Black Panthers’ Breakfast Program

by Jessica Yoo

You may be aware that the USDA implemented the School Breakfast Program in 1975, but did you know that the Black Panther Party started serving free breakfast to children long before, in the ’60s?

The Black Panthers started the Free Breakfast for School Children Program in Oakland, California, serving nutritionally-balanced meals to inner-city African American children. The program was so popular that it was implemented in cities across the country and served about 10,000 children. The Free Breakfast program, one of the Black Panthers’ many “survival programs” was truly a community effort, run by volunteers and funded by businesses, churches, organizations and community members. Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panthers Party, when writing about some of the impacts of the program said, “The consciousness of the children will be raised in that they will see someone outside the structure of their own family working in their interest and motivated by love and concern.” Also, the Black Panthers understood that “our children need a nourishing breakfast every morning so that they can learn.”

The Black Panther’s breakfast program did not receive any support from the U.S. government, but it was closely monitored. The FBI deemed the Black Panthers as dangerous and the Free Breakfast Program as a threat to national security. They believed the Black Panthers would inculcate the minds of African American youth, and recruit them to join their party. As a result, the breakfast programs were often raided and were required to undergo rigorous regulation measures. Despite the attempts to derail the program, the community persevered and served free breakfast until the Black Panther party disintegrated in the ’70s.

The Free Breakfast for School Children Program and the government’s reaction exposed the U.S. government’s systematic neglect of the African American community. The Administration was threatened because the Black Panthers took their own initiative to address a need in the community, a need that should have been addressed by the government. The United States government lacked the racial and socioeconomic equity lens to provide and support all its people.

The Black Panther’s Free Breakfast Program inspired the U.S. government to officially adopt the State Breakfast Program in 1975. Today, schools across the country receive federal reimbursements to serve healthy breakfasts at a free, reduced or low price to students. As we prepare for the November Breakfast Challenge, let us remember the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for School Children and the major impact it continues to have on our children today.

Want to learn more about the Black Panthers? “Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” is being screened at the Hollywood Theater in Portland through October 22.