Fifty Years Later, Black Panthers’ Art Still Resonates

The Black Panther Party was founded 50 years ago in Oakland, on Oct. 15, 1966, and within two years it had chapters across the country. The New York Times is taking this opportunity to explore the Black Panthers’ legacy, through their iconic use of imagery and how they were covered in our own pages.

The Black Panther Party is often associated with armed resistance, but one of the most potent weapons in its outreach to African-Americans in cities across the country was its artwork. In posters, pamphlets and its popular newspaper, The Black Panther, the party’s imagery was guided by the vision of Emory Douglas, its minister of culture.

His art came from many sources. As a teenager in San Francisco during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mr. Douglas found himself incarcerated at the Youth Training School in Ontario, Calif., where he got involved with its printing shop. He went on to study graphic design at San Francisco City College, where he developed a deep interest in the Black Arts Movement, the artistic arm of the Black Power Movement.

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“Vanguard of the Revolution” is Liberal History, Strips and Omits Socialism from History of the Black Panther Party

[Bruce Dixon provides an important (but beginning) critique of the new Stanley Nelson film, which portrays the Panther’s iconic nature as helpful survival programs and electioneering.  The film shows the Panthers as beaten by police, but gives no lessons for contemporary self-defense or revolutionary systemic challenge.  The film in this sense plays a similar role as SELMA:  a superficial memorial.  The strengths and weaknesses of the film are being discussed and debated.  Reactionaries and white supremacists hate it, liberals love it, but revolutionary organizers today will not find it contributing much to the materials which could guide new efforts on the ground today. — Frontlines ed.]
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Stanley Nelson’s documentary on the BPP is “history” by and for lazy American liberals. He turns the BPP into a pop culture icon a T-shirt. Nelson mentions guns hundreds of times, big naturals and swagger a few dozen times but not the word “socialism” once in 2 hours. The BPP described its Breakfast For Children and Free Medical Clinics every day as “socialism” in person and in our newspaper, to each other and to the neighborhoods we served.

“Vanguard of the Revolution” is Liberal History, Strips and Omits Socialism from History of the Black Panther Party

by Black Agenda Report managing editor Bruce A.Dixon, February 17, 2016
“Stanley Nelson is what Americans call a “liberal” and that’s what Vanguard of the Revolution is…. a liberal’s take on the BPP.”
 

I used to have a Che Guevara T-shirt. It was a pretty good shirt, but it told me nothing about the man or his life’s work. It had Che’s face on it, but by itself the face is just a pop culture icon, shorthand or short-brain for everything you want to know, or everything think you already know about it. That’s what Stanley Nelson’s film, Black Panthers, Vanguard of the Revolution does to the Black Panther Party. He made the movement of my youth an icon. A T-shirt.

On the plus side, it’s a pretty good T-shirt. Vanguard of the Revolution contains some great interview footage from Erika Huggins, Elaine Brown, the freedom fighting Freeman brothers and Wayne Pharr, my old comrade Michael McCarty and several others. On the minus side, Nelson omits and obscures the domestic and global political context the BPP came out of and thrived in. According to Vanguard of the Revolution, the BPP arose out of black northern frustration after the passage of civil rights legislation. It caught on due to the irresistible appeal of its naturals, big guns, the murdermouthing rhetoric of Eldridge Cleaver, downright sexiness, and black is beautiful, all of which earned the BPP pop culture stardom. And pop culture stardom needs no further explanation. Cue the music, fists in the air, and power to the people…

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Assata Shakur: “I Am a 20th Century Escaped Slave”

Although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal

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My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.

I have been a political activist most of my life, and although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. Because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.  Continue reading

On the Mass Political Movement Inside US Prisons

Pelican Bay Hunger Strike: Four years and still fighting

July 14, 2015, SF Bayview Newspaper

by Claude Marks and Isaac Ontiveros

Four years ago prisoners in California – led by those in the control units of Pelican Bay – organized a hunger strike to demand an end to the torturous conditions of solitary confinement. Two more strikes would follow, with over 30,000 prisoners taking united action in the summer of 2013 – both in isolation and in general population in nearly every California prison.

“Will You Stand Up and Let Your Voice Be Heard July 8th 2013?” – Art: Michael D. Russell

The strikes reflected significant shifts in political consciousness among prisoners and their loved ones. The violence of imprisonment was further exposed by demands and heightened organization from within the cages. Prisoner-led collective actions as well as growing public support dramatically have changed the political landscape.

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Film Review — “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution”

[Almost all bourgeois media depictions of the Black Panthers have been highly sensationalized, racist, and scarified, designed for bewildered viewers to dismiss.  Some have had a more sympathetic, even empathetic, edge, though usually told in terms that say, “that’s in the past, it won’t happen again.”  But this review connects this new film with its relevance  today in a society riveted and outraged by  the everyday, country-wide, routine police killings of blacks. — Frontlines ed.]

Wickham: The Black Panthers redux

by DeWayne Wickham, USA Today, February 17, 2015
New documentary tells another story of revolutionary group than the one we’ve been told.
NEW YORK — The Black Panther Party is back.
Not the one-dimensional, gun-toting, leather-jacket-wearing caricature that dominated news coverage of the black revolutionary organization during its heyday in the 1960s.
And I’m not talking about the Black Panther Party that was both the target and creation of COINTELPRO, the secret FBI counter-intelligence operation that sought to “neutralize” the Panthers by virtually any means necessary.

