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THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY'S PUBLISHING STRATEGIES AND THE FINANCIAL UNDERPINNINGS OF ACTIVISM, 1968–1975

  • ANDREW M. FEARNLEY (a1)

Abstract

Historians of America's post-war social movements have said little about the financial underpinnings of activism, and this article aims to address this oversight. It focuses on the Black Panther Party, which was formed in Oakland, California, in 1966, and was soon one of America's most visible, and controversial, black power organizations. The article sketches the array of funding sources from which the party drew, and reconstructs the apparatus it fashioned to steward those resources. It condenses the discussion to one of the organization's most lucrative streams, that of book publishing, and relates this to the period's literary culture, which, in the US, witnessed a ‘black revolution in books’. Between 1968 and 1975, members of the party published some ten books, which together raised $250,000 in advances, and additional sums through their sale, serialization, and translation. The production of these works relied on the assistance of several freelance writers, and was guided by the party's commercial agency, Stronghold Consolidated Productions. By recovering the role of these groups and the infrastructure they fashioned, the article shows how publishing was connected to the wider financial structure of the organization, and prompts us to see that the Panthers’ books were not just accounts of their activism, but examples of it.

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Corresponding author

Department of English, American Studies, and Creative Writing, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, m13 9plandrew.fearnley-2@manchester.ac.uk

Footnotes

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Versions of this article were presented to the North American seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, London, and to the British Association for American Studies conference in Exeter, UK, and I am grateful to both audiences for some excellent questions and discussion. Several colleagues and friends read drafts of the article, including Douglas Field, Molly Geidel, Richard King, Daniel Matlin, Michael O'Brien, and Eithne Quinn, and I am most grateful to them for doing so. Finally I wish to thank the journal's two anonymous reviewers for their astute comments and suggestions.

Footnotes

References

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1 Jim Gray quoted in Earl Caldwell, ‘Black bookstores creating new best-seller list’, New York Times, 20 Aug. 1969; Lewis Michaux Oral History, 1970, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, DC; Mel Watkins, ‘The black revolution in books’, New York Times, 10 Aug. 1969; August Meier, ‘A people submerged’, Saturday Review, 22 Mar. 1969, copy in Eldridge Cleaver papers, Bancroft Library, University of California–Berkeley, carton 2, folder 42.

2 Steve Harvey, ‘Radical chic: how protest became saleable’, Los Angeles Times, 28 Jan. 1973.

3 Mathews, Kristin, ‘The medium, the message, the movement: print culture and New Left politics’, in Barnhisel, Greg and Turner, Catherine, eds., Pressing the fight: print, propaganda, and the Cold War (Amherst, MA, 2010), p. 32. See also Mercer, Ben, ‘The paperback revolution: mass-circulation books and the cultural origins of 1968 in Western Europe’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 72 (2011), pp. 613–36; Louis Menand, ‘Books as bombs,’ New Yorker, 24 Jan. 2011.

4 Lewis, David Levering, When Harlem was in vogue (1980; New York, NY, 1997), xxviii. See also Meer, Sarah, ‘Douglass as orator and editor’, in The Cambridge companion to Frederick Douglass (Cambridge, 2009).

5 Stronghold Consolidated Productions, ‘Receipts and disbursements, 1 Nov. 1970–31 Oct. 1971’, Dr Huey P. Newton Foundation, Inc. papers, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University (HPNFC), series 2, box 21, folder 22.

6 Hale, Grace Elizabeth, A nation of outsiders: how the white middle class fell in love with rebellion in postwar America (New York, NY, 2011), p. 331 n. 57; Ward, Brian, Just my soul responding: rhythm and blues, black consciousness, and race (Berkeley, CA, 1998), p. 271. I am grateful to Peter Ling for the information on the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

7 Widener, Daniel, Black arts West: culture and struggle in postwar Los Angeles (Durham, NC, 2010); Williams, Jakobi, From the bullet to the ballot: the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (Chapel Hill, NC, 2013); Witt, Andrew, The Black Panthers in the Midwest: the community programs and services of the Black Panther Party in Milwaukee, 1966–1977 (New York, NY, 2007); Pulido, Laura, Black, brown, yellow, and left: radical activism in Los Angeles (Berkeley, CA, 2006).

