The Black Panther Party in Newspapers




During the 1960s and 70s, newspapers were the main way that people found out the news. Because the majority of local and national newspapers were aimed at white people, the African-American community decided to develop their own newspapers. In fact, the first African-American newspaper in the United States was started in 1827. The Black Panther Party started their own newspaper, which began as a short newsletter in 1967 by the co-founder Huey Newton. These types of newspapers included news about the local black communities, events going on in the community, and were quite popular in major cities with large African-American populations. Today the Internet has taken over where newspapers left off, but you can see from examining the articles below, from different types of newspapers, that people had a range of opinions on the Black Panther Party, and that was reflected in newspaper stories at that time.



Figure 1. Article from “New York Amsterdam News”


This first article, Figure 1, was posted in the New York Amsterdam News, the official African-American newspaper of New York City, in 1972. They were advertising for an event where the Black Panthers gave away free food packages and shoes to people in the local African-American community. This article fits several of Zelizer’s aspects of collective memory. First, it is material, as it was originally in a physical newspaper. It also can be considered usable, as it is advertising the giving away of food and shoes by the Black Panthers. While this article was not as much a story as it is an advertisement for charity, it still shows how the Black Panthers wanted to be seen in the local communities.

pic2Figure 2. Opinion article from “Chicago Tribune”

The article in Figure 2 came from an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune, where they asked local people how they felt about the Black Panther Party. While there was a wide range of opinions on the subject, one man in particular, Gordon Terry, had very strong feelings against the Black Panthers. He described them as “a menace to society and a great disturbance factor in this country.” Clearly he had had some sort of bad experiences with or heard some bad things about the Black Panthers, as he had nothing good to say about them at all. The New York Amsterdam News was made strictly for the African-American community of New York City, while the Chicago Tribune was a nation-wide publication made for everyone. Obviously the audiences were much different, so different opinions were sure to arise, but there seemed to be a pattern of anti-Black Panther Party news in mostly-white newspapers in big cities, which was congruent with the dominant memory and view towards them in the country as a whole. This article is also usable, as it allowed for the opinions of the Black Panther Party to be known, but also for people to express how they felt on a controversial and significant topic at that time. It is material, since the Chicago Tribune was and is a physical newspaper,

The link above will take you to a newspaper article from the New York Times in 1970 about the occupation and protest at Columbia University by students, demanding reparations for the Black Panther Party. Interestingly enough, the majority of the protesters were white students who were a part of a larger national movement to show white solidarity for the Black Panthers. The title of the article should draw some attention initially, as the paper describes the students who are protesting as “militants”. Although a few hundred of the more violent protesters did break windows on campus after their rally, only a few actually participated in breaking the windows. Describing them as “militant” is problematic and surely inaccurate to say the least. Would they be described as militant if they were rallying against the Black Panther Party? The article also described the students who marched through campus throwing rocks through windows as “radicals”. While their actions were indeed radical, I don’t believe that the students’ ideas or protest itself was radical. This way of describing the students is dismissive towards their movement and gives the public the wrong idea of what was really happening at the protest.

The white students did still enjoy privilege; even though they smashed more than 30 window panes on campus and splashed paint on campus buildings, the local police and even the Campus Security decided not to intervene.  There was a bus full of Tactical Patrol Force policemen waiting in case things got too out of hand, but apparently the windows and paint on the buildings did not suffice a response.




“Black Panther Party giving free food, shoes at rally”. (1972, April 15).New York Amsterdam News, p. D8.

“mini’pinions: What do you think of the Black Panther Party?” (1970, February 19).Chicago Tribune, p. W6.

Montgomery, P. L. (1970, March 14). “Militants Occupy Columbia School: Reparations Demanded for Black Panther Party”. New York Times, p. 35.