The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Gil Scott Heron and the Power of Poetry

Gil Scott Heron, far left, alongside Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson, and Gladys Knight at a press conference in Washington, D.C., 1982. (Daily News)
Gil Scott Heron, far left, alongside Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson, and Gladys Knight at a press conference in Washington, D.C., 1982. (Daily News)

Gil Scott Heron was born on April 1, 1949 in Chicago, Illinois, a city that in little more than a decade would become a hotspot for civil rights activism. It wasn’t in Chicago that Scott-Heron was exposed to the revolutionary culture of the sixties, however: he spent the first 12 years of his life living with his grandmother in Jackson, Tennessee. Under her guidance, Scott-Heron was simultaneously exposed to the discrimination facing the black community in the form of Jim Crow Laws, and the richness and culture of the black identity, culminating in the beginnings of his own passion for revolution. In Jackson, Scott-Heron became one of the first three black students integrated into Tigrett Junior High, and later, after the death of his grandmother and a move back to New York City, one of just five black students to attend the prestigious and private Fieldston School.

Gil Scott-Heron alongside classmates at the prestigious Fieldston Academy. (Daily News)
Gil Scott-Heron alongside classmates at the prestigious Fieldston Academy. (Daily News)

It was Scott-Heron’s propensity for the written word that propelled him to these new heights: a teacher at the public (and poor) DeWitt High School Heron attended in New York took note of the young man’s work and offered to help him get into the Fieldston Academy. At DeWitt (nicknamed “Dumb Witt” for their low test scores and graduation rates) Heron was often bored and frustrated at the lack of intellectual stimulation, but was naturally sceptical at such an offer. After two rounds of highly offensive interviews in which the directors of the program, at one point, asked how Heron would cope watching the white teens drive by in limousines while he walked to school from the subway, the young man succeeded in gaining admission (undoubtedly due to the fact that he responded to this particular inquiry by reminding the director that he, also, could not afford a limousine, and was doing just fine). Heron went on to begin his successful career by writing, of all things, detective fiction, publishing his first novel, The Vulture, by the age of 20.

Scott-Heron's first novel, The Vulture, was published in 1970 and gives a fascinating glimpse into New York City street life whilst trying to unravel the mystery of a young man murdered.
Scott-Heron’s first novel, The Vulture, was published in 1970 and gives a fascinating glimpse into New York City street life whilst trying to unravel the mystery of a young man murdered.

After finishing his secondary education at Fieldston Academy, Heron enrolled at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, following in the footsteps of his biggest influence, Langston Hughes. It was during this time from 1970-72 that Scott-Heron became interested in the Black Arts Movement, and his own art was forever changed. After these two years, Heron dropped out to pursue his own music career and publish his second novel, The Nigger Factory, an exploration of a southern university setting in the 70s and the struggle of black students against the institution.

The Nigger Factory, published in 1972, follows the struggle of black college students on a Virginia campus to fight for equality against a resistant organization, and reflects Heron's own maturation as a writer and activist.
The Nigger Factory, published in 1972, follows the struggle of black college students on a Virginia campus to fight for equality against a resistant organization, and reflects Heron’s own maturation as a writer and activist.

It was in 1970 that Gil Scott-Heron revolutionized the revolution. He met legendary record producer Bob Thiele of Flying Dutchman Records, and together they released his first album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, an experimental debut into spoken word that would be hailed as the beginnings of hip-hop and rap for decades to come.

The cover of Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 debut album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.

The album, 14 tracks long, even markets Heron as a poet rather than a singer, and features powerful and solemn spoken-word lyrics against the backdrop of African congas. Despite being received by only a small following, Heron’s debut gained critical acclaim for its scathing social critique and sharp, blunt honesty about the hypocrisy of American life. The standout of this album, and arguably the most well-known work of Heron’s career, is the very first track, entitled: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

In this introduction to the album, Heron holds nothing back, attacking the American people’s apathetic, superficial nature and condemning mainstream television and the minuscule, vain concerns of the 1970s white American.

“Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville Junction will no longer be so god damned relevant, and women will not care if Dick finally screwed Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day.

The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people. The revolution will not go better with Coke. The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath. The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised.

The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.”

With these lyrics, Heron single-handedly coined what became an early slogan for the Black Power Movement: “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” became a warning to Americans everywhere hiding behind Saturday night reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies and luxuriating in a society glorifying the white image. The song urges Americans to wake up and realize that the time for change had come, and that no one would be able to remain safe and ignorant behind a television set. This fight was going to take place in the homes and streets of the American people, and there would be no avoiding it or denying it any longer.

However, Heron had very specific and adament views on how the revolution should be executed. In the third track, “Brother,” he uses the term derogatorily to condemn the “would-be” black revolutionaries he sees on the street in African clothing for their hypocrisy, as they spew criticisms and judgments against other black men who may dress differently or are trying to get their degree, with lyrics such as:

“I think it was a little too easy for you to forget that you were a negro before Malcolm. You drove your white girl through the village every Friday night, while the grass roots stared in envy and drank wine.

Do you remember?”

However, Gil Scott-Heron is nothing if not an activist for equality, and he goes on to condemn superficial white “activists” in the very next track, titled simply “Comment #1.”

“Comment #1” is the track in which Heron presents his most radical views on the Black Power revolution: in the introduction, he begins by pushing back against the growing idea of the Rainbow Coalition:

“Comment #1 is the one we decided to use here this evening because it makes a comment if you listen closely on what is now being advertised in East Harlem as the “Rainbow Conspiracy” – a combination of The Students For A Democratic Society, The Black Panthers, and the Young Lords –

And this is my particular comment about that conspiracy.”

The Rainbow Coalition, as you’ll see from the article linked above, was an organization seeking to unite many different kinds of minority groups in the ongoing fight for equality, but Heron himself seems deeply mistrustful of this idea, going so far as to call it a conspiracy. His other lyrics, as he says, form his comment on why he believes uniting all races in the Black Power revolution is a bad idea, and can truly never work:

“The irony of it all, of course is when a pale face SDS motherfucker dares look hurt when I tell him to go find his own revolution.

He wonders why I tell him that America’s revolution will not be the melting pot but the toilet bowl. He is fighting for legalized smoke, or lower voting age; less lip from his generation gap and fucking in the street. Where is my parallel to that?

All I want is a good home and a wife and a children, and some food to feed them every night.

I say you silly chipe motherfucker, your great grandfather tied a ball and chain to my balls and bounced me through a cotton field while I lived in an unflushable toilet bowl. And now you want me to help you overthrow what?”

With such blunt and powerful lyrics, Heron’s anger toward young white liberals like those in the SDS, or Students for a Democratic Society, a popular activist group in the 70s, becomes obvious: he feels that white people can never truly understand the African American fight, and that young students are only taking a “four-year interest” in something that is a long-standing and deep-rooted issue for the black community. Heron mocks these white “revolutionaries” who see protesting as something fun to do on the weekend, and white “revolutions” that call for unimportant things such as the legal use of drugs or looser sexual laws, while African Americans are still fighting to simply live in peace and be able to provide for their families. This stark disparity in priorities is shown clearest when Scott-Heron graphically and violently reminds the audience of just how recent slavery actually was, and his indignation at the idea that flippant white boys looking for a cause want to take up the Black Power Revolution is vehement.

Later in this piece, Heron also brings up the idea of cultural appropriation by white people of Malcolm X and Cleaver, calling for so-called white “activists” to leave them be and stop appropriating them as general symbols of revolution. Scott-Heron maintains that these men are central, important figures to the black cause, fighting a specific battle, and to generalize them as singular symbols of rebellion is to diminish the significance of their work for the black community. This is part of the “melting pot” effect that Heron speaks out against in this piece, insisting that the revolution cannot be a melting pot, as that would ensure the complete and final dissolution of black culture and history. Rather, Gil Scott-Heron tells the world that the revolution must resemble a toilet bowl: it must be brown.

Heron’s “Comment #1” leaves us with one question, drawn from an important influence: “Who will survive in America?” This is a direct reference to Amiri Baraka’s 1970 spoken-word poetry collection, It’s Nation’s Time, for which Baraka was highly criticized, based on his assault of other minority groups. Like Heron, Baraka believed that the black revolution should remain in the hands of the black community, that African Americans were called to a higher destiny, and that other minorities and white people could never understand their trial– a radical and controversial standpoint that undoubtedly influenced Gil Scott-Heron and his work.

Check out the rest of Gil Scott-Heron’s revolutionary debut album here:

Gil Scott-Heron was a pioneer of poetry during the Black Power movement; he quite literally revolutionized the music industry and became a founding father of the rap we know today, and his legacy is still very much alive. Famous and controversial rapper Kanye West sampled Heron’s “Comment #1” on his 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, titling it after Amiri Baraka’s Who Will Survive in America, and making it the very last track to wrap up the album. A decade prior, popular hip-hop artist Mos Def also sampled Heron’s work on the track “Mr. Nigga,” off the album Black on Both Sides.

Though he passed away in 2011, Gil Scott Heron’s legacy is very much alive and well, in keeping with his own personal philosophy on revolutions:

“Revolution isn’t an overnight thing. Like some people jumped up in the sixties and said: ‘Revolution,’ and then in the next three or four years when it didn’t happen, everybody said: ‘Naa, there aint no revolution.’ Revolution is a constantly building process, a constantly developing process. Black people, all Black people, are always in a revolutionary frame of mind.”



Baram, Marcus. “‘Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man’ recalls leap to Big Apple.” NY Daily News. N.p., 19 Oct. 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Chicago Metro News: “An Exclusive Interview in Players with Gil Scott-Heron.” NewsBank/Readex. 1975/11/08, pg. 16, Chicago, Illinois. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, SQN: 12B5E09AB003A428

“GIL.” Gil Scott. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Greene, Andy. “Gil Scott-Heron, Revolutionary Poet and Musician, Dead at 62.” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, 28 May 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Harold Claudrena N. “Deep in the Cane: The Southern Soul of Gil Scott-Heron.” Agpike. N.p., 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

O’Hagan, Sean. “Gil Scott-Heron: the godfather of rap comes back | Interview.” The Observer. Guardian News and Media, 06 Feb. 2010. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Sisario, Ben. “Gil Scott-Heron, Voice of Black Protest Culture, Dies at 62.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 May 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

The Case for Civil Unrest: The Watts Riots and Institutional Racism

On August 11, 1965, a police patrol in the Watts district of Los Angeles, California pulled over Marquette Frye, an African American man, under the suspicion that he was driving while intoxicated. Arresting officer Lee

Marquette Frye’s scuffle with police during his arrest. (Getty Images, 1965.)

W. Minikus administered a field sobriety test and subsequently placed Frye under arrest. Marquette’s brother, Ronald, who had been a passenger in the vehicle, walked home and brought their mother, Rena Price, to the scene of the crime. Price scolded Frye for drinking and driving, but soon a fight broke out between the family and police. A sizable crowd had gathered after rumors circulated that police officers were beating Frye and had kicked a pregnant woman. [1] As the scuffle between the two officers, Frye, and Price continued, the spectators became increasingly agitated. Tension built, and when Minikus drew his gun, the crowd erupted. The five days that followed became known as one of the most destructive demonstrations of civil unrest in the history of the city of Los Angeles, and set the tone for the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. [2]

The front page of the Los Angeles Times the day after riots broke out. (The Los Angeles Times, 12 August 1965.)

The Watts Riots, sometimes referred to as the Watts Rebellion, raged on for nearly five days. The angry crowd that had gathered to witness Frye’s arrest near the corner of Avalon Boulevard and 116th Street believed they were witnessing an incident of racially charged abuse by the police. The spectators turned into a mob, hurling chunks of concrete and rocks at officers. Rioting moved into the commercial part of the neighborhood soon after, and participants began to loot businesses and set buildings ablaze. The day after the initial riots broke out, black community leaders and local police held a meeting in an attempt to quell the unrest, but to no avail. [3]

One of the many blockades set up by law enforcement in Watts, with a sign threatening deadly force. (Getty Images, 1965.)

With riots escalating, Los Angeles police chief William H. Parker asked for assistance from the California National Guard and compared the situation to fighting the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War. On August 13, about 2,300 National Guardsmen arrived in Watts, and, by nightfall, nearly 16,000 total law enforcement personnel had been deployed to maintain order. Blockades were established within the riot zone, with signage indicating that law enforcement would use deadly force. Sergeant Ben Dunn, one of the National Guardsmen deployed in Watts, said, “The streets of Watts resembled an all-out war zone in some far-off foreign country, it bore no resemblance to the United States of America,” furthering the comparison of the riots to an act of war, which was a common view held by white people at the time, and often how riots like these are remembered in the public collective memory. A curfew was declared for all black-majority neighborhoods in Los Angeles, and a policy of mass arrest was enacted. Nearly 3,500 people were arrested solely for curfew violations. [2]

In addition to looting and arson, participants in the riots engaged in physical confrontations with law enforcement, with some hurling bricks and pieces of pavement at Guardsmen, police, and their vehicles, and others participating as snipers and targeting officers from rooftops. Rioters also beat white bystanders and motorists and prevented firefighters from performing their duties, as well as targeted white-owned businesses for the acts of arson and looting. [4] The riots had died down by August 15. Approximately 35,000 adults had participated in the rioting, while about 70,000 people had been “sympathetic, but not active.” When all was said and done, 34 people had been killed, 1,032 people had been injured, 3,438 people had been arrested and an estimated $40 million in property damage had been sustained. [5]

The McCone Commission

The McCone Commission was created by governor of California Pat Brown and headed by its namesake, former CIA director John A. McCone, to investigate the causes of the rioting in Watts. The Commission released a 101 page report that identified the causes of the unrest as being high unemployment, poor schooling, and the basic inferior living conditions of African Americans. In turn, the Commission proposed “emergency literacy and preschool programs, improved police-community ties, increased low-income housing, more job-training projects, upgraded health-care services, more efficient public transportation, and many more [programs]” to help prevent further violence in the district. [6] However, most of the recommendations were not and still have not been acted upon. [7]

Institutional Racism’s Role in the Riots

Marquette Frye’s arrest was not the principal cause of the Watts Riots, but rather the spark that set the fire on already poured gasoline. In addition to previous riots inspiring unrest, such as the Harlem Riots in 1964, the Watts district of Los Angeles was a deeply impoverished predominately black neighborhood. African American citizens were growing embittered due to a lack of opportunity in the job market, substandard and segregated housing [8], inadequate schooling, and the prevalence of police brutality [9], all of which had led to a low standard of living. Impoverished black people felt constant frustration, because they saw the civil rights acts being passed and heard the promises for a good future coming from politicians, but they were still living in inferior conditions when compared to their white counterparts.

