Interview with Elaine Brown

Could you talk about the survival programs, what was the philosophy of them, how did they come about, and how did you carry them out?


Well, the survival programs were initially, the concept came from Huey, ah, ah, in the sense that, ah, he would say that we're going to develop these programs, and their function would be for the survival of the people, to the point of revolution. But the breakfast program, which was a part of that whole group of social programs, social welfare programs, was not called the survival program, but it became a part of that whole package eventually. The breakfast program, of course, is the most well-known of the Panther programs, breakfast, breakfast for children, under the philosophy that, um, simply that children could not learn, and Black children were not learning in school, despite the inferior educational process, they couldn't learn anything without having, ah, food. And so we started the breakfast program. The first one was started in a, ah, ah, church, um, Father Boyle's church in San Francisco. It was funny, because we couldn't get a lot of Black preachers and ministers to give us, ah, space, and that's who we reached out to, we wanted the churches to open their doors, because they did, they had clearly the facilities to handle cooking and having a number of children. And then other breakfast programs eventually spread from there. Father Neil in Oakland and, and others in, in the other chapters and branches throughout the, ah, the country. The idea was, ah, obviously, twofold, for the specific purpose of serving those people who were directly benefit--benefited by our programs. But also, secondarily, to influence the minds of people, to understand not only that the Black Panther party was providing them this, but more importantly that if they could get food that maybe they would want clothing, and maybe they'd want housing, maybe they'd want land, and maybe they would ultimately want some abstract thing called freedom. And so the idea of the survival program was a political organizing tool which most people misunderstood because they thought it was an end in and of itself, and it was not an end in and of itself. It was, um, it was the point at which people could be introduced to the political process, through the breakfast, through our food programs, through medical clinics, through legal defense programs, busing to prisons, ah, clothing, um, ah, so forth. We had so many different programs, and each chapter, of course, reflected its own particular--particulars, but generally speaking we all had these kinds of programs with the intent of serving the people and with the intent of providing them a political, becoming, putting them into the political process.