Skip to main content

The Historiography of the Black Panther Party


This article examines forty years of historical writing on the Black Panther Party (BPP), arguing that this historiography has now reached maturity. It evaluates key publications on the BPP, splitting the historiography into three periods. The first phase, the article asserts, was dominated by accounts written by participants and observers of the BPP in action. These offered insight into the personalities of the BPP leadership but included relatively little on other BPP members. They were supplemented by a collection of friendly academic studies, a number of which emphasized the role of the FBI in precipitating the BPP's decline. The article identifies the 1994 publication of Hugh Pearson's biographical study of Huey P. Newton as the beginning of a second phase. Pearson's work, which built on a collection of accounts written by observers and right-wing writers during the first phase, precipitated an outpouring of new studies that opposed its conclusions. These works overwhelmingly focussed on individual BPP chapters and the experiences of the BPP rank and file; they were generally friendly towards the party and often appraised the BPP's actions through the 1970s. A second wave of participant accounts also emerged in this period which offered a more personal interpretation of the BPP's decline. A third period emerged in the early 2000s that abandoned the obsession with Pearson's study and focussed instead on the BPP's contribution to African American and American culture beyond its political program and violent image. The article reveals the paradox at the heart of the local approach, one which recent studies addressed in their focus on the BPP's Oakland chapter and their return to a tight chronological approach that focussed on the BPP's peak years. It concludes by noting the remaining omissions in the BPP's historical record and anticipating further studies.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      The Historiography of the Black Panther Party
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      The Historiography of the Black Panther Party
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      The Historiography of the Black Panther Party
      Available formats
Hide All

1 Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, “October 1966 Black Panther Party Platform and Program,” in Philip S. Foner, ed., The Black Panthers Speak (New York: HarperCollins, 1970), 2.

2 David Garrow's robust review of six recent BPP studies is a useful primer for the omissions in the historical record. It is best read as a call for the construction of a thorough narrative history of the BPP, and includes a solid chronology of the Oakland chapter's history during its peak years. Garrow dismissed much BPP historiography, particularly that written before 1994, and de-emphasized the development of BPP philosophy, concentrating instead on the rise-and-fall narrative of the BPP's leadership and the tension between the leaders and the led. The limitations of the review structure militated against the inclusion of a thorough historiographical review but the bibliography – particularly its inclusion of newspaper reports and trial transcripts – is indispensable. Garrow, David, “Picking up the Books: The New Historiography of the Black Panther Party,” Reviews in American History, 35 (2007), 650–70.

3 See, for example, Robert Weisbrot, Freedom Bound: A History of America's Civil Rights Movement (New York: Penguin, 1990), 236–37; Robert Cook, Sweet Land of Liberty? The African-American Struggle for Civil Rights in the Twentieth Century (Harlow: Longman, 1998), 251–52 (which stresses the role of the FBI in plotting the BPP's downfall); Adam Fairclough, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890–2000 (New York: Penguin, 2001), 316–19.

4 Dan Carter quoted in Eagles, Charles W., “Towards New Histories of the Civil Rights Era,” Journal of Southern History, 66 (2000), 818.

5 Garrow, 650.

6 Even a brief examination of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation Records (Manuscripts Department, Stanford University) reveals the paucity of material dating from the 1960s, with the vast majority of material deriving from 1971 onwards. David Garrow noted the existence of numerous court cases involving BPP members, which supplement the archival material. Garrow, 665, n. 7; 667, nn. 18, 21.

7 Jane Rhodes, Framing the Panthers: The Spectacular Rise of a Black Power Icon (New York: New Press, 2007), 234–35; Robert Scheer, ed., Eldridge Cleaver: Post-Prison Writings and Speeches (New York: Random House, 1969), 156; Bobby Seale, Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party (London: Arrow, 1970), 46, 107, 213 (note chapter headings such as “We Hit the Streets,” “Huey Backs the Pigs Down,” “Huey Digs Bob Dylan”). In contrast, A Lonely Rage, Seale's autobiography, focussed on Seale's pre-BPP life, only introducing Newton at the halfway point and glossing over much of the BPP's history in favour of graphic descriptions of Seale's sexual encounters and the details of the Chicago and New Haven trials. Bobby Seale, A Lonely Rage (New York: Bantam, 1978).

