By Abayomi Azikiwe
1969 had been a critical year for the Black Panther Party (BPP) with hundreds of its members indicted and incarcerated on trumped-up charges while numerous activists had been killed as a direct result of the Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO). During this year, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) J. Edgar Hoover had declared the Black Panther Party as the most serious threat to national security in the United States for decades. (https://vault.fbi.gov/Black%20Panther%20Party%20)
Such an exaggerated and clearly politically-motivated accusation required a political response from the by far most targeted revolutionary organizations working inside the country. The Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention (RPCC) was such an effort to build a broad based alliance encompassing Left-wing and progressive forces which had emerged over the previous decade.
On December 4, 1969, 14 Chicago police officers under the supervision of Illinois State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan had engineered a raid into the BPP residence on Monroe Street on the city’s west side. The attack was set-up by the Chicago Field Office of the FBI in an effort to assassinate African American leader Fred Hampton who was gaining national recognition for his organizing work in the Windy City.
The police intervention resulted in the assassinations of Peoria chapter Captain Mark Clark and Fred Hampton, Sr. Other occupants of the apartment were wounded, arrested and later charged with several felonies which were completed fabricated.
The assassination of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were an outcome of the role of the FBI in undermining and neutralizing the BPP. Informant William O’Neal, a career thief and informant, had been recruited by the local FBI special agent Marlin Johnson to infiltrate the Chicago chapter and to find any information which could be used to criminalize their work.
Fred Hampton had stated in 1969 that the BPP was committed to remaining a vanguard organization operating publically in major urban areas such as Chicago. Hampton said the Party would not be driven underground and in order to remain relevant had to enhance its outreach and community program to build support from the grassroots.
After the militarized police attacks on Party chapters around the U.S. during 1968-69, the BPP organized a National Revolutionary Conference for a United Front Against Fascism in July 1969 in Oakland, California. The event attracted thousands of activists while the Party put forward its program for ensuring that the administration of President Richard M. Nixon, the Justice Department, FBI and local police agencies would not be able to destroy the burgeoning revolutionary Left movement around the country.
In 1970, the BPP was facing extreme repression. Co-founder Huey P. Newton was serving a 2-15 years sentence for manslaughter against an Oakland police officer stemming from a shootout in October 1967. Chairman Bobby Seale and Central Committee member Erika Huggins, the wife of slain Panther John Huggins, were facing the possibility of the death penalty in a murder conspiracy case in New Haven, Connecticut.
Many within the Left were attempting to demonstrate solidarity with the Panthers. At Yale University in New Haven, students called for mass demonstrations and teach-ins in early May of 1970. In response to the atmosphere inside the country and the state, the president of Yale closed the University for the weekend in honor of the demonstrations saying that Black revolutionaries in the U.S. were incapable of receiving due process under the law.
While over 50,000 people congregated in New Haven, the U.S. administration was concerned that the BPP and other revolutionary organizations would break out of the attempts to isolate them among the youth and other segments of the populations. Therefore, the concept of the Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention arose as a means to counter the Nixon program of repression and counter-revolution.
RPCC Holds Three Gatherings in 1970….