In this comprehensive history of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party (ILBPP), Chicago native Jakobi Williams demonstrates that the city's Black Power movement was both a response to and an extension of the city's civil rights movement. Williams focuses on the life and violent death of Fred Hampton, a charismatic leader who served as president of the NAACP Youth Council and continued to pursue a civil rights agenda when he became chairman of the revolutionary Chicago-based Black Panther Party. Framing the story of Hampton and the ILBPP as a social and political history and using, for the first time, sealed secret police files in Chicago and interviews conducted with often reticent former members of the ILBPP, Williams explores how Hampton helped develop racial coalitions between the ILBPP and other local activists and organizations. Williams also recounts the history of the original Rainbow Coalition, created in response to Richard J. Daley's Democratic machine, to show how the Panthers worked to create an antiracist, anticlass coalition to fight urban renewal, political corruption, and police brutality.
Very nice history of the Illinois Black Panther Party, from its origins as a student movement, to the assassination of Fred Hampton. The authors sets this history in the context of racism in Chicago, and the rise of the Democratic machine, which set the stage for violent self-defense in the black community.
Also does a really nice job of pulling in the strands of the rainbow coalition: Young Lords, Young Patriot Organization, Rising Up angry, and several others.
Finally, makes a brief analysis of what happened since, the creation of the Harold Washington coalition to elect him Mayor is depicted as a direct descendant of Hampton's Rainbow Coalition, and also Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama (and to a lesser extent, David Axelrod), all,of which expropriated the rhetoric and strategy, but not for revolutionary ends, but instead for personal aggrandizement.
Academic in nature, this book still provides a pivotal overview of the emergence and true nature of the Black Panther Party in Illinois, including breakfast programs, neighborhood services, the origins of the Rainbow Coalition, and the very real danger that blacks and other people of color faced from the police who were charged to "protect and serve." The book carefully documents the murder of charismatic leader Fred Hampton by police and other acts of repression and terror committed by the FBI and the Daley machine. It also introduces many of the other activist groups, including the Young Lords, the Young Patriots, Rising Up Angry and the Students for a Democratic Society, who partnered with the BPP in trying to combat police brutality and work for better housing and job opportunities.
Williams provides a pretty good sense of the historical facts when it comes to the specifics of the IL Black Panther Party, but there are a number of problems with this book: 1. Williams is (and I agree with Bruce Dixon's assessment here) a firmly "establishment" historian, and the lens that he analyzes the BPP is a liberal one. It's hard to give examples, but where Black Against Empire lets you see the capital-R Revolutionary and capital C-Communist characteristics of the BPP, From the Bullet to the Ballot would have you believe that the legacy of the party was of free breakfasts and Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. That leads me to my second point - 2. Williams lacks knowledge of the differences between "democratic socialism", communism, socialism, etc. "The [Rainbow Coalition] challenged members and allies to adopt democratic socialism as a model..." and goes on to quote a (at least as far as I can tell) reformist work by Lucius Outlaw that "illustrates over twenty years of work dedicated to articulating a 'critical theory of society' that would account for issues and limiting-factors affecting African-descended peoples in the U.S... Outlaw envisions a democratic order that is not built upon racist projections of the past, but instead seeks a transformative social theory that would help create a truly democratic social order". Also, in a video essay with Vox, Williams reiterates that "...[the BPP] focused on socialism as a way of solving economic means. They looked to places like Canada, which always had a democratic political system, but the economic system has always been socialism; so they wanted a democratic socialist country here in the United States, which they saw as a more equitable, humane system." Asides from his reformist viewpoint, that's just a historical untruth and severe misunderstanding of socialism (and democracy).
To write a more comprehensive/detailed review I would have to read it again, which I hope to not have to do.
A very detailed history of Chicago’s famed Black panther party and the contentious issues that sparked the party’s genesis. Illuminating the citywide political corruption, community suppression, and political assassination inflicted by the Democratic machine instituted by Richard Daley to suppress marginalized communities; this book gives an all encompassing background of the Illinois black panther party and its relationship with the local and federal governments. Not shortsighted in spectrum, this accounts also explains the grassroots initiatives that set the table for the 2008 presidential elections. This book highlights the age old paradigm of history always repeating itself and how movements never die but are only reborn.
This book, along with How the West Came to Rule, hold such detailed insights into communally understood history and brings every single source back to back in a way that is clear and concise. The author’s work in this book is utterly remarkable and potentially one of the most important books for any local radicalist even contemplating to learn a bit more about the ILBPP. Honestly astonishing read, had me fully engulfed in the surprisingly evident history and engaged from page to page. Could not recommend more highly.
“From the Bullet to the Ballot” by Jakobi Williams is a history of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, which was founded in 1966 and disbanded in 1974. With the killing of the Illinois chapter leader Fred Hampton in late 1969, the Illinois Black Panther party had largely passed its zenith. As many of today’s younger readers have little knowledge of this period of the Black Power movement and the major players in the tale, this book fills a void.
I suspect many scared citizens in Chicago conflated the Black Panthers with regular street gangs such as the Black Stone Rangers. But the Panther ideology was a bit different: self-defense and coalition building in the community. The Panthers started free breakfast programs for children (which has since been taken over by schools) and free health clinics in poor neighborhoods (which has segued into essentially government sponsored programs today). The Panthers also founded the Rainbow Coalition (racial coalition politics) which in time helped elect Harold Washington as Chicago’s first black mayor…Jesse Jackson would go on to essentially hijack the term Rainbow Coalition (he trademarked it) to further his presidential runs in 1984 and 1988.
Since the rise of the Illinois Black Panther party coincided with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, much of the storyline concerns the Black Panthers struggling against the repressive environment Mayor Richard J. Daley and his Chicago Police Department ruled…as exemplified by the 1968 Democratic National Convention and Daley’s shoot-to-kill order. Chicago Police worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in crushing the Panthers. The killing of Panther party leader Fred Hampton was the pivotal event…and the city/county/federal government would end up paying $1.85 million in damages for designing that murder. Sadly, the Chicago Police Department continues to be in the news in a negative way even today.
All in all I enjoyed this book, even more so because I was born in Chicago and lived there at the time of the Panther Party. So how could the book have been better…I thought the third chapter comparing the Oakland, California and Chicago, Illinois Black Panther programs was pretty weak. It didn’t push the theme of the Illinois Black Panther story much; for me the chapter was a needless resting point in the narrative. In the alternative, it might have been nice to read what happened to the 40 some chapters in the national Black Panther movement…were they just a passing fancy, did they wither and die, were they replaced by something else? Other than that third chapter, I thought the book added much to understanding the Illinois Black Panther Party and its evolution from violence to armed resistance to community organizing.