A Civil Rights protest, in which black women demanded basic amenities. (Getty Images, exact date unknown.)

The riots also stemmed from the Second Great Migration, in which African Americans from the South moved northward and westward from 1941 to 1970 in an attempt to escape oppressive Jim Crow laws. The influx of African Americans to the cities, such as Los Angeles, pushed whites to the suburbs in what was coined “white flight,” draining cities of vital resources and taxes. Urban areas, such as the Watts district, became nearly the same as the South, as African Americans were being denied jobs by white employers, housing became strictly segregated and scarce, and police brutality skyrocketed out of white fear. African Americans uprooted their lives to escape systemic racism only to fall even deeper into poverty and still experience institutional racism on the same scale as they had in the South. When black people began to speak out about the injustices they faced during the Civil Rights Movement, white Americans living in these areas were horrified by what they thought they saw, and what they saw was the work of a lawless black mob incited to riot by the war on poverty that had been initiated by President Johnson. This mindset gave way to a resurgent politics of race, which pushed the falsehood that most people living in poverty were people of color, as well as the ideology of zero sum gain, which was the belief that when black people gain, everyone loses, especially working class whites. These frustrations culminated in riots, much like the Watts Riots, in predominately black neighborhoods across the country. [10] The resurgent politics of race that emerged from this era has continued today, bringing to light the fact that memories of the past can influence the modern political landscape.

A Modern Connection

Like the Watts Riots, Black Lives Matter protests are fueled by police brutality, but ultimately stem from institutional racism leading to inferior living conditions and white-on-black violence. One journalist even called it the original Black Lives Matter protest. [11] Many Black Lives Matter protesters cite the memory of riots like the Watts Riots as the inspiration for their fight against institutional racism, while opponents of the movement cite the memory of riots like the Watts Riots as being the reason movements like Black Lives Matter are dangerous. Like its predecessor, the Black Lives Matter movement has been criticized as militant and has been referred to in the language of war, emphasizing the fact that black protests are often remembered in terms of its violence rather than its aims. While the Black Lives Matter protests are sparked by instances of police brutality, they draw inspiration for their demands from those of the Watts rioters- freedom from racism and the right to basic and fairly distributed amenities.

A Black Lives Matter protest in Los Angeles, where the Watts Riots took place. (The Los Angeles Times, Ferrari, E., 2014)


[1] Dawsey, Darrell (August 19, 1990). “To CHP Officer Who Sparked Riots, It Was Just Another Arrest”Los Angeles Times.

[2] Hinton, Elizabeth (2016). From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America. Harvard University Press. pp. 68–72.

[3] Watts Riots records, Collection no. 0084, Regional History Collection, Special Collections, USC Libraries, University of Southern California.

[4] Oberschall, Anthony (1968). “The Los Angeles Riot of August 1965”. Social Problems. 15 (3): 322–341.

[5] Reitman, Valerie; Landsberg, Mitchell (August 11, 2005). “Watts Riots, 40 Years Later”Los Angeles Times.

[6] Report of the Governor’s Commission on the Los Angeles Riots. Los Angeles: Kimtex, 1965.

[7] Dawsey, Darrell (July 8, 1990). “25 Years After the Watts Riots : McCone Commission’s Recommendations Have Gone Unheeded”Los Angeles Times.

[8] The Great Migration: Creating a New Black Identity in Los Angeles.

[9] Watts Riots (August 1965) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. The Black Past (August 11, 1965).

[10] Bernstein, Shana (2010). Bridges of Reform: Interracial Civil Rights Activism in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles. Oxford University Press. pp. 107–109.

[11] Hahn, Rep. Janice. “50 Years After the Watts Riots, the Original Black Lives Matter Protest.” The Huffington Post., 11 Aug. 2015.

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Black Perspectives on the Contested Use of Violence for Liberation


Robert F. Williams: The Black Power Leader from Afar

Background of Robert F. Williams

In 1936, an eleven-year-old Robert F. Williams witnessed a white policeman, Jesse Helms, Sr. (father of North Carolina Senator, Jesse Helms), physically beating a black female. Williams recalled, “[Helms] dragged her off to the nearby jailhouse, her dress up over her head, the same way that a cave man would club and drag his sexual prey,” and “her tortured screams as her flesh was ground away from the friction of the concrete.”[1] This violent account from his childhood, which influenced his pro-violent protesting, was his first memory he could recall experiencing or observing racism.

As head of the Monroe, NC chapter of the NAACP, Robert F. Williams’ approach to protesting inequality included a violence-driven action plan called, “armed self-reliance,” which included guns and sandbag defense walls around homes from the terrorization of the Ku Klux Klan. After being denounced at the 1959 NAACP Convention for his violent protesting approach, he responded saying, “We as men should stand up as men and protect our women and children. I am a man, and I will walk upright as a man should. I will not crawl.”[2]

In 1961 Williams sheltered a white couple in his home as a riot broke out. The media labelled him as a kidnapper. The women who Williams sheltered said, “at the time, I wasn’t even thinking about being kidnapped . . . the papers, the publicity and all that stuff was what brought in that kidnapping mess.”[3] Because the justice system worked against the black community, Robert F. Williams and his wife were charged with kidnapping despite innocence. In fear of wrongful conviction, Robert and his family escaped prosecution to Cuba.

Robert F. Williams’ Influence in the Black Power Movement

The start of Robert F. Williams’ many sites of memory in the Black Power Movement began with his escape to Cuba. This sent a message of rebellion to the United States justice system and a message of hope to the oppressed black community in America as well. J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI at the time, said, “[Robert F. Williams] has become something of a ‘John Brown’ to Negroes around Monroe and they will do anything for him.”[4] As Williams’ departure to Cuba frustrated law enforcement, he became idolized to his community for his ability to cheat the unbeatable system against African-American.

Even though Williams’ left the United States, his story and his voice never stopped fighting against the racial injustices imposed upon black Americans. From Cuba he communicated through his radio show “Radio Free Dixie”. He preached about the racial inequalities and wrong doings in America. He reignited hope in them to continue to fight back against injustices. This site of memory created a public forum of communication and expression to a community that needed an outlet to drive hope in order to protest against racial oppression and injustice. “Radio Free Dixie” gives the first-hand, primary source experience of how the African-American community felt during this time period and how they were mistreated. In the following “Radio Free Dixie” snippet below, Robert F. Williams preaches, “[A] puppet show is staged in Washington. Yes, one negro goes to the White House as a member of the president’s cabinet; while another is gunned down like a wild dog for using a white folk’s toilet at a public service station.”[5]

These radio episodes are used as a site of memory today. Because of the international broadcasting “Radio Free Dixie,” the truth behind oppression, injustice, and mistreatment of the black community cannot be erased and forgotten. These episodes aren’t a white man’s poor attempt to commemorate the Black Power Movement. These are the first-hand perceptions and experiences of a black man who lost his home through gross mistreatment by the judicial system during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. By furthering the memory of the Black Power Movement, “Radio Free Dixie” episodes have become available through online platforms (i.e. YouTube). This conversion to modern preservation serves as a site of memory for “Radio Free Dixie” in the 21st century, which benefits the black community and their effort to learn from and not forget their oppression and mistreatment.  These digitalized radio episodes allow the words of Robert F. Williams to continually impact generations as a memorializing the efforts of the Black Power Movement and the truths of injustice against the black community in America.

In 1962 from Cuba, Robert F. Williams also penned his book “Negroes with Guns”. Williams discusses his experiences with racism, his stance on pro-violent protesting, and the dangers of non-violent protesting. This book was the single-most influential piece of writing on Huey P. Newton, the founder of the Black Panther Party.[6] Because of the immense impact “Negroes with Guns” had on the Black Panther Party, it heavily contributed to the ideals, perspectives, and strategies set in the Black Power Movement. Even though we are looking at Robert F. Williams as a non-Panther key male figure in the Black Power Movement, his ideals of pro-violent protesting and influence over the Black Panther Party founders leads me to believe that if he were not exiled to Cuba, he would have been a key Panther member.

Robert F. Williams, as a historical contributor to racial equality, is a monumental influencer to the beginnings of the Black Power Movement. Often times Black Power Movement commemorations can be seen more in northern states than in southern states where most of the protesting took place. However, Williams’ vocal and outspoken legacy leaves him as a sight of memory in Monroe, NC, where the state of North Carolina continues its dynamic political history on the issue of racial equality. He contributed hope to the black community through his sites of memory, including his rebellious escape to Cuba, his documented vocal expression against oppression in “Radio Free Dixie”, and his immense influence over the Black Panther Party with his ideals of pro-violent protesting in “Negroes with Guns”. Even though Robert F. Williams passed in 1996, he created physical sites of memory to continue his efforts of “Radio Free Dixie” and “Negroes with Guns” racial equality. Robert F. Williams rebelled against his oppression and being silenced by creating highly polarizing and influential works of memory that spoke volumes in America, even though he lived in Cuba. Because this sight of memory doesn’t incorporate Robert F. William’s return to America, viewers wouldn’t be properly informed on his lasting impact and presence in the African American community to the extent that Rosa Parks spoke at his funeral. Through the digitalization of “Radio Free Dixie” specifically, Robert F. Williams’ works are able to not be erased or forgotten and continue to educate future generations on the true conditions of the black community during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.

Quintin Schwartz


[1] Tyson, Timothy B. “Robert F. Williams, ‘Black Power,” and the Roots of the African American Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, vol. 85, no. 2, 1998, pp. 540.,

[2] Tyson, Timothy B. “Robert F. Williams, ‘Black Power,” and the Roots of the African American Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, vol. 85, no. 2, 1998, pp. 541 – 558.,

[3] Tyson, Timothy B. “Robert F. Williams, ‘Black Power,” and the Roots of the African American Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, vol. 85, no. 2, 1998, pp. 564.,

[4] Tyson, Timothy B. “Robert F. Williams, ‘Black Power,” and the Roots of the African American Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, vol. 85, no. 2, 1998, pp. 564.,

[5] Emmthreejonny. “Radio Free Dixie.” YouTube, 2013.

[6] “Negroes with Guns.” Wayne State University Press.

Photo Sources

Robert F. Williams. N.d. Wikipedia. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.


Black Perspectives on the Contested Use of Violence for Liberation

The use of violence in the struggle for civil freedoms has had a particularly polarizing effect on discourse within the black community of the Civil Rights and Black Power eras. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s emphasis on non-violence is one of the defining features of his political platform. In a speech delivered at Stanford University in 1967, King, Jr. said,

I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve… But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. (emphasis mine)

Based on the quote above, King, Jr. rejected violence because of the negative consequences it brings about, not because of an inherent dislike of violence in and of itself. In another speech entitled “The Role of the Behavioral Scientist in the Civil Rights Movement”, King, Jr. said,

Urban riots are a special form of violence…They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest.

He observed that repeat riots in cities were uncommon, and suggested that riots seemed to have a cathartic component for those communities. King saw violence as a legitimate response by blacks to the injustices of Jim Crow laws and white supremacy, but which did not further the goal of ending segregation. For a in-depth look at a particular instance, the Watts Riots of 1965, see Taylor Mark’s post in which she discusses how the critical poverty and oppression blacks faced were the root of the violence.  To further this point he quotes Victor Hugo,

‘If a soul is left in the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.’

King, Jr.’s point of view regarding the use of violence dominated social dialogue during the Civil Rights Era. After his assassination in 1968, the community was thrown into turmoil as riots broke out across the nation. King, Jr.’s death sparked a catalyst in the movement towards violence. Immediately following the assassination, Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver penned an article, entitled “Requiem for Nonviolence”, in which he wrote,

That there is a holocaust coming I have no doubt at all. I have been talking to people around the country by telephone – people intimately involved in the black liberation struggle – and their reaction to Dr. King’s murder has been unanimous: the war has begun. The violent phase of black liberation struggle is here, and it will spread. From that shot, from that blood, America will be painted red.

Eldridge Cleaver with Wife and Child. Photo by William Klein. 1970
Eldridge Cleaver with Wife and Child. Photo by William Klein. 1970

There were proponents of violent action beforehand, however. Less than five months before the shooting, the Washington Post ran an article titled “Black Power Advocate Clashes with Senators”, in which former Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee chairman Frederick H. Brooks echoed King, Jr.’s sentiment of oppression by white supremacy as the cause of black violence. Brooks, however, did see violence as a legitimate means to and end. He stated,

I believe black people should gain their rights by whatever available means – and if that means violence that’s what I mean. That’s not for me to decide. It’s up to the white people what means will be used.

Frederick H. Brooks. The Washington Post. 1967

It seems that there was a consensus in the black activist community that the causes of black violence, as a reaction to white oppression, were just and valid reasons for revolt. The differences emerge, however, in whether or not individuals see that violence as useful for obtaining social change. This rift proved to be a main fault line within the community. Cleaver notes in his article,

To black
 militants, Dr.
 block in 
 so, therefore, 
criticism was

Cleaver did not speak for all Black Panthers, however. In mid-1968, author Lawrence Swaim wrote an article in the North American Review journal called “An Interview with a Black Panther”. The interviewee in the article remains unnamed, but his words are powerful.

A. A lot of people see the Black Panther party as a revolutionary party, and we have stated that we are a revolutionary party . . .