August 7, 1970 — 44th Anniversary of the Marin California Courthouse Slave Rebellion

by Kiilu Nyasha, director, “Freedom is a Constant Struggle”

2014 marks the 44th anniversary of the Marin Courthouse Slave Rebellion and the 35th anniversary of Black August, first organized in 1979 to honor our fallen freedom fighters, Jonathan and George Jackson, Khatari Gaulden, James McClain, William Christmas, and the sole survivor of the August 1970 Courthouse Rebellion, Ruchell Cinque Magee.

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George Jackson

A time to embrace the principles of unity and resistance, Black August had its origins in the “Black Movement” behind prison walls in the Sixties, led by George Jackson, W. L. Nolen, Hugo Pinell, and many other conscious, standup brothers who made it safe for Blacks to walk the yards of California’s overtly racist prisons.

On August 7, 1970, news of the revolutionary action hit the front pages of newspapers around the world.  Pictures of four young Black men emerging from the Marin courthouse with guns and hostages, provoked panic in some, but most Black folks took great pride and inspiration from the sight of courageous resistance to the ongoing brutality and murder of Blacks inside and outside of prison. Continue reading

Historian challenges exaggerated claims and twisted “history” about Black Panthers’ self-defense program

Countering Subversion– Black Panther Scholarship, Popular History, and the Richard Aoki Controversy

By Donna Jean Murch, October 2012 issue of Perspectives on History, American Historical Review

Starting early Monday morning, August 20, with a barrage of texts, emails, and Facebook postings, friends and colleagues invited me into the growing storm over Seth Rosenfeld’s book, Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power. The book debuted with an accusation that Richard Aoki, one of the most trusted soldiers of the Asian American, Third World, and Black Power movements, was an FBI informant. To me this debate was deeply meaningful because I, like Rosenfeld, had interviewed Aoki and knew him informally over the years I spent at the University of California, Berkeley, researching what ultimately became my book, Living for the City: Migration, Education and the Rise of the Black Panther Party.

Rosenfeld’s claim, which he bases on a single FOIA document and his interviews of two people who are now deceased, has immense implications because of Richard Aoki’s central role in the Panthers’ program of armed self-defense. Shortly after founding the Black Panther Party (BPP), Bobby Seale and Huey Newton consulted Aoki, who supplied them with their first guns, including.357 Magnums, 22’s, and 9mm’s. If Rosenfeld’s claim is true, readers could logically infer that from its inception, the state guided the Black Panther Party’s hand as it embraced the gun and the broader principle of armed self-defense.

It would be premature to talk definitively about the truth or falsity of Rosenfeld’s allegations, and it is imperative that scholars, activists, journalists and historians organize to get the remaining documents declassified by the FBI. In order to substantively respond to these claims, we need more research and more declassification. Indeed, this is true far beyond the case of Richard Aoki and extends into the larger field of postwar U.S. history. Until researchers have greater access to the archival holdings of the FBI and other national security agencies, what we understand of our collective past remains provisional and fragmentary.

Thus Rosenfeld’s book is a poignant reminder that we simply do not know the full extent and scale of state surveillance and repression—not only of radical social movements of the 1960s, but of a much broader spectrum of groups, organizations, personalities, and institutions. As a historian of the Panthers, one of a whole generation of younger scholars documenting the history of the Black Power and Black Studies, I’ve seen multiple examples of how state infiltration and backlash profoundly shaped the course of radical social movements and became the dark chiaroscuro against which youth activism emerged and defined itself. This is true not only for the BPP and UC Berkeley, but also for a wide range of historic grassroots struggles from Kent State to Attica and from the American Indian Movement (AIM) to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

The tremendously difficult, intricate, and expensive protocols of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, combined with the near impossibility of accessing state, local, and federal law-enforcement records, have made this work daunting and severely limited researchers’ ability to document the twilight worlds of repression and infiltration. These barriers are further complicated by the methodological problems of recovering the history of groups like the Panthers with aboveground institutions and underground wings engaged in clandestine activity. In this sense, I am very sympathetic to the particular dilemmas posed by this type of inquiry. The release of Subversives and the ensuing controversy provides a welcome occasion for public debate about the historical consequences of the domestic national security state.

That said, perhaps, what I find most unsettling about Rosenfeld’s book is its almost complete failure to engage most of the new research on the BPP. With the exception of a single monograph on violence and the Panthers, Rosenfeld employs little of the new scholarship in the Aoki section of the book, and instead relies heavily on an outdated journalistic account for background and two interviews and a single FOIA document for his most sensational finding. As a result, he makes sweeping claims that overreach his sources, like an exaggerated role for Aoki, who appears as the Asian Zauberer of East Bay radicalism, promoting violence at major historical junctureslike thefounding of the BPP and the Ethnic Studies Strike at Berkeley. Had Rosenfeld delved more carefully into the spate of recent books, dissertations, and edited collections on black radicalism, it would have been much harder to attribute the use of armed self-defense solely to his Svengali-like Aoki, who appears in the book replete with sunglasses at night, “slicked back hair,” “ghetto Patois,” and a menacing “swagger.” At the very least, pinning so much on Aoki is a big leap.

This is not a small point, or a mere turf battle between academic and popular history, because it has much larger implications for how Rosenfeld frames the role of Aoki as a decisive, corrupting influence. So how would incorporating more of the scholarly literature have changed his narrative? First, to truly assess how the state derailed these movements, we have to take the history of the groups and organizations seriously, and then explore how intervention changed their course. Ironically, had he followed this course, Rosenfeld might have found even more substantive evidence for exposing the role of state “subversion.” I argue, for example, in Living for the City, that it was precisely through the armed, military wing of the BPP that the state infiltrated the organization across different regions and time periods. However, to imply that the government invented or conjured armed self-defense, rather than using it to justify repression, is both historically inaccurate and misleading. Continue reading