This is the one-hundred and eighty-third in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and eighty-two.
COMIC LEGEND: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Black Panther pre-dated the Black Panther Party.
I will allay any fears of me simply being pedantic here by noting that the Black Panther first appeared in Fantastic Four #52, which was cover-dated July 1966, which means it probably hit the stands a few months earlier.
In October of that same year, in Oakland California, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.
So yes, the Marvel Black Panther certainly WAS around before the famous Black Panther Party that we are all most familiar with.
That's totally accurate.
However, what I wish to discuss is the notion that Newton and Seale could have possibly taken their name from Lee and Kirby's creation, a notion I recently was asked by reader Jason (who also asked one of the Madelyne Pryor legends last week). That's something I've always dismissed out of hand, but only because I found it unlikely that they just happened to see an issue of the Fantastic Four a few months earlier. But while I dismissed the notion, I did so thinking that the Black Panther in Fantastic Four, while not being the influence for the Black Panther Party (as anyhow, there have been plenty of groups named Black Panther over the years before T'Challa made his first appearance), DID at least come first.
That's where I was mistaken, as the Black Panther name and symbol that Newton and Seale ended up using were actually created the previous year, well BEFORE T'Challa showed up in the comics!
Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were working to register voters in Alabama in the mid-60s. In 1964, in Mississippi, the SNCC helped to form a new political party called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to take the place at the 1964 Democratic Convention of the whites-only Democratic delegation from Mississippi. While they were unsuccessful in doing so, they did manage to draw a lot of attention to their cause.
Well, in Alabama, they wished to follow the lead of the Mississippi Freedom Party, so they began to develop the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael. Now, in Alabama at the time, due to the number of illiterate voters, each party had to have its own symbol.
The LCFO had a designer come up with a logo, and she developed a dove symbol. That was determined to be too passive of a logo, so the designer then went to the mascot of Atlanta's Clark College (a predominantly black college that has since merged with another black school, Atlanta University, to become Clark Atlanta University), which was the Black Panthers. Clark's logo was basically traced, and that was the new logo.
The LCFO soon became known as the Black Panther Party. The next year, in October, at a conference sponsored by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at UC Berkley, Carmichael gave an impassioned speech where he said:
In Lowndes County, we developed something called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. It is a political party. The Alabama law says that if you have a Party you must have an emblem. We chose for the emblem a black panther, a beautiful black animal which symbolizes the strength and dignity of black people, an animal that never strikes back until he's back so far into the wall, he's got nothing to do but spring out. Yeah. And when he springs he does not stop.
Now there is a Party in Alabama called the Alabama Democratic Party. It is all white. It has as its emblem a white rooster and the words "white supremacy" for the write. Now the gentlemen of the Press, because they're advertisers, and because most of them are white, and because they're produced by that white institution, never called the Lowndes Country Freedom Organization by its name, but rather they call it the Black Panther Party. Our question is, Why don't they call the Alabama Democratic Party the "White Cock Party"? (It's fair to us.....) It is clear to me that that just points out America's problem with sex and color, not our problem, not our problem. And it is now white America that is going to deal with sex and color.
Seale and Newton asked for permission to use the Black Panther name and logo, and the rest was history.
So yeah, there is a clear path of usage of the name Black Panther, and it did not include Fantastic Four #52.