8 Erik H. Erikson and Huey P. Newton, In Search of Common Ground: Conversations with Erik H. Erikson and Huey P. Newton (New York: Dell, 1973), 21–30.

9 Roz Payne, “WACing off: Gossip, Sex, Race, and Politics in the World of FBI Special Case Agent William A. Cohendet,” in Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams, eds., In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 180, n. 22.

10 The dissertation was published as Huey P. Newton, War against The Panthers: A Study of Repression in America (New York: Harlem River Press, 1996). Cleaver's contributions add little to knowledge of the BPP's inner workings. Soul on Ice was written prior to induction, and its successor, Cleaver's 1978 memoir Soul on Fire, was an extended mea culpa, written after Cleaver's recantation of his Panther past. The collection of post-prison writings and speeches contains little on the party itself, and Lee Lockwood's conversation is similarly polemical. Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice: Selected Essays (London: Jonathan Cape, 1969); idem, Soul on Fire (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1978); Scheer; Lee Lockwood, Conversation with Eldridge Cleaver (New York: Delta, 1970).

11 Reginald Major, The Panther Is a Black Cat: An Account of the Early Years of the Black Panther Party – Its Origins, Its Goals, and Its Struggle for Survival (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 2007 rpt.); Gene Marine, The Black Panthers (New York: Signet, 1969).

12 Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones, The Vanguard: A Photographic Essay on the Black Panthers (Boston: Beacon, 1970). See also Stephen Shames, The Black Panthers (New York: Aperture, 2006); Howard Bingham, The Black Panthers (Los Angeles: Ammo Books, 2008); Mario Van Peebles, Ula Y. Taylor, and J. Tarika Lewis, Panther: A Pictorial History of the Black Panthers and the Story behind the Film (New York: Newmarket Press, 1995).

13 Look for Me in the Whirlwind: The Collective Autobiography of the New York 21 (New York: Vintage, 1971) shared the tales of the New York Panthers charged with plotting to bomb buildings in New York City and assassinate various police officers. Marine was not immune to the leadership-centered focus: ordinary members first appeared within 50 pages of the book's end; Bobby Hutton, the BPP's first recruit, was mentioned only in the context of his death. Marine, 137–39 (Hutton), 182 (other members).

14 Don Schanche, The Panther Paradox: A Liberal's Dilemma (New York: Van Rees Press, 1970), ix, xi, 226. Gilbert Moore, A Special Rage (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), used the Newton trial to reexamine the author's own politics and by extension those of the black community.

15 Seale, Seize, 309; Earl Anthony, Picking up the Gun: A Report on the Black Panthers (New York: Dial, 1970).

16 Tom Wolfe, “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny's,” New York, 8 June 1970, available at (accessed 19 May 2008), republished in idem, Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970).

17 Gail Sheehy, Panthermania: The Clash of Black against Black in One American City (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 8–9, 12–21, 108–9, 115; Staub, Michael E., “Black Panthers, New Journalism, and the Rewriting of the Sixties,” Representations 57 (Winter 1997), 6263. The murder of Alex Rackley has led to further studies, most notably Donald Freed, Agony in New Haven: The Trial of Bobby Seale, Ericka Huggins, and the Black Panther Party (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973); and the forensic Paul Bass and Douglas W. Rae, Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of a Killer (New York: Basic Books, 2006), which adds a necessary coda.

18 Michael Newton, Bitter Grain: Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party (Los Angeles: Holloway House, 1980; revised 1991), 115–19, 123–93, 216; (accessed 20 August 2008).