8 Bloom, Joshua and Martin, Waldo, Black against empire: the history and politics of the Black Panther Party (Berkeley, CA, 2013).

9 Ling, Peter, ‘Backing Dr. King: the financial transformation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1963’, The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture, 5 (2012), pp. 147–65, at p. 149. One earlier attempt to think about the funding of activism is Haines, Herbert H., ‘Black radicalization and the funding of civil rights, 1957–1970’, Social Problems, 32 (1984), pp. 3143.

10 Hogan, Wesley, ‘Freedom now: nonviolence in the southern freedom movement, 1960–1964’, in Crosby, Emilye, ed., Civil rights history from the ground up: local struggles, a national movement (Athens, GA, 2011), p. 192 n. 34.

11 Pimblott, Kerry, Faith in black power: religion, race, and resistance in Cairo, Illinois (Lexington, KY, 2017), p. 7; O'Connor, Alice, ‘Financing the counterrevolution’, in Schulman, Bruce and Zelizer, Julian, eds., Rightward bound: making America conservative in the 1970s (Cambridge, MA, 2008); Ferguson, Karen, Top down: the Ford Foundation, black power, and the reinvention of racial liberalism (Philadelphia, PA, 2013); Zunz, Olivier, Philanthropy in America: a history (Princeton, NJ, 2012), ch. 7.

12 Current reading: profits for Panthers’, Public Interest, 32 (1973), p. 114; Spencer, Robyn, The revolution has come: black power, gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland (Durham, NC, 2016), p. 120.

13 Seale, Bobby, Seize the time: the story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton (New York, NY, 1970), p. ix.

14 Amiri Baraka, ‘Black art’, Liberator (1966) reprinted in Baraka, Imamu Amiri, Selected poetry of Amiri Baraka/ LeRoi Jones (New York, NY, 1979); Seale, Seize the time, p. 82.

15 Slobodian, Quinn, ‘Badge books and brand books: the Mao bible in East and West Germany’, in Cook, Alexander, ed., Mao's little red book: a global history (New York, NY, 2014), pp. 211 and 220.

16 Hilary Maddux to David Lubell (24 Feb. 1972), Random House Records, 1925–99, Columbia University Manuscripts and Rare Books Library (RHR), box 1044, folder: Bobby Seale.

17 Students for a Democratic Society, Huey Newton talks to the movement about the Black Panther Party, cultural nationalism, SNCC, liberals and white revolutionaries (n.d., c. 1968), 12, copy in Charles Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University, box 2, folder 25; Raiford, Leigh, Imprisoned in a luminous glare: photography and the African American freedom struggle (Chapel Hill, NC, 2011), p. 132; Ward, Just my soul responding, p. 329.

18 US House Committee on Internal Security, The Black Panther Party: its origins and development as reflected in its official weekly newspaper (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1970), p. 6; interview of Melvin Newton by Cole, Lewis, Columbia University Black Panther Project (Alexandria, VA, 2005): 36; Williams, From the bullet to the ballot, p. 75.

19 Fairclough, Adam, To redeem the soul of America: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference & Martin Luther King, Jr. (Athens, GA, 1987), p. 66.

20 Barry Mitchell to Charles Garry (25 Apr. 1968), HPNFC, series 2, box 10, folder 5.

21 ‘Some important fiscal facts about SCLC’, (n.d., c. 1969), Leon F. Litwack Collection of Berkeley, California Protest Literature, Beinecke Library, Yale University, box 2, folder 42.

22 Hall, Simon, Peace and freedom: the civil rights and antiwar movements in the 1960s (Philadelphia, PA, 2005); Pulido, Black, brown, yellow, and left.

23 Bloom and Martin, Black against empire, p. 145. More generally, see Raymond, Emilie, Stars for freedom: Hollywood, black celebrities, and the civil rights movement (Seattle, WA, 2015).

