BEFORE THERE WAS a New Black Panther Party, there was an old Black Panther Party.

Launched on the streets of Oakland, Calif., in 1966 in response to complaints of widespread police brutality against African-Americans, the Black Panthers become an icon of the turbulent 1960s in a remarkably short time.

Its leaders — including co-founders Bobby Seale, Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver — were nationally known figures at a time when it appeared that the American social order might come undone.

Its supporters hailed the Black Panthers' emphasis on African-American self-sufficiency — running own schools, doling out breakfast to poor children and running free medical clinics.

Its detractors included then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who called the Panthers "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country" and others who said the party had a dark side that included extortion and drug dealing.

Whatever your viewpoint on the Black Panthers, it's fair to say that things did not end well. By the early 1970s, after intense spying by the FBI and other agencies and a series of bloody gunbattles with law enforcement, most of the leaders of the original Black Panther Party were dead or behind bars.

One of the most famous confrontations took place in Philadelphia in August 1970, shortly before a national convention of Black Panther leaders was slated to take place on the Temple campus. Then-Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo, blaming the shooting death of a white Fairmount Park cop on the party, raided its offices across the city and strip-searched leaders in front of the cameras (including that of the legendary Elwood P. Smith of the Daily News, whose image graced the front page of the People's Paper).

How do the surviving old Black Panthers view the New Black Panthers? Not favorably. Seale has complained to interviewers that his Panthers were "not revenge nationalists." n

— Will Bunch