19 Courtwright, John A., “Rhetoric of the Gun: An Analysis of the Rhetorical Modifications of the Black Panther Party,” Journal of Black Studies, 4 (1974), 249–67; Charles William Hopkins, “The Deradicalization of the Black Panther Party, 1967–1973” (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill dissertation, 1979). Helen Stewart's 1980 dissertation, “Buffering: The Leadership Style of Huey P. Newton, Co-founder of the Black Panther Party” (Brandeis University PhD dissertation, 1980) is another friendly study, based on flimsy evidence.

20 Carolyn R. Calloway, “Group Cohesiveness in the Black Panther Party,” Journal of Black Studies, 8 (1977), 55–74. Another early study traces the BPP's relationship with Jean Genet through the latter's 1970 sojourn in the United States. Robert Sandarg, “Jean Genet and the Black Panther Party,” Journal of Black Studies, 16, 3 (March 1986), 269–82.

21 Kenneth O'Reilly, “Racial Matters”: The FBI's Secret War on Black America, 1960–1972 (New York: Free Press, 1989), 293–324, 329–31; Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret War against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (Boston: South End Press, 1990, corrected edition), 40–44, 52–53, 63–99. The feud with US remains controversial; the best account thus far is Scot Brown, Fighting for US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism (New York University Press, 2003).

22 Jones, Charles E., “The Political Repression of the Black Panther Party, 1966–1971: The Case of the Oakland Bay Area,” Journal of Black Studies, 18 (1988), 415–34, 416, 432, original emphasis.

23 Ronald Grele, “A Second Reading of Experience: Memoirs of the 1960s,” Radical History Review, 44 (1989), 159–66; Kathryn L. Nasstrom, “Between Memory and History: Autobiographies of the Civil Rights Movement and the Writing of Civil Rights History,” Journal of Southern History, 74 (2008), 325–64.

24 Note, for example, Brown's treatment of the Carter and Huggins assassination and the Kathleen Smith case. Elaine Brown, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story (New York: Pantheon, 1992), 164–67, 383; David Hilliard, This Side of Glory: The Autobiography of David Hilliard and the Story of the Black Panther Party (Boston: Little, Brown, 1993), 130–31, 185–97, 204–5, 207–8.

25 Hilliard, 118, passim; E. Brown, 3–16. The success of both books acted as a form of redemption for both authors. In reconnecting with his old network of friends and comrades, Hilliard became a prime mover in the campaign to sanctify Newton, resulting in his appointment as executive director of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation. Working alongside Newton's widow Fredrika, Hilliard became involved in further publishing enterprises and a campaign to maintain control over Newton's posthumous image. The Huey P. Newton Reader appeared in 2002, co-edited by Hilliard. Hilliard's introduction glossed over Newton's character flaws, presenting Newton as the BPP's theoretician and “the preeminent African-American leader for social justice in the world.” David Hilliard, “Introduction,” in David Hilliard and Donald Wiese, eds., The Huey P. Newton Reader (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002), 17. The collection reprinted large portions of Revolutionary Suicide and To Die for the People and a shorter extract from War against the Panthers, supplemented by the transcript of a bizarre televised confrontation with William F. Buckley, and a series of short pieces written in the 1970s that highlighted the increasing pretension of Newton's writing. Hilliard also edited a curious facsimile collection of extracts from The Black Panther which focussed heavily on the 1970s and included numerous incomplete articles. He also presented an accompanying hagiographical DVD documentary. After a successful book tour, Brown too became an important gatekeeper to the memory of the BPP. See and (both accessed 20 August 2008); Kate Coleman, “The Last Panther,”, July 1997, (accessed 20 August 2008); rehashed in Kate Coleman, “A Black Panther's Last Hurrah,”, March 2000, (accessed 20 August 2008); David Hilliard, ed., The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, 1967–1980 (New York: Atria, 2007); Curtis K. Austin, Up against The Wall: Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2006), 423–26; (accessed 12 Nov. 2008).

26 E. Brown, 239–40, 271–72, 282, 285, 438–39.

27 These bonds were so close that they became almost sexual: not long after his installation in an Oakland penthouse, Newton invited Hilliard to join him and an unnamed woman in a three-way sexual encounter. Hilliard, This Side of Glory, 314.