Q. … you are a revolutionary party? . . .

A. … yes, that we are a revolutionary party. But the Black Panther party as a whole has absolutely no intention of taking up arms to overthrow the government. Our main goal is to use the threat of violence, because this is a violent society, and violence is all that this society understands. And we would never take up arms unless we were forced to . . . but, just taking up arms to overthrow the government, this is not our purpose. Our main purpose is to educate the community, so that . . . how shall I put it . . . there would be a non violent revolution, because the United States is the only country in the world that’s in the position to give Black people, and any oppressed people, their freedom without the use of arms. But in order to educate the white community it would take a long period of time which I myself, personally, would not be willing to wait… (emphasis mine).

He continues,

The Black community is the only community in America that is non-violent in its relations with other communities, and the reason that I never adopted the philosophy of non-violence is that non-violence has to work two ways. I would never practice non-violence, I would never turn the other cheek . . . unless the white community was non-violent, especially the police department and the National Guard. The police department is the cause of all the major riots. If there is anybody in the society that needs to be taught what non-violence is all about, it is the white community. Like I said: this is a violent society and violence is the only thing it understands. It doesn’t know anything but violence, that’s how it came into being . . . through violence.

Post-MLK assassination riot in Chicago. April 1968. Chicago Tribune.
“Madison Street Ruins. Smoke still rising from fire-ravaged buildings along 3300 block of Madison street yesterday.” Post-MLK assassination riot in Chicago. April 1968. Chicago Tribune.

Here again we see the shared emphasis on black violence as reactionary to white supremacy, while ultimately opinions on whether or not violence is a legitimate valid means of protest differ. What is being contested in this discourse about violence is the presentation of blackness to a largely antagonistic white public. King, Jr. feared that violence would push whites deeper into segregation, while others like Cleaver and the unnamed Black Panther believe that there is no other way to get whites to listen.

Contemporary black protest groups, such as Black Lives Matter, keep alive the perspective of violence is the impetus of white reactions to black liberation movements. As Megan Tan notes in her post, BLM uses sites of memory such as the Edmund Pettus Bridge as places to center their current protests. The historical event that took place here, Bloody Sunday, was the result of white aggression against a peaceful black protest. This reiterates the sense of non-violence that King strove for.

This nuanced view of how violence was viewed by the black community and the Black Panthers is often lost in today’s memory of the group. The Black Panther Party is commonly remembered as being extremely violent, militant, and a direct threat to American democracy (in this case, democracy = white people and white people only, apparently). In a 2016 article, UK conversative newspaper The Sun criticized Beyonce for using her Superbowl performance to gesture towards the party because of their violence,

Despite starting out to protect blacks from police brutality and to set up community programmes, the group were soon famed for lawlessness, ruthlessness and links to extortion, drug dealing and even the murders of women.

In 2006, conservative media pundit Debbie Schlussel wrote a scathing blog post on her personal website in which she compared the Black Panther Party to terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and extremists like Hitler.

40 years of Black Panther violence, murder, and mayhem was more than enough. Here’s hoping there won’t be another 40. These domestic terrorists never represented Black America. The only good thing for Black Panthers in America to do is fade to black.

This is the modern memory that many Americans have of the controversial party. It completely erases the Party’s complexity into a single deviant group who resisted authority. While the black community unanimously agreed that the violence had a legitimate causation rooted in white supremacy, there is no mention of the causes of violence in current memory of the Party. Conservative discourse about the Black Panthers conflate the memory until it is usable to further their own political agenda, that of maintaining the status quo. They can do this because they are only partially remembering the Black Panthers, instead refusing to acknowledge any other narrative or perspective on the group. The politics of the Black Panther memory are deeply rooted in today’s current race relations, and the image of who the Panthers were lies in the hands of those powerful enough to shape the memory. Those in power prune away the nuance within the group until we are left thinking of the Panthers as the American Hezbollah, rather than as a complex group of individuals with unique viewpoints.

Another example of how the Black Panther Party is distorted in modern memory is the lack of recognition for their interracial justice efforts. As Garrett talks about in his post, the BPP worked with both the Young Lords and the Young Patriots in a tri-racial group called the Rainbow Coalition. However, today this connection is all but lost and the Panthers are remembered almost exclusively as a black and black-only anti-white terrorist group.

This blog post serves as a site of memory by participating in the negotiation of how violence during this era is defined. It is my goal with this site to remember the nuance of the use of violence within the civil rights community.


King, Martin Luther, Jr. “The Other America” Speech (transcript), Stanford University, Stanford, CA, April 14, 1967. The King Center.

________________. “The Role of the Behavioral Scientist in the Civil Rights Movement.” Speech (transcript), Washington, D.C., September 1 1967. The American Psychological Association.

Gilea, Calin. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Stanford – “The other America” 1967”. Youtube video. 47:54. Posted Jun 2014.

Cleaver, Eldridge. “Requiem for Nonviolence.” Ramparts Magazine, May 1968, 48-49. PDF from Arkansas Tech University.

“Black Power Advocate Clashes with Senators.” November 23, 1967. The Washington Post. PDF.

Swaim, Lawrence and Black Panther. “An Interview with a Black Panther.” The North American Review 253, no. 4 (1968):  27-34.

Iggulden, Carolina. “Murder, drugs, extortion… Why the hell is Beyonce saluting the criminal Black Panthers?” The Sun, February 10, 2016. Online.

Schlussel, Debbie. “40 Years of Violence & Murder: UnHappy Anniversary, Black Panthers”. Personal blog, October 13, 2006. Online.

Image Sources

Klein, William. “Eldridge Cleaver with Wife and Child.” 1970. Taken from

“Frederick H. Brooks.” The Washington Post, 1967. Screencap taken from newspaper article cited above.

Mendicino, Luigi. “Madison Street Ruins”. The Chicago Tribune, April 7, 1968.

The Uniform of The Black Panther Party

The Black Panther Party (BPP) was an essential piece of the Black Power movement that allowed members in to advocate for the African American race on social and political issues. One of the first things you’d notice about members of the BPP was their standard uniform: a black leather jacket, black pants, powder-blue shirts black beret, an afro, dark sunglasses, a fist in the air, and and militant-like feel. This full uniform was established in 1996, but a uniform was still in place before but only using the sunglasses and leather jackets. Each member adorned the uniform at events, rallies, and in everyday life. Very few strayed from the basics, but some added personal pieces such as necklaces or other jewelry that was usually part of African culture. Even the symbol of the black panther itself adorned to most of the leather jackets worn by members brings in symbolism of the power that a panther has.

However, one thing that was not necessary in this uniform was to be

5eda37168f9a5eef61692da423f93b6eblack. There were mem-
bers of other races in the BPP like Mike Tagawa (seen left), he recalls first seeing them saying, “We noticed a bunch of black brothers marching around in black leather jackets, black pants, blue shirts, and berets.” He was asked to join and was confused as he was Japanese, but the member replied with, “But you ain’t white either.”


The uniform was described by others who saw it as “urban militant”. This idea of military was maintained when they were seen marching in order at rallies and carrying weapons around. They originally took advantage of California law to openly carry firearms around to create empowerment in the black community by appearing strong and militant. The beret especially became a symbol for militancy throughout the country at the time.


The beret was one of the most important and the most influential piece that the BPP wore. When asked what the beret meant, a BPP member said “Because they were used by just about every struggler in the third world. They’re sort of an international hat for the revolutionary.” “Because they were used by just about every struggler in the third world. They’re sort of an international hat for the revolutionary.” The beret moved to many other groups at the time and became a major part of the uniform for many other groups and extensions of the BPP like the BPP schools.

The BPP schools that were set up for a short time. Even the young children enrolled in these schools are wearing a version of this uniform with a beret and a nice powder-blue shirt and a skirt or pants. These schools were an extension of the BPP that gave an alternative to young African American children to teach them about their African heritage, history, and culture away from the white hegemony.


The militant and vaguely aggressive uniform is not what those involved in black power previously adorned. Before, they adorned nice suits and were put together to overcome any prejudice against black people. However, with the adoption of the new uniform came along the rebranding of this movement to the more militant style. This not only gave them a new image, but also a new sense of how they would do things. They went from peaceful acts of protest and religion to more forward protests and riots. The uniform confirmed their new goals and ideas.

This uniform also had an influence on other racial power groups as well including the Brown Berets, The Young Lords, and The Rainbow Coalition. These groups pull different combinations from the BPP such as the beret (BB, YLO, and RC) and the sunglasses (RC). This use of the same style uniform shows how each group wants to support the BPP and be a part of the same movement.

The BPP used this iconic uniform to their advantage and created an intentional imag51C26PbSzeL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_e of themselves to the public. Emory Douglas, the primary artist of the BPP, had a huge part in this. Her topics were all different, but, “[She] crafted a protest aesthetic aimed at convincing audiences of black power (Doss).” Douglas’s goal was to raise awareness for this topic by producing revolutionary. This art through images was often depicting men, even though women comprised just as much of the BPP as men at some points in its existence, but it was done for a reason to put forth more ideas of the power associated with masculinity. This projection of revolutionary ideas, masculinity, and militant nature was very important to the BPP’s image.

The most important thing about this uniform is that it made the BPP noticeable in society and gave them an iconic look that still lasts today in our memory and society. Even now if you conduct a search for the iconic BPP leather jacket you get links to shop for one similar. You see fashion designers and those involved in the Black Power movement today still using the original ideas of this uniform. The full uniform may eventually make a re-emergence as the black power movement is rising again.



Lazerow, Jama. “Brown Power to Brown People.” In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement. Durham, NC: Duke U, 2007. 256. Print.

Younge, Gary. “Friday Review: BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY: In 1965, Black Leaders in the US Marched Serenely in Smart Suits, Quoting the Bible. Two Years Later, they Strutted Defiantly in Leather Jackets and Berets – Brandishing Guns. Gary Younge on a Film Festival Remembering the Black Panthers.” The Guardian, Aug 08, 2003, pp. 8, ProQuest Central,

Cleaver, Kathleen, and George Katsiaficas. “Revolutionary Art Is a Tool for Liberation.”Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party: A New Political Science Reader. London: Routledge, 2000. 175-87. Print.

Shih, Bryan, and Yohuru R. Williams. “Mike Tagawa.” The Black Panthers: Portraits from an Unfinished Revolution. New York: Nation, 2016. 28-32. Print.

Media Sources:

Stephan Shames (BPP school and Urban militants)

Emory Douglas (artwork)

Photo of Mike Tagawa from “The Black Panthers: Portraits from an Unfinished Revolution”

The Black Panthers’ 10-Point Program

Panther logo

In 1966, Black Panther Party founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale created the 10-Point Program, a set of rules that members of the organization would subscribe to and live by. The guidelines were eventually made available to the public on May 15, 1967, when they were published in the second edition of The Black Panther, which was the party’s weekly newsletter. (1)

The platform is broken down into two sections. The first is titled, “What We Want Now!” Here, Newton and Seale break down the 10 things the Black Panther Party requests from the United States government, which includes — among other things — jobs, exemption from military service and the freeing of all black men held in jails and prisons. (1)

The second section is, “What We Believe.” The components of this section are included after each “What We Want Now!” statement, and further explain what the party wants and why it wants it. (1)

The Platform

  • We Want Freedom. We Want Power To Determine The Destiny Of Our Black Community.

We believe that Black people will not be free until we are able to determine our destiny.

  • We Want Full Employment For Our People.

We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the White American businessmen will not give full employment, then the means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.

  • We Want An End To The Robbery By The Capitalists Of Our Black Community.

We believe that this racist government has robbed us, and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules were promised 100 years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities. The Germans are now aiding the Jews in Israel for the genocide of the Jewish people. The Germans murdered six million Jews. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of over fifty million Black people; therefore, we feel that this is a modest demand that we make.

  • We Want Decent Housing Fit For The Shelter Of Human Beings.

We believe that if the White Landlords will not give decent housing to our Black community, then the housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that our community, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for its people.

  • We Want Education For Our People That Exposes The True Nature Of This Decadent American Society. We Want Education That Teaches Us Our True History And Our Role In The Present-Day Society.

We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.

  • We Want All Black Men To Be Exempt From Military Service.

We believe that Black people should not be forced to fight in the military service to defend a racist government that does not protect us. We will not fight and kill other people of color in the world who, like Black people, are being victimized by the White racist government of America. We will protect ourselves from the force and violence of the racist police and the racist military, by whatever means necessary.

  • We Want An Immediate End To Police Brutality And Murder Of Black People.

We believe we can end police brutality in our Black community by organizing Black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our Black community from racist police oppression and brutality. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States gives a right to bear arms. We therefore believe that all Black people should arm themselves for self- defense.

  • We Want Freedom For All Black Men Held In Federal, State, County And City Prisons And Jails.

We believe that all Black people should be released from the many jails and prisons because they have not received a fair and impartial trial.

  • We Want All Black People When Brought To Trial To Be Tried In Court By A Jury Of Their Peer Group Or People From Their Black Communities, As Defined By The Constitution Of The United States.

We believe that the courts should follow the United States Constitution so that Black people will receive fair trials. The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives a man a right to be tried by his peer group. A peer is a person from a similar economic, social, religious, geographical, environmental, historical and racial background. To do this the court will be forced to select a jury from the Black community from which the Black defendant came. We have been, and are being, tried by all-White juries that have no understanding of the “average reasoning man” of the Black community.

