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American Schools Have Free Breakfast Because of the Black Panther Party

February 6, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Brad Jones, member of the Philadelphia Black Panthers Organization, helping serve breakfast to youngsters. (Credit: Bill Ingraham/AP Photo)

In 1969, a group of children sat down to a free breakfast before school. On the menu: chocolate milk, eggs, meat, cereal and fresh oranges. The scene wouldn’t be out of place in a school cafeteria these days—but the federal government wasn’t providing the food. Instead, breakfast was served thanks to the Black Panther Party.

At the time, the militant black nationalist party was vilified in the news media and feared by those intimidated by its message of black power and its commitment to ending police brutality and the subjugation of black Americans. But for students eating breakfast, the Black Panthers’ politics were less interesting than the meals they were providing.

“The children, many of whom had never eaten breakfast before the Panthers started their program,” the Sun Reporterwrote, “think the Panthers are ‘groovy’ and ‘very nice’ for doing this for them.”

The program may have been groovy, but its purpose was to fuel revolution by encouraging black people’s survival. From 1969 through the early 1970s, the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for School Children Program fed tens of thousands of hungry kids. It was just one facet of a wealth of social programs created by the party—and it helped contribute to the existence of federal free breakfast programs today.

Brad Jones, member of the Philadelphia Black Panthers Organization, helping serve breakfast to youngsters. (Credit: Bill Ingraham/AP Photo)

When Black Panther Party founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the party in 1966, their goal was to end police brutality in Oakland. But a faction of the Civil Rights Movement led by SNCC member Stokeley Carmichael began calling for the uplift and self-determination of African-Americans, and soon black power was part of their platform.

At first, the Black Panther Party primarily organized neighborhood police patrols that took advantage of open-carry laws, but over time its mandate expanded to include social programs, too.

Free Breakfast For School Children was one of the most effective. It began in January 1969 at an Episcopal church in Oakland, and within weeks it went from feeding a handful of kids to hundreds. The program was simple: party members and volunteers went to local grocery stores to solicit donations, consulted with nutritionists on healthful breakfast options for children, and prepared and served the food free of charge.

School officials immediately reported results in kids who had free breakfast before school. “The school principal came down and told us how different the …read more


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