Beyoncé Knowles. Everyone knows her simply as Beyoncé, the multi-talented superstar wife of music-industry legend Jay Z. She’s also the glamorous and magnetic “Bey,” as President Barack Obama affectionately calls her. She’s held fundraisers for the President, performed at the White House, and cultivated a warm friendship with both Mr. and Mrs. Obama. Beyoncé often turns up at NBA basketball games, where she and her hubby can typically be seen in their courtside seats, soaking up the love of starstruck fans, broadcasters, and ballplayers alike. This past Sunday, as part of the Super Bowl halftime show, Beyoncé put on a performance that served as an ode to the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party. Her all-black female backup dancers proudly donned the Panthers’ signature black berets atop their ’60s Afro hairstyles, and emphatically raised their fists in the Panthers’ famous Black Power salute. In light of the passion with which so many screaming youngsters in attendance rocked and gyrated orgasmically to Beyoncé’s every move and word, it’s worth taking a moment to consider exactly who the Black Panthers were, and what did they do to deserve such a tribute from the lovely Bey.
The Black Panther Party was born as an outgrowth of the Oakland, California street gang of Huey Newton, a 24-year-old man whose only prior discernible achievements had been as a vicious thug, thief, and pimp. To define the Panthers’ mission, Newton in 1966 drafted a Ten-Point Program charging that because America’s “racist government” had collaborated with “the capitalists” to “rob” the “Black Community” blind, that same government was now morally “obligated,” as a form of restitution, to give all blacks “employment or a guaranteed income” as well as taxpayer-funded “land, bread, housing, education, [and] clothing” until the end of time. Moreover, Newton argued that “all Black people should be released from … jails and prisons because they have not received a fair and impartial trial.” He also issued a call for blacks to “arm themselves for self-defense,” which was in fact an incitement to a race war. As Panther “minister of culture” Emory Douglas put it in 1970: “The only way to make this racist U.S. government administer justice to the people it is oppressing, is … by taking up arms against this government, killing the officials, until the reactionary forces … are dead, and those that are left turn their weapons on their superiors.”