  • We Want Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice And Peace.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect of the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

The man behind the plan

Huey P Newton

Huey P. Newton was born in Louisiana, but moved with his family to Oakland, California at a young age. He got into trouble a lot growing up, but despite this, he eventually grew to take his education very seriously. He graduated high school in 1959, and a few years later he attended Merritt College, where he met Bobby Seale. The two created the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in 1966, and set up the 10-Point Program as the backbone of the organization. (3) Newton was influenced by two major political ideologies — both Black nationalism and Marxism — when helping write the guidelines. (2)

Just a year after setting up the Black Panther Party, Newton was suspected of murdering a police officer during a traffic stop. He was ultimately sentenced to two to 15 years in federal prison, but public backlash ultimately led to his release in 1970. A few years later, he was accused of killing a teenage prostitute and assaulting a tailor. In 1974, he fled the United States for Cuba, where he remained until 1977. (3)

Twelve years later, Newton’s violent past eventually caught up to him, as he was gunned down in Oakland by a member of the Black Guerrilla Family on August 22, 1989. (3)

Change in Philosophy

Huey Newton Rolling Stone

Six years after the 10-point program’s introduction, Newton made some adjustments to the guidelines to reflect the new direction of the Black Panther Party, which grew to adopt the plight of all disenfranchised groups of people. (2) Among the major changes to the platform include the removal of the demand calling for the exemption of black men from military service, which was replaced by the demand for free healthcare, which is listed below: (4)

    • We want completely free health care for all Black and oppressed people.
      We believe that the government must provide, free of charge, for the people, health facilities which will not only treat our illnesses, most of which have come about as a result of our oppression, but which will also develop preventative medical programs to guarantee our future survival. We believe that mass health education and research programs must be developed to give all Black and oppressed people access to advanced scientific and medical information, so we may provide ourselves with proper medical attention and care.

The new 10-Point Program also combined the bulletpoints that called for the freedom of black people from incarceration and the trial by jury of “peers for all persons.”

Another new point that was instituted was the one listed below, which was likely influenced by the United States’ participation in the Vietnam War:

We want an immediate end to all wars of aggression.

We believe that the various conflicts which exist around the world stem directly from the aggressive desires of the U.S. ruling circle and government to force its domination upon the oppressed people of the world. We believe that if the U.S. government or its lackeys do not cease these aggressive wars that it is the right of the people to defend themselves by any means necessary against their aggressors.

Cultural significance


In 1992, rapper Tupac Shakur, whose mother — Afeni Shakur — was a member of the Black Panther Party, helped create the T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. code, a set of guidelines which were designed to control violence in the black community, which had become increasingly volatile due to the rise of street gangs. And, much like he did in his music, Tupac called on the same philosophies that made up the 10-Point Program — most notably a disdain for the American government and the police — when creating the guidelines, which are listed below: (5)

    1. All new Jacks to the game must know: a) He’s going to get rich. b) He’s going to jail. c) He’s going to die.
    2. Crew Leaders: You are responsible for legal/financial payment commitments to crew members; your word must be your bond.
    3. One crew’s rat is every crew’s rat. Rats are now like a disease; sooner or later we all get it; and they should too.
    4. Crew leader and posse should select a diplomat, and should work ways to settle disputes. In unity, there is strength!
    5. Car jacking in our Hood is against the Code.
    6. Slinging to children is against the Code.
    7. Having children slinging is against the Code.
    8. No slinging in schools.
    9. Since the rat Nicky Barnes opened his mouth; ratting has become accepted by some. We’re not having it.
    10. Snitches is outta here.
    11. The Boys in Blue don’t run nothing; we do. Control the hood, and make it safe for squares.
    12. No slinging to pregnant Sisters. That’s baby killing; that’s genocide!
    13. Know your target, who’s the real enemy.
    14. Civilians are not a target and should be spared.
    15. Harm to children will not be forgiven.
    16. Attacking someone’s home where their family is known to reside, must be altered or checked.
    17. Senseless brutality and rape must stop.
    18. Our old folks must not be abused.
    19. Respect our Sisters. Respect our Brothers.
    20. Sisters in the Life must be respected if they respect themselves.
    21. Military disputes concerning business areas within the community must be handled professionally and not on the block.
    22. No shooting at parties.
    23. Concerts and parties are neutral territories; no shooting!
    24. Know the Code; it’s for everyone.
    25. Be a real ruff neck. Be down with the code of the Thug Life.
    26. Protect yourself at all times. (6)

Works Cited

(1) “The Ten-Point Program.” Black Panther’s Ten-Point Program. Accessed April 16, 2017.
(2) Anderson, Joshua. “A Tension in the Political Thought of Huey P. Newton.” Journal of African American Studies 16, no. 2 (November 30, 2011): 249-67.
(3) “Huey P. Newton.” February 25, 2016. Accessed April 18, 2017.
(4) “March 1972 Platform.” History of the Black Panther Party. Accessed April 18, 2017.
(5) Vaught, Seneca. “Tupac’s Law: Incarceration, T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E., and the Crisis of Black Masculinity.” Spectrum: A Journal on Black Men 2, no. 2 (Spring 2014): 87-115.
(6) “Code of THUG LIFE -.” Mutulu Shakur. August 24, 2014. Accessed April 18, 2017.

Maya Angelou: The Power of the Written Word


Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou

The Memoir:

Published in 1969, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is a seven volume autobiography that details her childhood and adolescent life in a Jim Crow South, as well as the discrimination she faced growing up [7].  Like her 1983 poem, “Caged Bird,” (see full poem here) [3] her autobiography owes its title to a poem written by Paul Laurence Dunbar named “Sympathy” (see full poem here) [6].  Regarding the temporal and substantive span of her work, it covers the first seventeen years of her life and describes at length the development – and at times distress – of her family relationships, which are themselves set against the larger backdrop of racial prejudice [7].  Partly self-expression and partly therapy, the work helped her, while writing it, to come to terms not only with the immediate struggles of the Civil Rights Movement (in which she took part as an official of the SCLC and personal friend to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King – whose assassination partially inspired her to write her memoir) but her personal experiences with racism [10].  Yet her work moves beyond a channeling of her personal feelings and seeks to tap into those of the larger community and a nation dealing with injustice; so, though it is a representation of her life particularly, it is equally a tribute to the deeper history of African Americans [2].  In a similar way, the work also balances the issues of black identity with the unique, yet still related, issues of black female identity – both of which, by the end of her work, she comes to accept and celebrate.  She challenges the imposed shame of the former by her deep pride of heritage and the latter by her various and unconventional roles as dancer, singer, activist, and writer.  Even the style in which autobiography was written stands in defiance of the dominant view; while some have described it as a work of fictional autobiography, others have argued its innovation of form and execution, linking the memoir’s directness of tone with that of African American oral traditions [2].

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)

“If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.

It is an unnecessary insult” [7]

Interpretation and Uses:

Since its original publication more than fifty years ago, much has been done with this work and said about it.  Recognized as significant in its time, it was soon made into a movie in 1979 starring actresses Constance Good and Esther Rolle, and given positive critical reviews in multiple established newspapers such as the Washington Post [1] and Newsweek [8].  Not without controversy however, Angelou’s book faced significant criticism over some of the content, which was opposed on the grounds of drug references, its description of sexual assault and the type of language it used.  These reasons, among many others, led to the censorship and even prohibition of the work in many settings – often those with religious and conservative ties.  Some have even cited it as the major reason behind the creation of the Banned Books week – an issue which the authoress herself lamented by noting that a large number of the people who were most vocal about her book had never read it at all [9].  For the most part, however, it is a well accepted work in the academic world and is widely taught at schools across the country, serving as both source and subject material for many collegiate essays and papers.  Apart from its critical acclaim and reputation in the academic world, the memoir’s sales and widespread popularity have several times earned it a high position on the New York Times list of bestsellers [9].  In doing a search on sites like Google or Youtube, one is easily able to find numerous references to Angelou’s work and multiple videos featuring dramatic readings of her poetry [11].  Towards the end of her life in 2014, Maya Angelou also worked with music producers to refashion her signature work into a hip hop album of songs entitled Caged Bird Songs, which blended her poetry with musical beats [9].  More recently, there have also been websites dedicated to spreading her story to the wider public and preserving the memory of and significance of her works [5].  Because of the author’s recent death in 2014, her work – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings figuring as the most prominent and oft mentioned – has received a great deal of revisitation and interpretation.

Shortly after her passing, there was was even a commemorative museum exhibit which featured one of the written manuscripts of her memoir [4].  Regardless of praise or criticism, each of these interactions with the memoir, in its own way adds to the message and legacy left behind and though they do not change the work itself, they do form a collective extension of it and affect the way it is viewed.

Power and Purpose:

Much of the power of Angelou’s memoir depends on the strength of her words, and their existence as a testimony of the injustices suffered by African Americans; they bear witness to a time of great social change and can continue to have relevance today.  Though less physically forceful than some of the more extreme measures taken by other Black Power groups, they are no less important.  The directness and clarity of the words used, in comparison to the slave narratives of a hundred years or so ago, are a direct challenge to the sensibilities of a dominant society which once demanded drawing a veil over “unpleasant” episodes and even prevented the literacy crucial to creating such a durable legacy.  This memoir has also had the processual effect of opening the way for more female African American authors such as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker who have themselves become well-recognized literary institutions [7].

Ultimately, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings serves the key purposes of making people feel and recognize, without which, for want of sustaining and authentic emotion, a cause can gradually fade and be forgotten.

Zheng-Liann Schuster



[1] Ahuja, Masuma.  “The 1970 review of ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’.”  Washington Post.  28 May 2014.  Web. 18 April 2017.

[2] Als, Hilton.  “Songbird.”  The New Yorker.  5 August 2002.  Web.  18 April 2017.

[3] Angelou, Maya.  “Caged Bird.”  Poetry Foundation.  Web.  17 April 2017.

[4] Associated Press.  “Commemorative Maya Angelou exhibition opens in NYC.”  San Diego Tribune.  30 May 2014. Web. 18 April 2017.

[5] Caged Bird Legacy | The Legacy of Dr. Maya Angelou.  2017.  Web. 18 April 2017.

[6] Dunbar, Paul Laurence.  “Sympathy.”  Poetry Foundation.  Web. 17 April 2017.

[7] Fox, Margalit.  “Maya Angelou, Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South, Dies at 86.”  The New York Times.  28 May 2014.  Web.  18 April 2017.

[8] Gross, Robert A.  “Newsweek’s Original Review of Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’.”  Newsweek.  28 May 2014.  Web. 18 April 2017.

[9] Lanzendorfer, Joy.  “11 Facts about I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”  Mental Floss.  8 February 2017.  Web. 18 April 2017.

[10] Wightman, Juliet.  “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”  Encyclopaedia Britannica.  16 March 2017.  Web.  18 April 2017.

[11] CBS Evening News.  “Maya Angelou’s masterpiece “Caged Bird”.”  Online video clip.  Youtube.  28 May 2014.  Web.  18 April 2017.


The Free Breakfast for Children Program and the Contestation of a Right to Food

The Tenth and final point of the Black Panther Party’s (BPP) Ten Point Program is as follows: “We Want Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace.”[1] A right to things that would allow a human being basic sustenance and survival, as well as the ability to thrive, were thus paramount.

"Charles Bursey hands a plate of food to a child seated at a Free Breakfast Program."
“Charles Bursey hands a plate of food to a child seated at a Free Breakfast Program.”

This aim for well-fed peoples resulted in action when the BPP organized a series of social programs aimed around serving low-income communities, the most popular of which was the Free Breakfast for Children Program (BCP), which was started in 1968 and served children as young as toddlers and as old as high schoolers throughout the U.S.[2] The recipients of food weren’t always black, but engaged with blackness in their interactions at BCP.

Continue reading “The Free Breakfast for Children Program and the Contestation of a Right to Food”

Bob Fitch’s Photography and the SCLC

Photography and Black Power

While rallies and protests during the civil rights movement brought about change, they would not have had as major of an effect if they had not been photographed. In a time where social media is so prominent, people forget how easily

A sheriff commanding Martin Luther King and others during the Meredith March Against Fear.

discrimination could be hidden. Photographs were one of the only forms of material memory that allowed people to see the brutality and sheer racism that was inflicted on African Americans. These pictures shed light on the injustice, causing many people to join in the fight for black power or at least acknowledge the prejudice. As we get further and further away from these events people begin to diminish the effects of racism. However, since we have these pictures we are able to combat the processual form of memory.

Bob Fitch

Bob Fitch was a photojournalist, political organizer, and civil rights activist. He chose to photograph “the emergent”. Although he photographed many minorities, for the purpose of this article, “the emergent” are African Americans. Bob Fitch wanted to represent the unheard and fight back against the hegemonic power. Bob Fitch described himself as a “political organizer” who uses his “camera to tell the story” (The New York Times). He knew that since he was skilled in the art of photography, he could use his talent to showcase the plight of the African American.

After graduating the Pacific School of Religion with a masters of divinity, he became an ordained minister. His devout religious beliefs lead him to support organizations for social justice. Bob Fitch worked with San Francisco’s Glide Foundation, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the United Farmworker Union. When working with each of these organizations he used his camera to empower people who had little or no voice. As a white male he embodied the hegemonic force that these organizations were fighting. These organizations understood the value and influence of an “insider” in advocating for their cause. After working with his camera for only a few years, he decided he wanted to volunteer his efforts to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an African-American civil rights organization. Although it is unclear as to why he wanted to work with the SCLC specifically, he said that after reading James Baldwin’s Seminal 1963 book about race relations he wanted to work with Martin Luther King Jr. Bob Fitch said “I had a vision in being engaged with what I had encountered in the book in some sort of aesthetic manner” (The New York Times).

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was founded in 1957 by many influential black leaders: Ralph Abernathy, Joseph Lowery, Fred Shuttlesworth, Bayard Rustin, and of course the president of the club, Martin Luther King Jr. Bob Fitch became the official photographer for the conference in 1965. His job was to photograph all events for the Civil Rights Movement and the daily activities of the organization. He mainly focused on the lives of different African American people and the effects that the black power movement had on them, rather than the actual protests. The SCLC knew there were many benefits of having a white photographer at civil rights rallies. Perhaps, most significantly, that a black photographer would most probably be beaten and have their film destroyed. Knowing they needed a white photographer, the committee looked to Bob Fitch as a trusted ally.

The first elected Black sheriff in the south since Reconstruction.

Bob Fitch photographed many major events for the Civil Rights Movement resulting in scores of pictures. I chose three photographs depicting prominent and significant images representative of the era. Two of the photographs show the positive outcomes that the black power campaign brought about, while the other depicts the daily struggle that African Americans faced in their fight for equality. These photographs showed the impact and progress that the Civil Rights Movement had on the day to day lives of African Americans, but they also revealed the uphill battle that African Americans faced in attaining equality. His images served African Americans in their fight for social justice by successfully searing depictions of injustice into the national consciousness, and effectively teaching white Americans to help in the fight for black power.

