By Anthony Rendon and Chris Holden
Apparently, history makes some people uncomfortable.
The facts make some people uncomfortable.
Pressure from people with a limited grasp of the past recently led the National Park Service to cancel a University of California historical research project regarding the Black Panther Party.
We know the Black Panthers are controversial. Even the document that awarded the grant refers to “the complex history of the Black Panther Party.”
But the project was for understanding that history, for probing into it, and how it related to historical incidents going back to World War II.
Instead of exploring history, we get an attempt to cover up the past by defunding the project.
The Fraternal Order of Police wrote to President Donald Trump, protesting the grant for the research.
That group has a complex history of its own, including protesting sales of Black Lives Matter t-shirts.
In their letter to the President, they called the Black Panthers “anti-American,” and quoted old FBI statements labeling it as “a black extremist group” advocating the “overthrow of the U.S. Government.”
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover listed the Black Panthers as a hate group.
Yet, the FBI’s anti-Black Panther history goes far beyond that. The Black Panthers were subjected to constant surveillance, infiltration and attempts to discredit their activities.
Its members were criminalized, attacked, and sometimes killed for their pursuit of justice in the Black community.
Much of this was covered in an exhibit this year at the Oakland Museum of California. It is history.
A thorough look at the Panthers’ history would include – as the Oakland museum did – the Party’s original 10 “wants.” They started with freedom, employment, and education, before getting to point 7: “We want an immediate end to police brutality and the murder of black people.”
Officially sanctioned violence against Blacks is a fact of American history, going back to the Atlantic Slave Trade.
The letter opposing the National Park Service grant barely touches on that shameful past, and in a skewed manner.
The letter suggests a parallel between its opposition to the research project and opposition to memorials to the Confederacy that subjugated Blacks as slaves. That is wrong.
To call Confederate markers, as the letter does, “memorials to aspects of the darker times in our history,” glosses over the 400-year legacy of the horrors inflicted on African Americans and on our country by the Confederacy.
Today, communities of color still face negative reactions for organizing to pursue justice and equality in the face of incidents of peace officer violence.
Groups like Black Lives Matter are seen as threats to a conservative world view. Those who share that view use the killing of a park ranger by a Panther as an excuse to defund the Black Panther project.
That is an attempt to cover up history.
Some members of the Black Panthers committed inexcusable acts. We won’t cover that up.
But we also know Black Panthers filled a void in the social safety net for its community through programs such as benefits counseling; drug/alcohol abuse awareness programs; free food, dental, and health programs; and much more.
The historical research project that has been aborted promised to collect oral histories by those affected by the Black Panthers and their movement.
The project award document put out by the Parks Service speaks to an effort to “truthfully” address the legacy of the Black Panthers.
Those who want to stifle the project seem afraid to engage in meaningful dialogue about the past.
If history, any history, offers a lesson to us, it is that they will not be successful in the long run.
It has been suggested by Martin Luther King, Jr. and by Theodore Parker, a 19th-century anti-slavery activist, that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.
Maybe it’s right for opponents of this research to be afraid of history, because the facts suggest history will not be kind to them.
Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) is the 70th Speaker of the California State Assembly. Assemblymember Chris Holden is the Chair of the California Black Caucus (D-Pasadena).