The Black Panther Party's First Act Was To Install A Stoplight

traffic light with a lit green light
Zain Murdock
April 20, 2021

It was June 1967, at the intersection of Market and 55th streets in Oakland, California. Only a few blocks away from Bobby Seale’s house and Santa Fe Elementary School, cars whizzed by. And kids kept getting injured while crossing the street – some were even killed! What could be done?

A group of college students, members of the newly-formed Black Panther Party, demanded that Oakland City Council install a traffic light. But then as now, the authorities didn’t care about Black kids. It would take at least a year to get that done, they claimed. During that year, more children would be injured or killed! So what did the Panthers do?

If the city wouldn’t help, they’d walk the kids across the street themselves – armed with guns! And of course, Oakland wasn’t too happy about these Black, radical, gun-toting crossing guards.

So it looked like it wouldn’t take a year to get the traffic light after all! On August 1, 1967, installation started. And the kids stopped dying.

The Black Panthers' first action should be an inspiration for our communities today. They saw a problem, recognized that authorities were incompetent by design, and found a solution – by any means necessary. Many party members were murdered or are still incarcerated. It's our job to continue their work. The Panthers are a reminder that there is always a way.

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