Black Panthers’ Fight For Free Health Care Documented in New Book

(Image: University of Minnesota Press)It is well-known that the Black Panther Party’s [BPP] rallying call was "serve the people, body and soul." According to sociologist Alondra Nelson, the phrase was far more than a rhetorical flourish. In fact, Panther co-founder Bobby Seale made sure it was taken literally when, in the spring of 1970, he ordered all party chapters to create free breakfast programs for children and health centers to serve the medically needy.

It was a tall order, born of the belief that theory and practice need to work in tandem, with tangible benefits being given to under-resourced communities. The clinics were called People’s Free Medical Centers [PFMC] and…all relied on donated supplies and volunteer labor. Women, Nelson writes, were the backbone of the effort – not surprising, considering that approximately 60 percent of BPP members were female.

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