Though later associated with the Black Panther Party, the panther image was first used by the Lowndes County Freedom Organization.
Lowndes County, Alabama was well known during the 1950s and 1960s for its virulent racism and repression of black residents. 12,000 of its 15,000 residents were African American, more than half lived below the poverty line, and at the beginning of 1965, none were registered to vote. That year, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began a voter registration campaign to politically empower the black residents. They joined with John Hulett, the first Black resident of Lowndes County to vote, and turned his church-based Lowndes County Christian Movement for Human Rights into the secular Lowndes County Freedom Organization in January of 1966. The organization urged community members to seize political power by voting, and began using the black panther as a symbol on their ballot.