His Legacy

A 106 year old African American man celebrating after registering to vote for the first time.

Bob Fitch had a passion for helping others and fighting to diminish social injustice. Although he died in 2016, his photographs remain a testament to his quest for equality for all.  He never took photographs for his own commercial gain and when he left them to Stanford University he made it clear that nonprofit organizations would be able to use his work for free. His photographs are used as a tool for teaching others about the fight for social justice and what it means to be an activist. Many of his photographs have been used in Smithsonian Institution exhibits and books about the Civil Rights Movement. He wanted his photographs to be used purely for their initial purpose, to support black power. Bob Fitch wanted to show how the movement for black power changed many African American lives for the better, while also showing the daily racism that was inflicted upon them.

Although Bob Fitch’s only intention when taking these photographs was to help the black power movement and fight injustice, he left a legacy behind. He made it clear that one does not have to be African American to help in the fight for black power. His ability to stand up and fight for his beliefs, regardless of the fact that these inequities did not directly impact his freedoms serves as a beacon of morality. His photographs have left an indelible mark on our society and furthered the fight for black power by their very recording of history. At the time, his pictures were used to spread the word about the Civil Rights Movement, and even today, remain material forms of memory that remind us of the deleterious effects of oppression, and to never stop fighting for justice.

Final Thoughts

Although this article discusses how Bob Fitch used his photography to help the black power movement, I never discussed exactly what made him want to fight for black power. In all of my research, I was unable to find what sparked his fire to support the civil rights movement.

Bob Fitch taking photographs.


Baine, Wallace. “Bob Fitch, 1937-2016: Progressive activist chronicled historical movements as a participant and observer.” Santa Cruz Sentinel. Santa Cruz Sentinel, 02 May 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

“Bob Fitch- Biography.” Bob Fitch Photos – Civil Rights, Farm Workers, Catholic Workers, Peace & Justice Movements. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

“Browse Exhibit.” Browse Exhibit | The Bob Fitch Photography Archive – Online Exhibits. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

Raiford, Leigh. “How Photography Shifted the Balance of the Civil Rights Movement.” Gizmodo., 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

Roberts, Sam. “Bob Fitch, Photojournalist of Civil Rights Era, Dies at 76.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 May 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

Image Sources

“Bob Fitch- Biography.” Bob Fitch Photos – Civil Rights, Farm Workers, Catholic Workers, Peace & Justice Movements. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

Fitch, Bob. 106-year-old El Fondren Is Hoisted Victoriously above Crowd after Registering to Vote. 1966. Bob Fitch Photography Archive– Meredith March Against Fear, June 1966, Batesville. The Bob Fitch Photography Archive. Web. 14 Apr. 2017. <>.

Fitch, Bob. Alabama, 1966: Lucious Amerson with Family. 1966. Bob Fitch Photography Archive — Civil Rights Movement: Black Candidates in Alabama, 1965-1966, Alabama. The Bob Fitch Photography Archive. Web. 14 Apr. 2017. <>.

Fitch, Bob. Meredith March Against Fear, Martin Luther King Jr. & Stokely Carmichael, 1966. 1966. Bob Fitch Photography Archive — Martin Luther King Jr. Gallery, 1965-1966, Memphis. The Bob Fitch Photography Archive. Web. 14 Apr. 2017. <>.

Fred Hampton: American Activist


Image result for fred hampton

(Fred, 2017)

      Fred Hampton was born on August 30, 1948, and raised in a suburb of Chicago now known as Maywood (Mack, 2015). When he was in high school, Hampton was incredibly gifted both academically and athletically. He had hopes to one day play center field for the New York Yankees (Fred, 2017). In 1966, he graduated high school with honors and enrolled at Triton Junior College -also in Chicago, in the pre-law program (Fred, 2017).

     Upon going to Triton Junior College, he became involved with his local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), taking on leadership roles within the Youth Council, especially in the organization’s West Suburban branch. Hampton was particularly gifted as both an orator and leader and soon amassed 500 members in his branch, out of a community of 27,000 people (Fred, 2017). His group was able to lobby for better academic and recreational facilities for African-American children in Chicago (Mack, 2015).

Image result for fred hampton

(Mack, 2015)

     After the success of his first project, Hampton joined the Black Panther Party (BPP), which was headquartered in Oakland, California, a traditionally poor black city just south of San Francisco (Mack, 2015). Because of his enthusiasm and experience with the NAACP, Hampton was soon the head of the Chicago branch of the BPP (Mack, 2015).

Image result for black panther party

(Fred, 2017)

      In his year as the head of the Chicago branch, Hampton among other things, was able to broker a non-aggression pact between Chicago’s most significant and violent street gangs (Mack, 2015). By stressing that conflict between gangs, especially the youth in gangs, would keep those youth in poverty, Hampton was able to raise awareness of class consciousness, then creating an alliance between the multiple gangs and the BPP called the Rainbow Coalition, which was incredibly successful in keeping the violence and conflict between the groups lower than had ever been seen (Mack, 2015).

       Though he was very well liked by a large number of people, the same talent for organizing and orating put him in the eyesight of the FBI, who deemed Hampton a threat (Mack, 2015).  J. Edgar Hoover wanted to prevent a cohesive coalition of Black movement in the United States, and so opened an investigation on Hampton, which included tapping Hampton’s mother’s phone, and placing Hampton on the “Agitator Index,” a database used to track people who were leaders of civil rights movements (Fred, 2017). The FBI also sent anonymous letters to the BPP and Rangers (one of the gangs which was part of the Rainbow Coalition), instigating a split, which was shown later in a Senate investigation to be an active encouragement of violence between the BPP and other radical groups, which triggered many ethnic and racially motivated murders across the country (Mack, 2015).

        The FBI was finally able to arrest Hampton on May 26, 1969, for a case related to a theft in 1967 of $71 worth of Good Humor Bars in Maywood. He was sentenced to two to five years but managed to obtain an appeal bond, and was released in August (Fred, 2017). Now that he had an arrest record, it was easier for the FBI to justify keeping an eye on Hampton.

         On December 4, 1969, at 4:00am, 14 heavily armed policemen split into 2 teams, stormed into Fred Hampton’s apartment shooting wildly (Taylor, 2016). Along with other casualties, Fred Hampton was murdered that night. There was evidence of only one shot being fired back, against the police, with all other bullets being traced to police guns (Taylor, 2016).

Image result for fred hampton shooting

(Fred, 2017)

         After the raid, the relatives of Hampton sued 28 defendants including the city of Chicago, Cook County, and the federal government, saying that the civil rights of the Black Panther members had been violated (Gregory, 2008). In what would be the largest settlement ever in a civil rights case, the plaintiffs were awarded $1.85 million (Fred, 2017).

      The murder of Fred Hampton and the winning of his civil case turned Hampton into a martyr, giving many Americans in favor of equality hope that the government would eventually do the right thing. Along with his legacy, sound bites of his speeches are still passed around and still incite the same spirit of fighting for equality. You can here one of his most famous sound bites here:

The memory of Fred Hampton is a very usable one, especially for today’s Black Lives Matter movement, in that it is easy to cite him as a martyr for the cause of freedom and equality for all black people, especially with the material memory of clips of him speaking still in existence. It is fairly predictable that his memory will stay on in this same manner, as a memory of fighting for what’s right.



      Gregory, T. (2008, September 03). The Black Panther Raid and the death of Fred Hampton. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

Fred Hampton. (2017, April 12). Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

       Mack, D. (April, 2015). Hampton, Fred . Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

Taylor, F. (2016, December 4). The Assassination of Fred Hampton: 47 Years Later. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

Pauli Murray: One Woman’s Contribution to the Black Power Movement

The Black Power movement is historically remembered as a male-dominated initiative in which black citizens of the United States attempted to claim their right to determine their own destinies. However, upon closer reexamination of historical events, it is clear that while the dominant memory evokes images of leaders like Martin Luther King, or Malcolm X, the majority of key legislative changes during the movement were largely due to the work of grassroots protests, of which women tended to preside over. The often forgotten, or undervalued role of women in the black power movement is not just an example of “women were there too” or of their roles as behind the scenes participants, but instead it exposes the necessity of reflecting on this important movement in American history in an attempt to redefine and expand the dominant memory of leadership, protest, and initiative taken during this time [1].

Murray, born in Baltimore in 1910 moved to Durham upon the death of her parents

One attempt to challenge the male-dominated memory of the black power
movement can be seen in the important civil rights figure Pauli Murray. An influential writer from Durham, North Carolina, some of her greatest contributions can be seen in her aptitude for writing articles, poems, and the novel Angel of the Desert. In particular, her poem “Dark Testament: Verse 8” evokes profound and thoughtful emotions about the fate of hope for “a brown girl” during this time period [2].

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(Pauli Murray’s “Dark Testament: Verse 8”)

Murray often cited her writing as her proudest accomplishment. It leaves behind a lasting stamp of her memory, transporting those who read it back to a much different America, giving us a greater appreciation for the civil rights freedoms we enjoy today. The haunting depictions of hope as a “crushed stalk” or “bird’s wing broken by a stone” in “Dark Testament: Verse 8” are relevant not just to the civil rights struggle of sixty years ago, but to present-day fights by marginalized groups of people, often minorities, who continue to feel their hope strangled and oppressed by the current structure of society. (For more on women activists in the Black Power movement who contributed through works of literature see

In addition to her living memory and contribution through writing, Murray played a key role as a civil rights activist during her lifetime, petitioning UNC for admission, serving time in jail to help end segregation of public transportation, and ultimately becoming a civil rights lawyer. Her work in civil rights legislation literature was monumental during the time period, with her book States’ Laws on Race and Color deemed the Bible for civil rights lawyers. In 1960 Murray traveled to Ghana to explore her African cultural roots, and upon her return was appointed to JFK’s Committee on Civil and Political Rights where she became critical of male-dominated leadership of civil rights organizations. She is quoted as having felt “increasingly perturbed over the blatant disparity between the major role in which Negro women have played and are playing in the crucial grass-roots levels of our struggle and the minor role of leadership they have been assigned in the national policy-making decisions”. Throughout her lifetime, and ultimately until her death in 1985, Murray fought to close the gender gap in civil rights leadership, as well as to gain recognition for the vital and often unrecognized work of many women throughout the movement [2].

“I felt increasingly perturbed over the blatant disparity between the major role in which Negro women have played and are playing in the crucial grass-roots level of our struggle and the minor role of leadership they have been assigned in the national policy-making decisions.”

One of the most recent ways that Murray has been remembered is through the “Face Up: Telling Stories of Community Life Project”, a public art project in Durham enlisting the participation of over 1500 people from 2007-2009 who aided in creating 14 new permanent public murals. The purpose of this movement speaks to the original purpose of the nonviolent strategy of the black power movement advocated for by Murray, to foster new connections and dialogue by expanding awareness of local history [3]. These murals, as seen below, serve as provocative additions to the exteriors of businesses, schools, and public spaces in downtown and southwest central Durham.

(mural in Durham, NC. quote reads, “True community is based upon equality, mutuality, and reciprocity. It affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together.”)
(mural in Durham, NC. quote reads, “It had taken me almost a lifetime to discover that true emancipation lies in the acceptance of the whole past, in deriving strength from all my roots, in facing up to the degradation as well as the dignity of my ancestors.”)

These two murals show Murray in a colorful, vibrant fashion, along with two of her famous quotes, forcing passerby to challenge the dominant memory of male-lead black power, instead gazing at the bright smile of Murray speaking wisdom about accepting the past and the principles of true community. These murals clearly display the unique memory of one woman during the black power movement, while simultaneously acting as greater symbols of the lessons to be gained from this time period, showing both the particularistic and universal complexity of memory.

volunteers for the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice work to preserve Murray’s childhood home

The commemoration of the life and work of Pauli Murray is further seen in the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice in Durham, set to open to the public in 2020. This center occupies what was once Murray’s family home, showing the usability of her memory as a historical site and educational center for the history of the black power movement [4]. The creation of this monument has enlisted the help of volunteers from various organizations and universities, uniting the Durham community on behalf of the remembrance of Murray and the movement as a whole. The material destination of her childhood home as a center for social justice education and activism mobilization shows how the work of her past continues to be interpreted in modern-day society.

Murray’s writings, depictions in murals, and childhood home-turned social justice center all emphasize the experience of black power as a community. They highlight the necessity of not overlooking one for their gender, or their race, inspiring hope for a better future in those who read, see, or visit these sites of memory tied to Murray. Each of these sites shows a community united towards change, while simultaneously encouraging the reflection on the struggles of the past, unveiling the progress achieved and still to be achieved for African Americans in the United States.

Works Cited

[1]: Greene, Christina. “Women in the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. Oxford University Press, 15 Nov. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

[2]: Duke Human Rights Center. “Pauli Murray Project.” Poetry by Pauli Murray | Pauli Murray Project. Duke Human Rights Center, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

[3]: Duke Human Rights Center. “Pauli Murray Project.” Pauli Murray Murals – Part of the Face Up: Telling Stories of Community Life Project | Pauli Murray Project. Duke Human Rights Center, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

[4]: Duke Human Rights Center. “Pauli Murray Project.” Pauli Murray Center | Pauli Murray Project. Duke Human Rights Center, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

BPP People’s Free Medical Centers

Overview of the Free Health Care Movement:  

In the 1970s, leaders of the Black Panther Party decided that as a part of their mission, they would also provide members of minority communities with alternative health care clinics. Over the movement’s lifetime, there were numerous operating free clinics, each conducting research, treating patients, and spreading the mission and values of the BPP.


