provides cultural-specific HIV prevention and care services to Native Americans in California.
Share your memories and comments
Were you active in the Black Panthers, or Asian American, Chicano, or Native American Power movements of this era? If so, share your experience and tell us what kind of impact this had on you. Perhaps you weren’t alive in the ’60s or ’70s — or were an observer as these events unfolded — but have some reflections upon this time you’d like to talk about here.