24 Raiford, Imprisoned in a luminous glare, p. 172. See also Rhodes, Jane, Framing the Black Panthers: the spectacular rise of a black power icon (New York, NY, 2007).

25 Walters, Wendy, ‘Blackness in present future tense: Broadside Press, Motown records, and Detroit techno’, in Collins, Lisa and Crawford, Margo, eds., New thoughts on the Black Arts Movement (New Brunswick, NJ, 2006), p. 119.

26 On the centrality of the revolutionary / cultural nationalism frame, see Ward, Brian, ‘Jazz and soul, race and class, cultural nationalists and Black Panthers: a black power debate revisited’, in Ward, Brian, ed., Media, culture, and the modern African American freedom struggle (Gainesville, FL, 2001), pp. 161–96.

27 Hoover, J. Edgar quoted in Hearings before the US House Committee on Internal Security, Black Panther Party: Part 4. National office operations and investigation of activities in Des Moines, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebr. (Washington, DC, 1971), p. 5076.

28 Dreifus, Claudia interview with Gerald Lefcourt, in Katzman, Allen, ed., Our time: an anthology of interviews from the East Village other (New York, NY, 1972), pp. 143–52. See also Bloom and Martin, Black against empire, pp. 355–6.

29 ‘Memorandum re: Committee to Defend The Black Panters [sic] – Bail Fund’ (n.d.), Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky, and Lieberman Legal Files, Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University (RBSKLLF), box 84, folder 7.

30 McMillan, John, ‘“Our founder, the mimeograph machine”: participatory democracy in Students for a Democratic Society's print culture’, Journal for the Study of Radicalism, 2 (2009), pp. 85110, at p. 89; Raiford, Imprisoned in a luminous glare, p. 91.

31 Danky, James P., ‘The oppositional press’, in Nord, David Paul, Rubin, Joan Shelley, and Schudson, Michael, eds., A history of the book in America, v (Chapel Hill, NC, 2009), pp. 269–85; Aptheker, Bettina, The morning breaks: the trial of Angela Davis (New York, NY, 1975), 64.

32 Glass, Loren, Counter-culture colophon: Grove Press, The Evergreen Review, and the incorporation of the avant-garde (Palo Alto, CA, 2013), ch. 4; Kenner, Martin, ‘Introduction’, in Kenner, Martin and Petras, James, eds., Fidel Castro speaks (London, 1969), p. xvii.

33 Victor Rabinowitz to Stewart Meacham (17 June 1970), RBSKLLF, box 84, folder 7. See also Rabinowitz, Victor, Unrepentant leftist: a lawyer's memoir (Urbana, IL, 1996), pp. 180–2.

34 ‘Bail – Newton–Hilliard transaction’ (n.d., c. Dec. 1970), RBSKLLF, box 84, folder 7.

35 ‘Report: Panther bail fund transactions, 26 June 1970–28 July 1970’, RBSKLLF, box 84, folder 7.

36 Fergus, Devin, Liberalism, black power, and the making of American politics, 1965–1980 (Athens, GA, 2009), p. 94.

37 Donald Freed interview with Lewis Cole, Columbia University Black Panther project, p. 57.

38 ‘Enlist celebrities for Panther defense’, Combat, 2 (June 1970).

39 David Lubell to Robert Starobin (20 Nov. 1970), HPNFC, series 2, box 26, folder 16.

40 David Lubell, ‘Structure for income producing assets and property of the Black Panther Party’ (n.d., Sept. 1970), HPNFC, series 2, box 21, folder 19.

41 ‘On the contradictions within the Black Panther Party’, Right On! Black Community News Service, 3 Apr. 1971, p. 11.