The goal of the people’s free medical centers (PFMC) was to serve as “neighborhood” or “community” health centers[1]. The BPP believed that there were numerous problems in the health care system. Specifically, the BPP believed that while private clinics were too expensive, public clinics could not adequately serve communities, as the hospitals were underfunded and overcrowded. Both of these issues resulted in the BPP adding to the sixth component of the BPP platform, the ‘People’s Free Medical Research Clinics’[2]. The clinics were to serve “the people, body and soul” as the party platform explains. One of the key claims or mantras of the movement emphasized that in order to continue fighting their mission (BPP’s mission) the members had to take better care of their bodies and souls.

The decision to open the PFMC came during a time known as the radical health care movement, where multiple parties decided to take healthcare into their own hands. As noted in Nelson’s novel, different activist groups included “feminist groups; hippie counterculturalists; leftists such as Students for a Democratic Society and Health/PAC…the MCHR and the SHO; and the Party’s allies in the “rainbow coalition,” most notably, the Young Lords Party”. Specific to the BPP mission, they hoped to both serve the communities in need, while also shedding light on the poor conditions of those they were serving. By the end of the movement, the party had established thirteen clinics across all parts of the country[3]. Within the clinics themselves, men and women, partnering with physicians and professional health care clinics, such as the MCHR and young feminist organizations, served the community out of storefronts, trailers, and wherever other locations they could access. One of the goals of the BPP initially was to give back to the community, and the centers helped fulfill this goal by providing multiple social health care initiatives. Although the programs were announced in a 1968 publication, it was not until 1972 that the amendment for “completely free healthcare for all black and oppressed people” was added to the original ten-point program[4].

The clinics and Physicians:free medical trailer

The clinics were set up in trailers, store fronts, and in various locations across the country. The BPP required the clinics to have a large medical supply, a minimum volunteer staff of at least ten members, a receptionist, and at least three or more doctors scheduled at all times during the week for the patients (1). Setting up a location in areas that were both convenient for the community members, and safe to practice proved challenging. This led to the majority of locations being run out of trailers, old store fronts, or wherever they could find the space to allow for at least one operating space. While several clinics began operating in the late 60s, there were no clinics near the headquarters of the PFMC in Oakland.

first clinicIn 1971, the Bobby Seale PFMC, in Berkeley, helped to mitigate this problem. Beyond the physical spaces, the physicians were a combination of full-time practitioners, volunteer staff, and community members who contributed in whichever ways they could. The physicians encouraged patients to ask them questions and receive a holistic, social well-fare style of care.

Sickle Cell Anemia:

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 8.11.32 PMThe care and research of many labs focused on sickle cell anemia. While some labs focussed on issuing screenings for sickle-cell anemia, others sought out a cure, as well as serving children through their children health care programs. Part of the program’s mission was to educate patients on becoming advocates for themselves in the healthcare system. This is a unique position, as the relationship between physician and patient continues to modify today. As noted in the picture of former President Barack Obama, one might notice parallels between the movements of his administration and the efforts of the BPP. However, recent discussions have also compared Obamacare to the Nixon Administration’s plan and stated that the BPP would not have advocated towards the leniency outlined in the Obamacare proposal (5).



Alternative Medicine:


One use of the centers was to inform volunteer physicians about the alternative forms of medicine and actors in those realms. The theory of the BPP was that most physicians came from a place of privilege and could not relate to the real struggles of the people they were often treating. Therefore, the party worked to inform or ‘reeducate’ these professionals on the teachings of Mao Zedong, Frantz Fanon, and other political ideologists. The volunteer physician, Fitzhugh Mullan recalls lessons on these philosophers while working at the Lincoln Hospital Collective. He notes that “the Panthers and the Young Lords Party required that the activist doctors take PE classes from them” learning, scrutinizing, and memorizing the works of Mao and Joshua S. Horn (1). In addition, in the realm of the PFMC, the BPP “reinterpreted scientific theories about the causes of sickle cell anemia” by retracing its history to the slave trade and the “medical-industrial complex” (5).





[1] Nelson, Alondra, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination, 2015

[2] The Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, and David Hilliard. Black Panther Party : Service to the People Programs. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2010.

[3] Atlanta Black Star, Chiles, 2015 —

[4] “Black Panther Party Ideology – The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.” Google Sites. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017

(5) Angola3neews (2011)

(6) The Opening of the Bobby Seale People’s Free Medical Clinic,” Black Panther, May 15, 1971

The Founders of the Black Panther Party: Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale

The Black Panther Party was a political party that used violence to combat the discrimination of African Americans in the 1960s and the 1970s. Their radical nature and use of violence cemented them as an organization of dangerous people that threatened the security and safety of the American people. The organization was founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966. The work of Newton and Seale is now a part of American history and the history of the Black Power Movement. Their lives are an intricate part of the history of the Black Panther Party.

Bobby Seale was born on October 22, 1936 in Dallas, Texas.
Seale lived in poverty and had an abusive father.

Bobby Seale
Bobby Seale; Source: Wikimedia

His family moved to Oakland, California when he was eight years old. He attended high school until dropping out in 1955 to join the U.S. Air Force. Three years after enlisting, Seale was discharged for bad conduct because he got into a fight with his commanding officer. He went back into high school while working as a sheet metal mechanic. After graduating, he decided to continue his education by attending Merritt College. At college, he would meet his friend, Huey Newton.

Huey P. Newton was born on February 17, 1942 in Monroe, Louisiana. His father, Walter Newton, was a sharecropper and Baptist Preacher and named his seventh son after the Governor of Louisiana, Huey P. Long. When Newton was young, his family moved to Oakland, California. Newton’s family stated in Oakland where he was able to graduate from high school in 1959 despite not being able to read, although he did eventually teach himself.

Huey P. Newton
Huey P. Newton; Source: The

Newton decided to further his education at Merritt College. He earned an Associate of Arts degree in 1966 and San Francisco Law School and the University of California at Santa Cruz where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Social Philosophy and, in 1980, earned a Ph.D.

Whilst at Merritt College, Newton became involved in politics and joined the Afro-American Association. At a rally protesting the Cuban Blockade in late 1962, Newton and Seale met and quickly became friends and political confidants. In school, Newton and Seale worked together to develop the school’s black studies curriculum and integrate African-American History courses into the college curriculum. In 1966, the pair founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and adopted the symbol of the all-black political party from a county in Alabama. The group would later be renamed to the Black Panther Party. Soon the Black Panther Party would grow from a small organization in Oakland to nationwide movement.

The Black Panther Party was originally created as an organization that used force to protect African-Americans from the local police, but in time, they expanded. As they expanded the scope of their organization, the reputation of the Black Panthers grew and soon they became a new voice in the Black Power and Civil Rights Movements. Newton and Seale created a series of guidelines and descriptions of the ideal way to operate the Black Panther Party and called it the Ten-Point Program. The Program served as a description of the goals of the Black Panther Party. The Program was also an attempt to shape how they party was viewed both by its members and administrators as well as the American public.

On August 22, 1989, Huey Newton was shot in his hometown of Oakland, California. He was shot by a crack dealer after demanding free drugs because of his fame. His death solidified who he was in memories of people. After hearing of the murder, many people had differing opinions of him. “Fred DePalm, who was awakened by the shooting this morning, said: ‘To us, Huey Newton was a hero. The Black Panthers were a thing to identify with along with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.’”3 “Alameda County Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Tom Orloff told a reporter, ‘the Huey Newton I dealt with from the mid-1970s on played no positive role in the community in any sense; I saw him as a criminal.’”4 Both of these viewpoints only portray a partial view of the memory Newton thus lose the detail and emotional intensity of Newton’s legacy. The partial nature of these memories leaves his legacy open to distortion and instrumentalization. For example, Tupac Shakur references Newton in his song “Changes” by saying “‘It’s time to fight back,’ that’s what Huey said. Two shots in the dark, now Huey’s dead.” This implies that Newton was killed by those he was fighting against and thus distorts Newton’s memory to serve his own purpose.

Conversely, Bobby Seale is better able to control how he is remembered by taking action. Today, he is “still speaking out at college campuses around the country, where he lectures in his trademark black beret about the Black Panthers as well as about social justice issues, including voting rights, education, employment and equality.”2 He is able to shape how he is remembered in history by clarifying his views and how he identifies himself. He once described himself by saying “I am not a hoodlum. I’m a community organizer.”


  1. “A Tension in the Political Thought of Huey P. Newton” (
  2. “Where are they now? Black Panther Leader Bobby Seale” (
  3. “Huey Newton Killed; Was a Co-Founder Of Black Panthers” (
  4. “Even in Death, Newton Stirs Sparks: Family, Friends Bitter at Those Who Label Him a Criminal” (
  5. “Newton, Huey P.” (
  6. “Huey P. Newton – Author, Civil Rights Activist” (
  7. “Bobby Seale” (
  8. “Bobby Seale | American Activist” (
  9. “Bobby Seale – Civil Rights Activist” (
  10. “2pac – Changes Lyrics” (
  11. “Reading the Past against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies” (
  12. “Dynamics of Distortion in Collective Memory” (

The 1967 Milwaukee Riot through the words of the Milwaukee Star

The Milwaukee Star was one of the first all-black ran newspapers that printed weekly. Appearing in the early 1960’s the Star’s small staff was able to make the newspaper “the voice of negro Wisconsin,” with big news, such as JFK’s assassination and an in-person interview with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr himself. Through stories big and small, the Milwaukee Star was able to create an interconnectedness that once lacked for the black community. It soon became a way to spread activism and more awareness of injustice happening locally and globally. [5]

SDC to hear cop complaints

The Milwaukee Star became in integral force of the Black Power Movement in letting its readers know that they had a community and many resources available to them. This strong form of unity amongst the black community enticed a more willingness and more reason to do something about the many injustices they were faced with daily. This is seen in events of police brutality and housing discrimination leading up to the 1967 Milwaukee Riots. With recurring instances of police brutality, the Star, urged its readers to report any of their experiences of brutality and harassment under law enforcement to go to “listening posts.” There they could be properly recorded by an American Civil Liberties Attorney for the Greater Milwaukee Conference on Religion and Race. The goal of these attorneys was to obtain as many stories, witnesses, and people willing to testify in order for their voices to be heard and injustice brought to an end. With the many people in the area being silenced by their fear and lack of knowledge on resources, progress on such situations lacked. Such newspaper pieces gave the exact location for “listening posts,” helping deliver these needed resources. This call for awareness was an example of Black Power in the sense that it gave a voice and it reminded black residents of Milwaukee that they have the right to control their destiny socially and politically. [7]

peculiar choice

The Star was sure to specify the many black resources available. In a 1967 issue on police brutality, they were adamant that the local black people did not want nor need white lawyers to defend them. They went as far as to say that if they have white lawyers, to get a black one because they are available and that “they know, like no one else, what police brutality in Milwaukee is.” The article called “the choice of a white attorney… illogical and indefensible.” This served as a reminder that this retaliation was a form of black power against white oppression, and incorporating someone with no experience of such oppression will hurt their chances of succeeding in change and take away from the Black Power reformation. [1]

Fair housing demonstration, Milwaukee, 1967. Photo by Ben Fernandez. James Groppi Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society
Fair housing demonstration, Milwaukee, 1967. Photo by Ben Fernandez. James Groppi Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society [3]


In the summer of 1967, several protests and riots broke out in Milwaukee. The lack of progress being done on the housing discrimination and police brutality resulted in NAACP Youth Council of Milwaukee and Father Groppi, a white Catholic priest and civil rights activist, to join hands in igniting a change themselves. A week before the protests began, the Milwaukee Star released a column titled “Straight Facts,” basically called out black community members who had not been participating in Black Power and instead gave into the oppressors. Black ministers “trying to stay in white power’s good graces is full time job,” and “tending to the needs of the poor black majority ” had been “merely an avocation.” The star viewed this disrespect as the reason the Black Power Movement kept coming up short. This article also blamed wealthy black men and women for they rather “close their eyes to black poverty, black crime, [and] black suffering.” This ends with praising the NAACP Youth Council for being one of the only activists along with a white man constantly working for the Black Power goal. The Star seemed to compare and urge those less active to learn from the young men and women persistently doing what their older counterparts refused to do. This was a way of igniting a spark in those who had settled with such complacency in inequality rather than fight it. They go as far as to applaud the NAACP personally by saying “if we at the Star must stand alone to offer our plaudits to the group of dedicated black youngsters who absolutely refuse to knuckle under, unafraid of rocking the boat of the status quo: We do this for all of Milwaukee to know we are on the side of the right…. and say agitate.” This shows the Star’s stance on the matter that those who were not active, were on the wrong side of Black Power. This section ended with quoting Frederick Douglas saying “if there is no struggle, there is no progress,” so it is the black communities responsibility to agitate the status quo, as the Milwaukee Star did to the black community. [8]



The following year a bill was passed by President Johnson that outlawed racial discrimination in 80% of the nations housing sales. This was a huge step not just for Milwaukee’s black residents, but for all minorities in the US. It was part of the beginning of a wave for equality that still persists to this day. This success happened in part due to the many protests nation-wide. Efforts such as those by the NAACP and other organizations came together to become a greater voice of Black Power that would not stop until something was done. This agitation along with that of the Milwaukee Star is an exemplar of the communal effort for equality through Black Power. These specific articles and that of other academic journals may not be a prime spot of remembrance in the Black Power Movement. Like many  other events and actions in the movement, it was part a bigger processual wave that overall gets remembered for its push to equality, rather specifics. [6]

Final Thoughts: This post, as a site of memory, leaves out many details of both the Milwaukee Star and its involvement in the Black Power Movement as whole. This is due to the sake of the length constraint and the post’s focus on the 1967 summer riot.

[1] An Editorial. Peculiar Choice. (1967, July 29). The Milwaukee Star, p. 1. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

[2] And They Marched on and on and On. (1967, August 09). The Milwaukee Star, p. 5. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

[3] Fernandez, B. J., & Neier, A. (1968). In opposition. Images of American dissent in the sixties. [Photobook]. Pref. by A. Neier. New York: Da Capo Press.

[4] [historycomestolife]. (2011. May 24). Father Groppi leads Milwaukee black 1967.

