The Black Panther movement was a turbulent organization in a turbulent time, but it's important to know a lot of Black history in order to fully understand the circumstances which led up to the 1960s. Events going back to the founding of the US to the Civil War to Separate But Equal to Northern Migration and World War II are succinctly explained, but the brevity does not lessen the impact. When even the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s failed to keep Black people from suffering from systemic racism, the Black Panthers felt that a new method of protest needed to be mounted. Since nonviolent protests were having little impact, they felt a need for an aggressive alternative.
As Magoon says in Chapter 5 (of the ARC), "In a vacuum, it is easy to default to saying, "Violence is never the answer," and thus addresses the most difficult issues of the Black Panthers. The country, still dealing with the consequences of WWII and Korea and now heavily involved in Vietnam and protests against it, and also dealing with the Cold War and Hoover's horribly misguided attempts to deal with the threat of Communism, found it difficult to deal with Black citizens armed with legal weapons embracing Leninistic philosophies. It was an uncomfortable time, but this discomfort was crucial to seeing change made. The descriptions of why and how Panther leadership determined their mission and processes against this historical background are helpful in understanding why these extreme measures were taken.
I have always been intrigued by the amount of social improvement programs that the Panthers ran. Some of these are discussed in Williams-Garcia's 2010 One Crazy Summer, and all are discussed here. Education, both for children and for adults (I love that there was a book list in the weekly newspaper!), was very important, but there was a strong understanding that people cannot learn on empty stomachs. Free food programs were implemented on community levels, and these expanded to include clothing, shoes, and other programs for issues that were essential for survival. Since the median age of Panthers was 19, this was a movement clearly driven and forwarded by the young, so they were not forgotten.
There were strict rules, and very clear mission statements for the organization, as well as a sort of uniform (the classic beret, black jacket, and light blue shirt), and these, along with the sense of purpose, helped engender strong feelings of community. They were also helpful when members were frequently arrested on trumped up charges, especially where weapons were concerned.
There were some problems. Many of the leaders ran into trouble with the law, often being jailed, or were killed. These occurrences aren't downplayed, but are framed in contexts that help make sense of the impossible circumstances the Panthers found themselves fighting against. It's easy to think that those who live by guns, die by guns, but Magoon clearly describes the precipitating events that drove these actions and shows how necessary they were.
There are biographies at the end of the book, a timeline, a helpful bibliography, and complete index, as well as plentiful period photographs and illustrations throughout.
Search you public library for books about the Black Panther Movement. Aside from Martin's Black Against Empire (2013), Shames' and Seale's Power to the People (2016), and the Talbot's By the Light of Burning Dreams (2021), I doubt you'll find much. And those are all adult books. This is absolutely the most complete and balanced book that I have seen on a critically important but underrepresented organization in the Civil Rights movement. I cannot recommend it enough.