As many of us know the Black Panthers were a political party that called for arms of African American civilians to challenge the police brutality they faced in the 1960s and 1970s. They were perceived, and still do today to an extent, as a dangerous group of people that posed an imminent threat to the security of the country. But how did the Black Panthers create such a social perception for themselves? How did they convey their political goals? And how has their memory processed with time? This can be analyzed using a single site of memory that portrays the Black Panthers in such a way. The Black Panther Black Community News Service published weekly periodicals and propaganda for 13 years from 1967 that was distributed nationally and internationally. Even though analysis won’t be done on local newspapers, they too had great influence to the Black Panther Party movement. During the party’s peak times, thousands of copies of these newspapers were sold each week.
The news articles and propaganda call for the arming of African Americans but also focus on targeting a younger population. In a newspaper published on January 2, 1971 there is a page of propaganda that states 1971 as the “Year of the Youth, Youth makes the Revolution.” Or a propaganda from Dec. 7, 1968 has the child wishing for machine guns, shot gun, grenades, and dynamites. And calls “1969’s the time … Bomb!” This targeting of young adults and children establishes that the ideology of the Black Panthers lives on in memory within these younger generations. The recruiting of such young people into this violent ideology was most likely perceived to be as dangerous and was met with dislike from the mainstream media and the public.
Another theme seen throughout these published newspapers was the conjuring of fear to not only the white dominant power but also to their own Black Panther followers. They would claim that if the Black Panthers did not join or follow a particular course of action disaster will result. An example of this was seen in the article published on January 9, 1971 when it read “When a pig is caught dirty snoopin’ and shows you his badge and begs for mercy – mercy him to death with the butt of your gun” and towards the bottom it also reads “Kill the pigs before they kill you.” The pigs here are referring to undercover FBI agents that were sent to infiltrate the party and cause internal unrest. The Black Panthers claim that the pigs are out to kill their followers and should be killed mercilessly before they kill you. This would spread fear and encourage radical actions among the party members.
Often times, these newspapers will include incidents of brutality towards African Americans. A newspaper from August 21, 1970 highlights an incident where “Ernest Scales was clubbed viciously for being black.” On the same page there is another incidence “Tucker’s raiders shoot, beat, and murder, Lawrence Harris a mentally disturbed black man.” Both make quick claims of brutality that happened because the victim was black. Obviously this may be true during the time era and the readers are bombarded with the perception that brutality exists. This showcases the cruelty of the police force and calls for action from the readers.
The Black Panther Black Community News Service also acts as a source of remembering. Electronic copies are available online and paper forms are kept in archives. People have access to go back and look into the history of the Black Panther party through these newspapers like I did and remember or learn about them. This also provides the opportunity to see how the memory of Black Panther has evolved throughout time and how it connects to today. Collective memory is processual so there are evidence of how its memory has changed. Today, an example of this is seen with the Black Lives Matter movement. There are some people questioning if the BLM movement picks up where the Black Panther party left off. The ties between the two parties are constantly being looked at. This shows how the memory of the Black Panthers have changed and is now commonly looked at from the BLM perspective. The collection of newspapers provides a material memory of the Black Panthers which is unique since actual artifacts encasing ideology and social perception can be hard to find. They also give a specific and narrow perspective, which is the image that the Black Panther Party wanted to create for themselves. This is another characteristic of collective memory in that it is only partial.
Throughout the years that the Black Panther Black Community News Service published weekly periodicals it helped enforce a social perception that they wanted. The newspapers gathered attention to the Black Panthers as a dangerous and feared group that was doing the right thing by calling for violence to end police brutality. And I am very aware that these findings about the newspaper are only partial and does not encompass the entire material memory or the social perception created by it. By adding this last sentence of warning, I hope that people reading this post understand that this is part of a processual memory and things are left out or forgotten.
- “The Black Panther Newspaper & Posters Collection.” Accessed 17, April 2017. https://ceimlarchives4blackpanther.wordpress.com/page/3/
- The Black Panther Party for Self Defense. November 23, 1967. Volume 1-6. Accessed 17, April 2017. https://freedomarchives.org/Documents/Finder/DOC513_scans/BPP_Paper/513.BPP.ICN.V4.N28.Jan.9.1971.pdf
- The Black Panther Party for Self Defense. January 2, 1971. Volume 1-6. Accessed 17, April 2017. https://freedomarchives.org/Documents/Finder/DOC513_scans/BPP_Paper/513.BPP.ICN.V5.N27.Jan.2.1971.pdf
- The Black Panther Party for Self Defense. December 7, 1968. Volume 1-6. Accessed 17, April 2017. https://freedomarchives.org/Documents/Finder/DOC513_scans/BPP_Paper/513.BPP.ICN.V2.N15.N17.Dec.7.1968.pdf
- “The Freedom Party” accessed 17, April. https://search.freedomarchives.org/search.php?
- Barbie Zelizer. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies” Critical Studies in Mass Communications. 214-39.
- Michael Schudson. “Dynamics of Distortion in Collective Memory,” in Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains, and Societies Reconstruct the Past. Eds. Daniel L. Schacter et al. (1995), 346-378;