I'm trying to find out if the Black Panther Party (BPP) ever said (preferably in an interview of some kind) whether Malcolm X or the Nation of Islam's more active approach to civil rights helped to inspire the creation of their party.


Both of the party's founders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton were inspired and influenced by the 'post-Nation of Islam' Malcom X. However, the Black Panther Party (BPP) largely rejected the Nation of Islam's (NOI) approach as they deemed it not active enough (among several other things). Nonetheless, the BPP's initial Ten Point Program bore a close resemblance to that of the Nation of Islam

Bobby Seale's book Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party mentions Malcolm X numerous times, and leaves little doubt that he was an inspiration. For example, Seale writes:

Malcolm X had advocated armed self-defense against the racist power structure and show the racist white power structure that we intend to use the guns to defend our people. All these cultural nationalists, these underground RAM bastards, all of them, were scared and rejected it....The only people hanging on to it were Huey P. Newton leading it and me

Note: by 'cultural nationalists', Seale was referring to the NOI, among others.

More specifically on guns, Seale says:

...we wanted these guns to begin to institutionalize and let black people know that we have to defend ourselves as Malcolm X said we must.

The BPP, of course, became notorious for their open displays of weapons and numerous confrontations with the police. It's also worth noting that when the party was founded (in Oct. 1966), it was orginally called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense

Seale also relates how he "cried like a baby....I was ready to die that day" when he heard Malcolm X had been shot (in Feb 1965). In another passage, Seale says of his co-founder:

Malcolm X talked about organization and doing things, and righteously going out there and doing it. The cultural nationalists, on the other hand, wanted to sit down and articulate bullshit, while Huey P. Newton wanted to go out and implement stuff.

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In a 1988 interview, Seale mentioned several influences and stressed the importance of learning, among other things, more about US history:

Huey and I had been involved for some time, off and on, studying Black history, what have you, what Malcolm had done...I was highly influenced by Martin Luther King at first and then later Malcolm X. Largely the Black Panther Party come out of a lot of readings.... And there we were with all this knowledge about our history, our struggle against racism and when we started the Black Panther Party it was more or less based on where Malcolm was coming from, where our struggle was, an argument about the Civil Rights Movement not learning to own property...

On Malcom X and the BPP's origins, Huey P. Newton wrote:

Malcolm X was the first political person in this country that I really identified with...We continue to believe that the Black Panther Party exists in the spirit of Malcolm . . . the Party is a living testament to his life and work.

Quoted in The Huey P. Newton Reader

As David Hilliard observes in his introduction to The Huey P. Newton Reader,

Although Huey and co-founder Bobby Seale did not aspire to replicate Malcolm's Organization of Afro-American Unity, the fledgling political entity whose fruition was cut short by his murder in February 1965, Malcolm's teachings were nevertheless fundamental in structuring the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, as the group was originally named in October 1966.

Malcolm X not the only person who inspired the BPP, though. Mao, Frantz Fanon and Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah (among others) also influenced the BPP founders, especially Newton. Books by Malcolm X, Fanon and Nkrumah were at the top of the BPP's required required reading list.

The BPP's leftist orientation and willingness to work with other leftist organizations regardless of race set them very apart from the Nation of Islam. Although the two groups did share some aims, their methods and ideologies were very different. Seale does not mention the NOI even once in Seize the Time.

When at Oakland City College, Newton had heard Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali speak and, while "impressed with the objectives and overall program" of the NOI (of which Malcolm and Ali were then members), rejected the organization. He later explained

By this time, I had had enough of religion and could not bring myself to adopt another one. I needed a more concrete understanding of social conditions. References to God or Allah did not satisfy my stubborn thirst for answers.

Quoted in: Judson L. Jeffries, Huey P. Newton: The Radical Theorist

Other source:

Judson L. Jeffries (ed), On the Ground: The Black Panther Party in Communities across America

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