From the mid-1960s, young Black people energized the struggle for civil rights through the Black Power movement. It was a call for self-determination and self-help in response to an entrenched white power structure. Along with Black Power was a celebration of Black artistic and cultural productions, such as art, music, culture, and beauty. Figures such as Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis were thrust onto national platforms.Simba (“lion” in Kiswahili) was a Black Power student organization formed at BCC in 1965. Activities were generally secretive – much in line with many other Black Power organizations that were being targeted by authorities for being radical and therefore un-American. But the club’s achievements included a clothing drive for sharecroppers in Mississippi, buying books on Black history and achievement for the college library, and inviting Betty Shabazz, wife of the late Malcolm X to speak to students and faculty on campus.
BCC’s association with the Black Panthers came to surface with the arrest of a former nursing student, a then 20-year old Joan Victoria Bird. The student caused national headlines when she was arrested with 20 other members by the Manhattan District Attorney in 1969 for being a part of the Black Panthers in New York. The Panther 21 became a high-profile trial in which its members were accused of conspiracy to bomb commercial and municipal sites including Macys and the Bronx Botanical Gardens.
Founded in Oakland in 1966, the Black Panthers were a radical organization demanding social justice. Recognizable in their para-military outfits and often vilified by the government for “terrorist” activities, the Panthers offered a wide range of social welfare programs to Black communities such as breakfast, after-school, and health programs.
A powerful mass movement rose to free the Panther 21. On May 13, 1971, after the longest political trial in New York’s history, all 21 New York Panthers were acquitted. The jury found that the NYPD has used excessive means to disrupt Panther community programs and unethical interrogation tactics to get members to “confess” to crimes.