Federally Qualified Health Centers and the Legacy of the Black Panther Party

Boston’s Franklin Lynch PFMC, located in a trailer parked on a city street. Clinic services varied by chapter and according to each chapter’s resources. Courtesy of It’s About Time Black Panther Party Archive.

This Black History Month, learn more about the history of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), the historical impact of Black Americans on FQHCs, and the legacy of Black Panther Party. Institutionalized racism in this U.S. has led to the health of Black people being ignored and exploited. From the unethical Tuskegee experiments and the immoral research from Henrietta Lacks’ cells, to the continued disproportionate childbirth mortality rates for Black people – the impacts of institutional racism are undeniable. As a Federally Qualified Health Center, Howard Brown shares in a rich history of healthcare equity and justice.

FQHCs have traced their history back to healthcare and Civil Rights activism and organizing in the 1960s by many activists, including the Black Panther Party. Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Elmer Dixon, Fred Hampton,  and many other members focused on the social services and the care Black people needed, including healthcare. Although the 1965 Medicare and Medicaid Act made it illegal to provide federal funding to any hospital or medical practice that excluded racial and ethnic minorities, it was not enforced, and most Black people still received medical services from poorly funded public hospitals and clinics. In response, the Black Panther Party opened 13 free health clinics across the country, also known as People’s Free Medical Clinics. Elmer Dixon, the Seattle chapter’s co-founder, was able to secure federal funding so that one of their People’s Free Medical Clinics could continue as a freestanding clinic. In Chicago, Fred Hampton was the chair of the chapter and established much-needed services including free medical care and breakfast programs.

The Black Panther Party’s organizational efforts to expand healthcare access and create greater health equity has lasting effects to this today. The social services, mission and goals of the Black Panther Party included the fundamentally radical goal of providing free, culturally responsive healthcare. For the Black Panther Party, community-based healthcare was directly tied to civil rights activism. One of their causes around healthcare included the instance where the Black Panther Party learned that sickle cell anemia was a neglected disease and primarily found in Black people. They responded by setting up a national screening program (Basset, 2016).

During the Freedom Summer of 1964, hundreds of activist health professionals went to Mississippi members of the Medical Committee for Human Rights to advocate for Black health equity. From this coordinated effort, Neighborhood Health Centers officially emerged as a key program in the Lyndon B. Johnson administration’s War on Poverty in 1965. Neighborhood Health Centers were created to provide health and social services in poor and underserved communities. Neighborhood Health Centers, eventually renamed FQHCs, build community-based primary care infrastructure and strive to provide culturally competent primary care, often linking to social services.

FQHCs are community-based healthcare providers that receive funds from the Health Resources & Services Administration Health Center Program to provide primary care services in underserved areas. They must meet a stringent set of requirements, including providing care on a sliding fee scale based on ability to pay and operating under a governing board that includes patients. Howard Brown is dedicated to removing barriers to healthcare access for LGBTQ communities, people affected by HIV, and communities of color.

As an FQHC, Howard Brown celebrates the legacy of the Black Panther Party and their massive impact on health equity for Black Americans. Each day we strive to address the systemic barriers to healthcare through the improvement of our services and our continued education, research, and advocacy.

Works Cited:

Bassett M. T. (2016). Beyond Berets: The Black Panthers as Health Activists. American journal of public health, 106(10), 1741–1743. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303412

Morabia A. (2016). Unveiling the Black Panther Party Legacy to Public Health. American journal of public health, 106(10), 1732–1733. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303405

Pien, D. (2020, July 09) Black Panther Party’s Free Medical Clinics (1969-1975). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/black-panther-partys-free-medical-clinics-1969-1975/


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