. Retrieved from

[5] M. (2014, August 01). Remember when … Milwaukee Star blazed a trail for Black weeklies in early 1960s. Retrieved April 16, 2017, from

[6] Milwaukee’s Reaction to New Rights Bill. (1968, April 17). The Milwaukee Star, p. 17. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

[7] S D C to Hear Cop Complaints. (1967, July 22). The Milwaukee Star, p. 2. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from
[8] Straight Facts. (1967, July 22). The Milwaukee Star, p. 4. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

Raxel Leiton

The Black Liberation Army and the 1971 Ambush of Officers Jones and Piagentini

panther25n-4-web(NY Daily News). At the time of their deaths Piagentini was 28 and Jones was 33.

The Ambush: At about 10 PM on Friday May 21, 1971, NYPD Officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini were returning to their car on foot after responding to a 911 call. The caller reported a disturbance from Colonial Park Houses on W. 159th St (now called the Rangel Houses), and investigators later determined that the report was a trap intended to lure officers into area to be ambushed. Jones and Piagentini parked their squad car on W 155th street, which is elevated above the riverbank after crossing the Harlem River as the Macombs Dam Bridge. A set of stairs leads down to ground level off of W 155th street, which the officers used to get to Colonial Park Houses.

stairs          (Google Earth) The Colonial Park Houses are in the distance, and the stairs are in the lower right of the image. The patrolmen likely parked close to where this picture was taken from, and went down the stairs to respond to the call.

When they were walking back to the stairs to return to their car, they were ambushed from behind. Jones was shot four times. The first round was fired from no more than six inches away and struck him in the back of the head, killing him immediately. Three more shots hit him before he fell: one in the neck, the next in the lower back, and the last in the thigh. Piagentini was shot a total of twelve times by two different .38 revolvers, and once by the same .45 handgun that killed his partner. He survived long enough to be rushed away in a police car to the Harlem Hospital, but was dead by the time they arrived.

The Site: 155th Street, where Jones and Piagentini parked their car, is considered the northern border of Harlem. Since the Great Migration around the turn of the 20th century, this area has arguably been the most important site of African American culture and development. The history of Harlem encapsulates the enormous complexity of racial dynamics in America in the 20th century: the artistic and political achievements of the Harlem Renaissance, the 1935 Race Riot, civil rights activities like Malcom X’s famous speech about fair representation at the Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 15, 1965, his assassination there a week after, and the murder of Jones and Piagentini less than a decade later. The 911 call that the two policemen were responding to was placed from one of nine X shaped apartment buildings constructed in the early 1960s, which stand on the site of several long-demolished Harlem tenements.

1280px-Polo_Grounds_Towers_at_W_155th_St,_ManhattanThe southernmost building of the Rangel Ralph Houses looking toward the Macomb’s Dam Bridge where Jones and Piagentini left their car.

There is nothing marking the place where Jones and Piagentini were murdered, and nothing on the landscape reminds passersby of the crime that took their lives. Their deaths have become a small detail in the checkered past of New York race relations, and their lives are not remembered through commemoration or dedication because of the painful and unresolved dynamics that motivated their killers. This should be changed because confronting and analyzing our collective past through sites of memory, especially painful ones, is the best way to learn from and be cautious of violence (Schudson).

The Black Liberation Army and the Killers: After four years that included a lengthy manhunt, interrogation and interviews, evidence collection, legal procedures, and a mistrial resulting from a hung jury, Herman Bell, Albert Washington and Anthony Bottom were found guilty of homicide in the first degree of the two police officers on April 10, 1975. All three were members of the Black Liberation Army, a somewhat nebulous militant offshoot of the Black Panther Party that formed when the BPP began to dissolve in the late 1960s.

black-panther-party-black-liberation-army-timelin-2-10933-1460332202-4_dblbigSeveral armed BLA members 

The BLA’s stated mission was to “take up arms for the liberation and self-determination of black people in the United States”(TRAC). The Fraternal Order of Police blames the organization for the murder of 13 officers between 1970 and 1976. Assata Shakur, a grassroots member of the BLA who was convicted for the 1976 murder of a New Jersey state trooper, wrote in her autobiography, “… the Black Liberation Army was not a centralized, organized group with a common leadership and chain of command. Instead there were various organizations and collectives working together and simultaneously independent of each other”(Griego). This is one reason that it is not clear what the leadership structure of the BLA looked like, or whether the murders of Jones and Piagentini were organizationally linked to similar killings of NYPD officers during the same time frame.

The Legacy: Bell, Washington, and Bottom were all sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Washington died of cancer in prison in 2000, but the other two are still alive and in custody, and have been denied parole several times.

NY5-2Back row: (L-R) Albert Washington, Gabriel Torres, Anthony Bottom Front row: (L-R) Herman Bell, Francisco Torres before the first trial that ended in a hung jury. The Torres brothers were not tried in the retrial.

The current climate of racial tension and violence closely mirrors the America in which Bell, Washington, and Bottom were convicted. The Black Panther Party is similar in terms of mission to the Black Lives Matter movement, though BLM is more of a social movement than an organization. Radical anti-police violence has occurred recently outside of BLM in the same way the BLA committed acts of violence outside the structure of the Black Panthers. Most of these attacks have been perpetrated by individuals who feel that not enough is being done to liberate oppressed people, a sentiment expressed by Micah Xavier Johnson, the shooter who killed five Dallas TX officers last July.

A Police officer stands guard at a baracade following the sniper shooting in Dallas on July 7, 2016. A fourth police officer was killed and two suspected snipers were in custody after a protest late Thursday against police brutality in Dallas, authorities said. One suspect had turned himself in and another who was in a shootout with SWAT officers was also in custody, the Dallas Police Department tweeted. / AFP / Laura Buckman (Photo credit should read LAURA BUCKMAN/AFP/Getty Images)A Dallas police officer stands guard after over a dozen of his colleagues were shot by a sniper on July 7, 2016. (Lauren Buckman/ AFP/Getty Images)

Erik Thorsheim

Works Cited

TRAC “Black Liberation Army (BLA) – United States.” Black Liberation Army (BLA) – United States | Terrorist Groups | TRAC. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <>.

Bottom, Anthony Jalil | Jericho Movement. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <>.

Dwyer, Jim. “Officers’ Killer Took Aim at New York City of Today.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Dec. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <>.

Fried, Joseph P. “2 POLICEMEN SLAIN BY SHOTS IN BACK 2 MEN ARE SOUGHT.” New York Times [New York] 22 May 1971: 1. Print.

Griego, Tina. “Cuba Still Harbors One of America’s Most Wanted Fugitives. What Happens to Assata Shakur Now?” The Washington Post. WP Company, 20 Dec. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2017 <>.

The Official Website of Herman Bell : Bio. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <>.

“Patrolman Joseph A. Piagentini.” The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP). N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <>.

“Patrolman Waverly M. Jones.” The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP). N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <>.

Roman, Lawrence, and Robert K. Tanenbaum. Badge of the Assassin. Hollywood: Blatt/Singer Productions, 1984. Print.

Schudson, Michael. “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

Solomont, Elizabeth. “New Arrests in a Decades-Old Slaying of Police Officers.” New Arrests in a Decades-Old Slaying of Police Officers – The New York Sun. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <>.

Tracy, Thomas. “Slain Cops’ Families Split on Whether Killers Should Be Freed.” NY Daily News. N.p., 24 Jan. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <>.

Valenti, John. “Cop’s Widow: Don’t Grant Parole to Killers.” Newsday. N.p., 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <>.

Van Gelder, Lawrence. “3 GUILTY IN DEATH OF 2 POLICEMEN.” New York Times [New York] 11 Apr. 1975: 55. Print.

Wang, Tabitha. “Harlem Race Riot 1935.” Black Past. Humanities Washington, n.d. Web. <>.

Wolff, Craig. “3 Men to Argue for New Trial in ’71 Police Killing.” New York Times [New York] 12 Mar. 1991: 2. Print.

The social perception created by the Black Panthers

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.

2017-04-18 (1)

the year of the youth


Christmas Presents

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.

2017-04-18 (2)Kill the pig before they kill you

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.

black incidents

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.


  1. “The Black Panther Newspaper & Posters Collection.” Accessed 17, April 2017.
  2. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense. November 23, 1967. Volume 1-6. Accessed 17, April 2017.
  3. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense. January 2, 1971. Volume 1-6. Accessed 17, April 2017.
  4. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense. December 7, 1968. Volume 1-6. Accessed 17, April 2017.
  5. “The Freedom Party” accessed 17, April.
  6. Barbie Zelizer. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory StudiesCritical Studies in Mass Communications. 214-39.
  7. 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;

The Black Panther Party of the New South: Winston-Salem and Dr. Larry Little

The first Black Panther Chapter in a southern state was established in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It was an active political force from 1969-1978 and over the course of that time grew to become one of the most influential chapters in the region. The chapter’s primary occupation was with alleviating the needs of black communities in the area. They offered many service programs, including free sickle cell anemia testing, an ambulance service, and free breakfasts for schoolchildren. The chapter was relatively unique in its community development oriented approach with what the National BPP called “Survival Programs”. 1

One of the most influential leaders of the Winston-Salem chapter of the Black Panther Party was Dr. Larry Little, who led the party through it’s most successfully active time period. He went on to obtain a bachelor’s and law degree and now teaches as an associate professor at Winston-Salem State University. 1

dr larry little

1. Dr. Larry Little speaking at a vigil for Trayvon Martin’s death in Winston-Salem (2013)

In 1970, Little was jailed after refusing to quit the Black Panthers at the prospect after being arrested for disorderly conduct and attempting to incite a riot. In reality, he got into an altercation with police officers after they ripped down posters hung by Little that said “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” 1

In 1974, Larry Little became actively involved in the Joan Little case, who faced the death penalty for a crime committed in self-defense. Her trial, for the murder of the Washington, NC prison guard who raped her, incited protest across North Carolina and the nation. 1

(More information on her case can be found here) 5

Image result for joan little

2. Joan Little

In 1975, Dr. Larry Little’s life was threatened by a member of the KKK. His name was on a list of BPP Leaders slated for assassination. Below is the issue of the Black Panther Intercommunal News Service that covers the story on the front page. 2

 Chapter_History_25 (PDF of issue XIV of the Black Panther Intercommunal News Service)

In 1976, Little resigned as head of the Winston-Salem chapter of the Black Panther Party and two years later, the local organization dissolved. 1

Fast forward to 2012, and Winston-Salem unveils a Black Panther Party historical marker honoring the impact the chapter had on the community. 3 This formal recognition made the previously vernacular memory of the chapter part of the dominant narrative of local history. The plaque frames the chapter in a very particular way that, while honoring the service, diminishes the Black Power and ignores the long history of push-back that the southern chapter received from the white community.

Image result for black panther party winston salem nc

3. The historical marker honoring the Winston-Salem chapter of the Black Panther Party

In 2015, a resident of Henderson, NC, started a petition to have the marker removed in response to a rally in Charleston, South Carolina. The rally was held by the New Black Panther Party (separate from the BPP) and allegedly called for the killing of white people. 4 Though the two parties are unaffiliated, the sentiment is clear; not everyone in North Carolina approves of honoring the chapter.

The marker made a material site of memory by physically marking the landscape, but this honoring occurred more than 40 years after the Winston-Salem chapter of the Black Panther Party ceased operation. It took that long for the work the organization did to be officially recognized because of both the continuation of the problems the party sought to address and because the process of forgetting in the broader social consciousness had to begin before the act of remembering could take place. The memory is processual, and developed and continues to develop over time. The legacy that party has nationally is tumultuous, and the local one mirrors it in complexity. The historical marker remembers the good the chapter did in the community but forgets the upheaval, revolt, and most importantly black power, in it’s official memory of the site. The particularity of Winston-Salem, but the universality of the Black Panthers nationally, makes for an interesting cross section of memory in this thread. The particular memory of the community development of the local chapter contrasts with the universal memory of protests and violence of the national party. 6

It is important to note that through my active participation in remembering this site, the memory is narrativized and therefore distorted and incomplete. 7 What narratives are left out of my analysis?


  1. “Black Panther Party, Winston-Salem, North Carolina Chapter.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 05 Apr. 2017. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
  2. PDF of issue XIV of the Black Panther Intercommunal News Service:
  3. O’donnell, Lisa. “Winston-Salem Unveils Black Panther Party Marker.” Winston-Salem Journal. Winston-Salem Journal, 14 Oct. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
  4. Stinson, Tevin. “Former Black Panther Party Leader Little Speaks out on Petition to Have Marker Removed.” The Chronicle. Winston-Salem Chronical, 27 Aug. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
  5. Pratt, Minnie Bruce. “A Look Back at the Joan Little Case.” A Look Back at the Joann Little Case. Workers World, 9 Mar. 2016. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
  6. Zelizer, Barbie. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies,” Critical Studies in Mass Communications (June 1995): 214-39.
  7. Schudson, Michael.“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;



The Fist as a Symbol of Black Power


On October 16, 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, both Olympic athletes, were awarded medals in the 200 meter race. This day would be remembered forever by viewers, reporters, and Olympic officials not because Smith set a world record with a time of 19.83 seconds, or because these athletes were African American and would have been denied participation in the Olympics up until the arrival of the 20th century. This event is remembered because, upon receiving their medals, Smith and Carlos each donned a black glove and, in an attempt to show solidarity and resistance in the face of a number of human rights violations, raised their gloved fists while the national anthem played. In doing so, stated the United States Olympic Committee, Smith and Carlos violated “the basic standards of good manners and sportsmanship, which are so highly valued in the United States.”

This site of memory, this gesture—the raising of a closed fist as a sign of black power—did not develop organically within the context of the 1968 Olympics. While the gesture became associated almost exclusively with the black power movement and resistance from unfair policies and unwarranted biases that the black community experienced, the fist has a long, somewhat unclear history. Manifestations of the gesture throughout history suggest that it was not exclusive to people of African descent, but was instead used by different groups across the globe that experienced oppression based on characteristics that include but are not limited to race, gender, social status, and sexual orientation. By brandishing the fist, these people are able to express their rejection of the unjust authority that suppresses them as well as unite with like-minded individuals, to form a collective, and often more effective, means of resistance.


