On the 50th anniversary of its establishment, a new book penned by the party’s founders offers an unprecedented insight into the history and significance of the Black Panthers
There’s an image in the middle of Power To The People: The World of the Black Panthers of a graffiti covered wall in an abandoned lot. The black capital text shouts out of the page “The Moon Belongs to the People!!!” In the context of this incredible book, the words take on an anger and power. The Black Panther Party was a revolutionary party based in the USA that lasted between 1966 and 1982. It sought to challenge police brutality and establish a form of socialism with a focus on ethnic minorities. The FBI referred to the Black Panthers as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country”. Yet they also created some incredibly positive schemes from health clinics to organising free food for children.
Power to the People is an oral history of the party, written by its founders. It is a unique insight into its history and aims, accompanied by intimate photographic images by Stephen Shames. The Black Lives Matter movement wouldn't exist today if it hadn’t been for the groundwork, the empathy, the sense of organisation, and the anger of the Black Panthers in these pages. It is the 50th anniversary of the party this year and the ten point program – the manifesto of the party written in 1966 that opens in the book - could not be more relevant today. In it they called for “land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.” Who could argue with that? Below we pull out ten quotes from the book.
Bobby Seale: I decided I needed to start a new organization. They killed Malcolm X, and it was my need, at this point in my life, to start a new organization... On October 22 1966, my birthday (and I did not remember it was my birthday until the end of the day). Huey and I founded the party.
Khalid Raheem: We don't glorify violence. We don't glorify weapons. We don't glorify the gun culture. But we do not believe in unconditional pacifism. We advocate our right to defend ourselves.
Kathleen Clever: Huey got shot in October. It was the same month that Che Guevara was killed…
Bobby Seale: … you find yourself in an alone kind of a situation. Somebody’s doing me wrong – I go into a rage. But then I learned to control this rage.” Wait a minute, I’ve got to control this rage. I can’t just boom-boom-boom.”… I learned to control it. “Don't riot, organize.” When Martin Luther King was killed, there were four hundred riots going on around the country. I mean, within a day… You burn out your community, a bunch of people get arrested, a bunch of people get killed. And you destroy businesses. When you destroy those businesses, you have lost these jobs. That’s not organizing. To me, it was supposed to be the opposite. You’re going to organize the community, get the community together… After the killing of Martin Luther King, the Black Panther Party spread like wildfire.
Khalid Raheem: I was a young person who had been kicked out of high school. I found a job, but I really had no direction in my life. I had failed school for several years. I wasn't inspired. I hung out with my friends. I got drunk. I partied. I got high. I had confrontations, fights. I was 16 or 17-years-old and I was hanging with my friend, and some brother came through our neighbourhood. They were members of the Black Panther Party… I wind up getting involved. That was the turning point in my life... Really, the thing that caught my eye when Panthers came through our neighbourhood were their posters featuring the artwork of Emory Douglas, depicting black people fighting against the cops. Black people standing up for themselves... Black people demonstrating courage.
“We don’t glorify violence. We don't glorify weapons. We don't glorify the gun culture. But we do not believe in unconditional pacifism. We advocate our right to defend ourselves” – Khalid Raheem
Kathleen Cleaver: There is a film called Report on the Black Panthers by the very distinguished French filmmaker Agnes Varda. It is a documentary, a beautiful film, which most people have never seen. There’s a clip of me saying, “All of us were born without hair like this and we just wear it like this because it’s natural because the reason for it, you might say is like a new awareness among black people that their own natural appearance, physical appearance, is beautiful.” That clip has taken on a life of its own on the Internet.
Ericka Huggins: One thing that people don't understand about the Black Panther Party is that the median age of a party member in 1969 was nineteen years old.
Tom Hayden: The Panthers at their best transformed the lives of thousands of African Americans, from “brother on the block” to the unjustly imprisoned to the early founders of black studies… The combination of police and prosecutorial repression and internal conflicts proved too much for a young organization to bear, sadly. Yet the Panthers entered the level of dreams and myth for generations to come., and their rage against wanton police killings of unarmed black youth was a prophetic warning for the future.
Power To The People: The World of the Black Panthers by Stephen Shames and Bobby Seale is out now published by Abrams & Chronicle Books Limited