42 Victor Rabinowitz to David Lubell (23 Dec. 1970), RBSKLLF, box 84, folder 7.

43 Black Panther Party Community Programs (20 Nov. 1970), HPNFC, series 2, box 25, folder 17.

44 Paul Fillinger to David Lubell (21 Dec. 1970), HPNFC, series 2, box 30, folder 7.

45 David Castro to Bill Stephens (30 Oct. 1970), HPNFC, series 2 box 30, folder 4.

46 Committee on Internal Security, Black Panther Party: Part 4, pp. 4991–5.

47 Agreement for The Black Panther (15 Dec. 1970), HPNFC, series 2 box 26, folder 5.

48 US House Committee on Internal Security, Gun-barrel politics: the Black Panther Party, 1966–1971, 92nd Congress, 1st sess. (Washington, DC, 1971), p. 130.

49 The newspaper was never registered with the US Copyright Office; see Susan Grode to David Hilliard (15 Feb. 1995), Elaine Brown papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archive, and Rare Books Library, Emory University (EBP), box 4, folder: HPN Foundation.

50 ‘Editorial’, Right On! Black Community News Service, 3 Apr. 1971, p. 2.

51 Richard Moore, ‘A Black Panther speaks’, New York Times, 12 May 1971.

52 Gwen Hodges to Martin Kenner (15 Nov. 1971), HPNFC, series 2, box 27, folder 13; Stronghold Consolidated Productions, ‘Receipts and disbursements’.

53 Doss, Erika, ‘“Revolutionary art is a tool for liberation”: Emory Douglas and protest aesthetics at The Black Panther’, New Political Science, 21 (1999), pp. 245–59, at p. 256. Evidence of these retrospective stampings can be found in the collections held by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, Los Angeles, California.

54 John Edgar Smith to David Lubell (10 Dec. 1971), HPNFC, series 2, box 22, folder 3.

55 ‘Statement of assets and liabilities as of March 31, 1972’ (Apr. 1972), HPNFC, series 2, box 9, folder 5.

56 Lease for Lake Towers Apartment (28 Oct. 1970), HPNFC, series 2, box 21, folder 18.

57 Bert Schneider and Stronghold Consolidated Productions (8 Dec. 1971), HPNFC, series 2, box 22, folder 2; Thomas Silk to Elaine Brown (12 Jan. 1977), HPNFC, series 2, box 19, folder 10. On the Panthers’ acquisition of property, see Mickey Phillips interview with Lewis Cole, Columbia University Black Panther project, p. 39.

58 Seize the Time Books and Records, Planning Documents (n.d., c. 1973), HPNFC, series 2, box 31, folder 8; ‘Contract between Stronghold Consolidated and Judy West’ (19 Feb. 1973), HPNFC, series 2, box 31, folder 8.

59 Judy West to Omar (Barbour?) (25 Mar. 1973), HPNFC, series 2, box 31, folder 8; Davis, Joshua Clark, From head shops to whole foods: the rise and fall of activists entrepreneurs (New York, NY, 2017).

60 Hill, Lauren and Rabig, Julia, eds., The business of black power: community development, capitalism, and corporate responsibility in postwar America (Rochester, NY, 2012).

61 Newton, Huey P., ‘Black capitalism re-analyzed I’ (5 June 1971), reprinted in Morrison, Toni, ed., To die for the people: the writings of Huey P. Newton (1972; San Francisco, CA, 2009), pp. 99108, at p. 107.

62 Several passages resemble those in J. Herman Blake, ‘A consistent ideology’, 21 and 28 Dec. 1970, HPNFC, series 1, box 48, folder 3.

63 Newton, ‘Black capitalism re-analyzed I’, p. 108. Such reliance is implied in Nelson, Alondra, Body and soul: the Black Panther Party and the fight against medical discrimination (Minneapolis, MN, 2013).

64 David Lubell to Donald Freed (14 Jan. 1971), HPNFC, series 1, box 50, folder 6.

65 Glass, Counter-culture colophon, p. 151.

66 Menestore Zappa to David Lubell (26 Feb. 1971), HPNFC, series 2, box 26, folder 7; Angelo, Anne-Marie, ‘The Black Panthers in London, 1967–1972: a diasporic struggle navigates the Black Atlantic’, Radical History Review, 103 (2009), pp. 1735, at p. 22.