While the fist gesture is not exclusive to the Black Panther Party (learn more about the Black Panther Party’s goals here)which it has famously been associated with, its use by this black nationalist group allowed it to reach a level of ubiquity with which few other gestures can compete. Pictures and video footage of members of the Black Panther Party saluting one another with the raised fist at rallies, conventions, and meetings circulated rapidly in the sixties, leaving no doubt as to what the symbol meant to those individuals. The fist, in conjunction with certain hairstyles, clothing items, and styles of music, contributed to the rise of an aesthetic that was exclusive to the black power movement and those who supported it.

As the cultural and political climate with which the fist gesture first thrived began to shift, so too did the gesture itself. Women’s rights activists Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes (a white and black woman, respectively) were photographed making the fist to show interracial feminist unity, and, in a sense, transcend the traditional boundaries of race that were prescribed by society. The fist became featured in works of popular art like Public Enemy’s music video for their song “Fight the Power,” shown below. It’s true that the message conveyed in this song is largely consistent with the message of resistance that was advocated for by the Black Panthers, but the new mediums, such as music videos, which began showing the gesture, provided an opportunity for the general public not only to become aware of the fist and its meaning, but to reinterpret this meaning for themselves.

Examples of this reinterpretation of the gesture can be seen in countless ways today, from people of every gender, race, and ideological leaning. White politician Bernie Sanders employs the fist frequently at campaign stops and rallies, using it in conjunction with his promotion of economic equality to promote a sense of justice that varies from what was advocated for during the Black Power movement. Donald Trump—same race, different political party—used the fist on the night of his inauguration as a rallying cry for the American people to assist in his quest to “make America great again.” Despite the allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination that Trump has faced and the loud protestation of women over his policies, the fist was embraced by these very women at the Women’s March on Washington and other rallies that advocated for gender equality.

Football player Colin Kaepernick has made headlines over the last year for his public protestation of the treatment of African Americans in the country, with fellow athletes using the fist to show their solidarity with Kaepernick. The fist is used by protestors after every example of police brutality as well, which disproportionately effects African Americans and gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. On the other hand, the fist can be seen among white nationalist groups as well, and was used by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik who was responsible for mass murder in Norway in 2011.

Clearly, the context in which the clenched fist is seen can be wildly variable. While it may be used as a symbol of resistance in nearly all of these circumstances, few other common denominators exist surrounding its usage. The memory of the fist as a symbol of black power is forgotten by white nationalist groups or individuals who exhibit blatant disregard for the welfare of black lives. Those that advocate for equality in terms of gender and economics use the gesture that the Black Panthers made famous and repurpose it for their own use, and no matter how noble that use is, the definitions, boundaries, and meanings of the gesture become more and more uncertain. All of this uncertainty surrounding the current meaning and ramifications of what was once known as the “Black Power fist” beg the question: for a gesture that supposedly means so many things, does it really mean anything at all?


Black Arts Repertory Theatre and School (BARTS) and the Black Arts Movement


Black Arts Movement

Black Arts Movement creator Amiri Baraka (center) is shown with BAM musicians and actors in 1966

The Black Arts Movement consisted of black artists, poets, writers, actors and musicians during the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s (The Black Arts Movement). As a division of the Black Power Movement, these artists wanted to create lasting political change and called themselves Cultural Nationalists (as opposed to Revolutionary Nationalists such as the Black Panthers). The poet Imamu Amiri Baraka founded the movement after activist Malcolm X’s assassination. The art was intended to be created by the black community for the black community in order to achieve artistic and civil liberation.

A pamphlet for BARTS during its first (and only) year in operation


The establishment of the Black Arts Movement coincided with the opening of the Black Arts Repertory Theatre and School (BARTS) in Harlem. The school’s opening was accompanied by a jazz concert that brought together prominent musicians, artists and innovators. The movement eventually spread across the nation to places like Chicago, Detroit and San Francisco (Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School). Baraka envisioned a school inside the same landscape as the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, a time when Harlem functioned as a similar cultural center for black artists and writers (Wormser). Some of the famous BARTS artists include Sun Ra, Albert Ayler and Sonia Sanchez. Theatre pieces countered black theatre origins where whites would perform their own plays about the black community while wearing blackface (Black Theatre). All of the BARTS pieces were written and performed by black artists and writers. Baraka contributed material as well through his Black Magic Poetry collection (Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School).

Many FBI instigators were assigned to monitor BARTS because it was the first black arts school of its time (Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School). The FBI were present at initial meetings and classroom discussions, including educational lectures on African-American history. During the 1970s, the government attempted to redefine educational environments and replace current black influencers with new educators who condoned political movements. This shift is said to be one reason why BARTS did not stay open for more than one year. Another reason is that the black community, at large and especially in Harlem, lacked the economic means to continue its initiatives (Salaam).

Criticism of the Movement

Baraka and the Black Arts Movement eventually had internal issues that arose toward the end of the movement and in the decades that followed (Salaam). Baraka himself said that nationalistic art should have limited and clearly defined boundaries, or “a razor to cut away what is not central to National Liberation.” This statement was heard by most people only after the end of BARTS, showing the processual memory of the Black Arts Movement. Baraka saw many black writers and poets as disrupting the Black Arts Movement instead of staying open to new ideas and perspectives. The Black Arts Movement’s hyper-masculinity intentions existed because of how black men felt degraded by white people throughout history, but this in turn alienated many female writers. Baraka felt that many black female writers fit into a “capitulationist” mold, meaning that their work was not strong or resistant enough to make a difference (Lewis). The movement also received criticism for being anti-Semitic, homophobic, shocking and violent. This became apparent through reviews during the 1980s and 1990s; therefore, the movement was analyzed in hindsight (Salaam).

The Women's Liberation Movement occurred alongside the Black Arts Movement. Many women in used BAM to address issues of gender inequality.
The Women’s Liberation Movement occurred alongside the Black Arts Movement. Many women in used BAM to address issues of gender inequality.

Female artists countered the Black Arts Movement’s intentions by independently publishing their work toward the end of the movement (Lewis). Sonia Sanchez, a BARTS alumna, published more than 15 poetry collections, as well as many children’s books. Audre Lorde published poetry dealing with love and lesbian relationships. Bell Hooks explores the combined influences of race, capitalism and gender and their roles to oppress black voices. She has also published articles in academic journals and publications after the end of the Black Arts Movement. Maya Angelou is a well-known writer, singer and poet who spoke about the importance of protest through literary work. All of these female writers gave a voice to the women who felt hesitant to write their own pieces of resistance.

Commemorating BARTS

Material memories lie in the pieces of art and literature created at BARTS

Although the repertory theatre and school were short-lived, the Yale University library currently contains 34 documents and materials from BARTS, mostly collections from the poet Langston Hughes (Collection of Material). Much of the material from the Black Arts Movement notes the emergence of activist speech (such as spoken word and call-response compositions), music and performance during this decade. The movement also encouraged independent publishing in order to avoid discriminatory censorship. BARTS inspired many other black theatres and schools across the nation, including New Jersey’s Spirit House theatre space, which was also founded by Baraka. In 2015, the Black Arts Movement celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Many modern artists and writers, including Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, said that they have been shaped by the movement and BARTS itself (Salaam). The Black Arts Movement has since been named one of the most controversial moments in the history of African American literature, and possibley American literature as a whole.

Although BARTS has been torn down and replaced by urban developments, it was temporarily able to provide a home for black artists and writers and served as a material memory of a time where their civil rights and political treatment were still uncertain. While the Black Arts Movement has endured its critics, BARTS remains unscathed. Perhaps if it had lasted longer, it would have received its own criticism. However, it is clear that BARTS allowed the creation of Black Power poetry, performance and artistry in a way that could not have been possible before its establishment.

Sources (Media Sources Also Linked in Content)

“Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School.” Omeka RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

“Black Theatre.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

“Collection of Material Relating to the Black Arts Repertory Theatre & School.” Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Yale University, 8 Feb. 2007. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

Lewis, Femi. “Women of the Black Arts Movement.” ThoughtCo. N.p., 4 Feb. 2017. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

Salaam, Kaluma Ya, and Reginald Martin. “Historical Overviews of the Black Arts Movement.” Modern American Poetry. University of Illinois, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

Wormser, Richard. “The Harlem Renaissance.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

“The Black Arts Movement (1965-1975).” Black Past. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

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Archie Shepp and the Evolution of Jazz Music

Jazz Music and African-American Tradition

Jazz music is an early twentieth-century music innovation that is uniquely North American and solidly rooted in African-American culture. It was borne out of African musical traditions and often shares many of the same features. In addition, the way jazz music is played is also a reflection of some of the spirituality present in African culture. One musician leads the initial melody before it is passed around the group, as if each individual is “speaking” to the audience, the other musicians, and the universe. In this way, “groupness” is experienced—the individuals must be responsible for using their sound to unify the previous sounds of the band. And while white people did play jazz, their music was distinct from the jazz of black people, as Langston Hughes describes in his poem:

You must not know where Bop comes from,” said
Simple, astonished at my ignorance.
“I do not know,” I said. “Where?”
“From the police,” said Simple.
“What do you mean, from the police?”
“From the police beating Negroes’ heads,” said Simple.
“Every time a cop hits a Negro with his billy club, that old club says,
“That Negro hollers, ‘Ooool-ya-koo! Ou-o-o!’
“Old Cop just keeps on, ‘MOP! MOP!… BE-BOPI… MOP!’
That’s where Be-Bop came from, beaten right out of some Negro’s head into them horns and saxophones and piano keys that plays it …1

Despite the strong message behind traditional jazz, it soon began to fragment in the 1960s due to a few factors. One is that jazz had become elevated into a “high art” form, and was now subject to the pressures of any other medium that had risen to this level. The civil rights movement had also begun to change what the music meant to the people who had innovated it in the first place. Some individuals embraced the change to rock music and modernized. While others completely broke down the conventions as a way to fuel the changes they wanted to make in society. Out of this, “free jazz” was born as part of the Black Arts Movement.

Archie Shepp and Afrocentric Jazz Music

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Archie Shepp is a jazz saxophonist who was born May 24, 1937 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and raised in Philadelphia. He was brought up with traditional jazz music but adopted the free jazz in the 1960s after being influenced by John Coltrane. During the same time period, he gained a reputation as an advocate of the Black Power movement. In particular, he expresses his political views in three of his albums: Fire Music (1965), The Way Ahead (1968), and Things Have Got to Change (1971). Having studied as a playwright, he often incorporated spoken word and poetry into his music, a idea also popularized by others during this era.

“Malcolm, Malcolm – Semper Malcolm” from the album Fire Music, a song dedicated to Malcolm X after his assassination. This song begins with Shepp’s reading of an elegy for Malcolm X and followed by his saxophone playing, representative of his style at the time.2

Shepp believed that jazz music was important to African-Americans as it gave them a trace of their identity that had been robbed from them. Certain features of his music had their roots in Africa and the use of them in his music is a way to connect to his culture. Shepp incorporated these elements into his music as a way of carrying on the message of black power. If nothing else, his music was an expression of his individualism; a way of moving away from the dominant and returning the culture and identity of African-Americans back to their own hands.

The American Negro must understand; that he is partially an African and that he always will be. Either that or he should forget it and become White, like everything else here.

-Taken from: “Interview with Archie Shepp” (1982)

The Legacy of Jazz

After this period of unconventional jazz, Archie Shepp turned to other influences, such as blues and gospel, yet he always remained true to his blackness and did not try to assimilate into white culture. However, during his interview with Larry Appelbaum after a concert, he was not at all surprised that most of his audiences were white. He believed that blacks were not present because did not have any knowledge of classical music because they are systematically kept ignorant, and jazz had become a sophisticated music by this time. By doing this, blacks continued to be kept away from their history and culture simply because they are barred from getting the knowledge to do so.

African-Americans have a complex relationship with their own art. Shepp believes that even in genres that have been almost completely shaped by African-Americans, their music has been robbed and misrepresented by white people so that the original creators have been forgotten. Jazz music is not often taught in schools anymore, and even if it is, often times its roots in African history have been omitted and Shepp’s generation has been completely forgotten. Archie Shepp used jazz to restore the relationship between blacks and their culture during the Black Power era, but as time goes on, he became pessimistic for the future of African-American music, showing how memory is processual. After jazz was taken over by the whites, there may no longer be a place for him, or any other African-American, in jazz.

“Things Have Got to Change” from the album of the same name. In this piece, Shepp incorporates drums and chanting alongside the unconventional saxophone playing.3


“Black Magic: Gilles Peterson on the Enduring Appeal of 1960s Afro-centric Jazz.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 24 Oct. 2009. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

Bruice, Ryan D.W. “Shepp, Archie.” The Grove Dictionary of American Music. Oxford University Press, 2014. Oxford Music Online. Web. 18 Apr 2017.

Calmore, John O. Critical Race Theory, Archie Shepp, and Fire Music: Securing an Authentic Intellectual Life in a Multicultural World. University of Southern California, 1992. Print.

Goodwin, Susan. “Jazz.” The SAGE Encyclopedia of African Cultural Heritage in North America. Ed. Mwalimu Shujaa and Kenya Shujaa. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2015. 501-03. SAGE Knowledge. Web. 18 Apr 2017.

“Interview with Archie Shepp (1982).” Interview by Larry Appelbaum. Let’s Cool One. WordPress, 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 18 Apr 2017.

“The Roots of Jazz Pre-1850s.” All About Jazz. All About Jazz, n.d. Web. 18 Apr 2017.


  1. Hughes, Langston. The Best of Simple. New York: Hill and Wang, 1961. 117-8. Print.
  2. Shepp, Archie. “Malcolm, Malcolm – Semper Malcolm.” Fire Music. Bob Thiele, 1965. YouTube. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
  3. Shepp, Archie. “Things Have Got to Change.” Things Have Got to Change. Ed Michel, 1971. YouTube. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.