How Did The Black Panther’s Threaten National Security By Giving Children Breakfast?

Black Panther Party breakfast
Panther Jerry Dunigan, known as “Odinka”, serves breakfast to children at Panther Free Breakfast Program

Occasionally I find I still have to make the case to people that Black People do care about the environment, which includes health. For Black History Month here’s yet another example: In January, 1969, The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense launched the Free Breakfast for Children Program. Their motto was “Serve the People, Body and Soul.”

Before the US government gave breakfast at school the program was initiated at St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland. By year’s end it spread to cities nationwide, feeding over 10,000 children every day before school.

Free-Breakfast-panthers

The reason was simple, children who have a nourishing breakfast every morning learn better. One of the children they fed would grow up to be Public Enemy frontman Chuck D.

At one time there were children that passed out in class from hunger, or had to be sent home for something to eat. But our children shall be fed, and the Black Panther Party will not let the malady of hunger keep our children down any longer.” -Huey P. Newton, Black Panthers co-founder

Black Power Salute at Liberation School
20 Dec 1969, San Francisco, California, USA — A teacher leads his students with the black power salute and slogans at a Black Panther liberation school. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Just months later J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, publicly stated the Panthers are the “greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”

“…If you read the FBI files you will see that even Mr. J. Edgar Hoover himself had to say that it was not the guns that were the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States of America; it was not the guns, it was the Free Children’s Breakfast Program that was the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States of America. Grits. Now why was it the Free Children’s Breakfast Program?

It was the Free Children’s Breakfast Program because the Free Children’s Breakfast Program engendered a certain following on the Black community’s part, a certain respect on the Black community’s part. I mean, nobody can argue with free grits. So Hoover saw it as a kind of…infiltration.

That’s ridiculous isn’t it? Infiltration? How are Black people, who are born and raised in the Black community, who live and work in the Black community, going to infiltrate their own Black community? If anybody’s infiltrating I think its J. Edgar Hoover.” -Roger Guenveur Smith, A Huey P. Newton Story

Src: pbs.org/hueypnewton

All these years later we have First Lady Michelle Obama focusing on childhood obesity and nourishment for children. Well then, maybe there’s something to this healthy breakfast thing after all. Did you eat breakfast today?

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8 comments

  1. MToussaint

    It was a worthwhile program that empowered the community that not many people seem to know about. Thanks for the link and sharing that info!

  2. Dawn Elise

    Great article, thank you. The mass potential of the Free Children’s Breakfast Program that was so empowering to these happy children was a big threat to the head of the FBI… deep. It’s also why J. Edgar Hoover was so obsessed with Dr. King, his ability to have a message and actions with mass appeal, that could unite the Black community. People often think what’s radical is to have a really hardcore analysis. What is radical is to unite Black people in a mass way, empower grassroots people to have the hope to connect after the daily oppression has ground us down–and to keep coming back. Some original Black Panther Party members in NYC are still keeping on today, and organizing, and uniting, and there non-sectarianism, sincere attempts to fight sexism and homophobia, to just l-o-v-e Black and all oppressed people is better than drugs!

  3. Dawn Elise

    “Better than drugs” was a terrible analogy, sorry. I meant, so addictive in the good sense. I really meant, “feels like church” but realize that wouldn’t make sense to many people. Maybe, “feels like home”?!

  4. Madam Toussaint

    Either way your comments are appreciated! I’m reminded of Angela Davis’ words about meeting the people’s needs where they are otherwise they will never listen to you. This program made a real difference in people’s lives and few things are more noble than making sure children are healthy and fed. I agree, this serves as a real lesson about what is radical and threatening to the system that oppresses us all.

  5. Pingback: Real Food Justice: From Black Panther Party Roots to Hip Hop Activism, Foodies with Fists | Diet Fitness and Health
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