67 Giovanni, Nikki in ‘Black book publishers’, Black Enterprise, 3 (1972), 41.

68 John Simon to David Lubell (1 Dec. 1971), HPNFC, series 2, box 45, folder 4.

69 Martin Kenner to J. Herman Blake (30 Nov. 1972), J. Herman Blake papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archive, and Rare Books Library, Emory University (JHBP), box 5, folder 1.

70 John Simon to David Lubell (1 Dec. 1971), HPNFC, series 2, box 45, folder 4.

71 ‘Autographed copies’ (n.d., c. 1972), HPNFC, series 1, box 50, folder 7; Martin Kenner to Gwen Fontaine (8 June 1972), HPNFC, series 2, box 28, folder 1.

72 Martin Kenner interview with Lewis Cole, Columbia University Black Panther project, p. 139.

73 Martin Kenner to Huey Newton (7 July 1972), HPNFC, series 2, box 27, folder 13.

74 David Lubell to Huey Newton (6 June 1972), HPNFC, series 2, box 21, folder 21.

75 ‘Books in progress’ (20 July 1971), HPNFC, series 1, box 47, folder 6.

76 David Lubell to Huey Newton and Bobby Seale (28 June 1971), HPNFC, series 2, box 3, folder 7; Martin Kenner to Huey Newton (7 July 1972), HPNFC, series 2, box 27, folder 13.

77 Greg Armstrong to Martin Kenner (23 June 1972), HPNFC, series 2, box 26, folder 24; Contract proposal: Revolutionary infantilism [Hidden Traitor] (10 July 1972), RHR, box 1270, folder: Huey Newton.

78 John Simon to David Lubell (24 May 1972), RHR, box 1044, folder: Bobby Seale; Martin Kenner to Bobby Seale (7 June 1972), HPNFC, series 2, box 46, folder 10.

79 Sanders, Mark A., ‘Theorizing the collaborative self: the dynamics of contour and content in the dictated autobiography’, New Literary History, 25 (1994), pp. 445–58.

80 Melanie Kask, ‘Soul mates: the prison letters of Eldridge Cleaver and Beverly Axelrod’ (Ph.D., University of California–Berkeley, 2003), p. 91.

81 ‘Expenses: Bobby Seale book’ (n.d.), RHR, box 1044, folder: Seale, Seize the time; ‘Publisher's note’, in Seize the time. Stokely Carmichael's secretary, Ethel Minor, similarly assembled Stokely speaks (1971), see Joseph, Peniel, Stokely: a life (New York, NY, 2014), p. 240.

82 Smethurst, James, Black arts movement: literary nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s (Chapel Hill, NC, 2005), p. 263.

83 Self, Robert O., American Babylon: race and the struggle for postwar Oakland (Princeton, NJ, 2003), p. 300; J. Herman Blake to William Norman (10 Mar. 1975), JHBP, box 5, folder 1.

84 Anon. (23 Feb. 1971), RHR, box 1042, folder: Look For Me in the Whirlwind; Estes, Steve, I am a man: race, manhood, and the civil rights movement (Chapel Hill, NC, 2005), p. 155.

85 Gwen Fontaine to Martin Kenner (3 Nov. 1971), HPNFC, series 2, box 2, folder 12.

86 Donald Freed to Kai Erikson (1 Oct. 1971), HPNFC, series 2, box 26, folder 27; Spencer, Revolution has come, p. 120.

87 Lubell to Connie Matthews Tabor (26 Jan. 1971), HPNFC, series 2, box 28, folder 10.

88 Martin Kenner to Gwen Fontaine (n.d., Apr. 1972), HPNFC, series 2, box 27, folder 13.

89 Martin Kenner to Gwen Fontaine (12 May 1972), HPNFC, series 2, box 27, folder 13; Martin Kenner to Gwen Fontaine (5 June 1972), HPNFC, series 2, box 27, folder 13.

90 Kenner to Fontaine, 12 May 1972.

91 Martin Kenner to Gwen Fontaine, 5 Dec. 1972, HPNFC, series 2, box 21, folder 23.

92 Fairclough, To redeem the soul of America, p. 97.

93 Huey P. Newton with the assistance of Blake, J. Herman, Revolutionary suicide (New York, NY, 1973); Blake, J. Herman, ‘Caged Panther: the prison years of Huey P. Newton’, Journal of African American History, 16 (2012), pp. 236–48, at p. 241.

94 Smethurst, Black arts movement, p. 282.

95 Blake to Kenner (10 Mar. 1973), JHBP, box 5, folder 1; Blake response to interrogatory (30 Jan. 1975), JHBP, box 5, folder 1.

96 Blake response to interrogatory; deposition of J. Herman Blake (Nov. 1974), HPNFC, series 2, box 32, folder 4.

97 Elaine Brown, declaration in Blake vs. Stronghold (26 May 1976), HPNFC, series 2, box 21, folder 21; Supreme Court of California, J. Herman Blake v. Stronghold Consolidated Productions, 24 Sept. 1973, HPNFC, series 2, box 29, folder 4; Martin Kenner to J. Herman Blake (28 Oct. 1972), JHBP, box 5, folder 1; Martin Kenner to Miles Cobb (24 May 1973), JHBP, box 5, folder 1.

98 Edwin Barber to Huey Newton, J. Herman Blake, and Donald Freed (14 Aug. 1972), HPNFC, series 1, box 54, folder 10.

99 Blake v. Stronghold Consolidated Productions, 17 June 1976, JHBP, box 5, folder 1; Philip Taubman to Don Pace (15 Mar. 1977), RHR, box 1270, folder: Huey Newton; Blake to Norman, 10 Mar. 1974.

100 John Brockman to Huey Newton (13 June 1978), HPNFC, series 1, box 56, folder 11.

101 Cleaver, Kathleen, ‘How TV wrecked the Black Panthers’, Channels, 2 (1982), pp. 98–9, at p. 98.

102 Joseph, Peniel, Waiting til the midnight hour: a narrative history of black power in America (New York, NY, 2006), p. 287.

103 Murch, Donna, Living for the city: migration, education, and the rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California (Chapel Hill, NC, 2010), p. 223. See also Richardson, Peter, A bomb in every issue: how the short, unruly life of Ramparts magazine changed America (New York, NY, 2009), pp. 186–9.

104 Watts, Jerry, Amiri Baraka: the politics and art of a black intellectual (New York, NY, 2001), p. 467.

105 Danky, ‘Oppositional press’, p. 275; Davis, From head shops, p. 67.

106 Pimblott, Faith in black power, p. 201.

107 Jimmy Slater quoted in ‘“Talkin’ the talk and walkin’ the walk”: an interview with Panther Jimmy Slater, conducted by Charles E. Jones’, in Jones, Charles E., ed., Black Panther Party (reconsidered) (Baltimore, MD, 1998), pp. 147–53, at p. 152.

108 Elaine Brown to Roger Zissu (8 Mar. 1995), and Elaine Brown to Fredrika Newton (8 Feb. 1995), both in EBP, box 4, folder: HPN Foundation.

109 Raiford, Leigh, ‘Restaging revolution: black power, Vibe magazine, and photographic memory’, in Romano, Renee and Raiford, Leigh, eds., The civil rights movement and America memory (Athens, GA, 2006), p. 243.

110 Ira J. Hadnot, ‘The trade in black history: African-American artifacts are pricey at auction but priceless to scholars’, Dallas Morning News, 4 Feb. 2001; California State, Department of Corporations, Incorporation Certificate for Dr Huey P. Newton Foundation, 12 Nov. 1993.

Versions of this article were presented to the North American seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, London, and to the British Association for American Studies conference in Exeter, UK, and I am grateful to both audiences for some excellent questions and discussion. Several colleagues and friends read drafts of the article, including Douglas Field, Molly Geidel, Richard King, Daniel Matlin, Michael O'Brien, and Eithne Quinn, and I am most grateful to them for doing so. Finally I wish to thank the journal's two anonymous reviewers for their astute comments and suggestions.

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