28 Hilliard, This Side of Glory, 117, 118, 179, 180, 252, 295, 307, 310–11, 312, 318, 332, 337, 340, 353, 363–65, 369–73.

29 Hilliard, This Side of Glory, 11, 407–8, 384, 394–401, 415–17, 425–26.

30 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967), 166.

31 David T. Beito, “Hugh Pearson R. I. P.,” History News Network, 3 Sept. 2005, (accessed 4 Sept. 2008); Richard Prince, “Author, Columnist Hugh Pearson Found Dead at 47,” 2 Sept. 2005, (accessed 4 Sept. 2008).

32 Kate Coleman and Paul Avery, “The Party's Over,” New Times, 10 July 1978, reprinted in David Wier and Dan Noyes, Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets the Story (Reading MA: Addison-Wesley, 1983), 223–60; Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the '60s (New York: Free Press, 1989), 160, 320–21. See also Kate Coleman, “A Death In Berkeley,” Heterodoxy, 3, 3 (March/April 1995), 1, 4–9. Now available at (accessed 20 May 2008). Coleman attacked David Hilliard for his willingness to use his history and the legacy of the BPP for his own financial gain. She also took exception to the approach of a group of academic researchers whose work examined the BPP. Coleman, “The Last Panther”; idem, “A Black Panther's Last Hurrah”; idem, “The Panthers for Real,”, June 2003, (accessed 19 August 2008).

33 Collier and Horowitz, 141–65. See also David Horowitz, “Black Murder Inc.,” Heterodoxy, 1, 10 (March 1993), 1, 11–15. Available at,%20No.pdf (accessed 20 May 2008). Horowitz has since continued his sniping through the Internet, largely confined to the pages of the self-edited Front Page Magazine. David Horowitz, “Who Killed Betty Van Patter,” Salon, 13 Dec. 1999,; (both accessed 20 May 2008).

34 Hugh Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley 1994), 342, 347; Prince. See also Pearson, Hugh, “Writing about Black Panthers and Black People,” Heterodoxy, 2, 10 (Sept. 1994), 46, which revealed that Landon Williams, one of Pearson's most useful sources, was so disgusted at the book that he distanced himself from it upon its publication. Now available at (accessed 20 May 2008). See also interview with Pearson at Booknotes (21 Aug. 1994), (accessed 30 May 2008).

35 Pearson, Shadow, 234.

36 Pearson, Shadow, 296, 313–14, 347. Peniel Joseph's authoritative history of the Black Power era, for example, included an assessment of Newton that is not terribly distant from Pearson's: “His personal transformation … would prove to be lurching, unfinished, and often painful.” Peniel E. Joseph, Waiting 'til The Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (New York: Henry Holt, 2006), 208.

37 Pearson, Shadow, 343–46; Errol Anthony Henderson, “Shadow of a Clue,” in Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas, eds., Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party (New York: Routledge, 2001), 197–207. Note the lurid details in Pearson's account of Seale's expulsion: Pearson, Shadow, 264.

38 Pearson, Shadow, 168, 220–21.

39 See, for example, Henderson, 203.

40 Ibid., 118, 192, 202.

41 Gerald Horne, Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s (New York: Da Capo, 1997; first published 1995). For masculinity see, for example, Regina Jennings, “Poetry of the Black Panther Party: Metaphors of Militancy,” Journal of Black Studies, 29, 1 (Sept. 1998), 106–29, which suggested that even female Panthers were prone to adopting male personas when writing of their experience in the BPP; Steve Estes, I Am a Man: Race, Manhood and the Civil Rights Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 153–77, which explored the contradictions and struggles over gender within the BPP; Michele Wallace, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, 2nd edn (London: Verso, 1990).

42 The title was borrowed from one of Erikson's comments at the Yale seminar. Erikson and Newton, In Search of Common Ground, 43.

43 Judson L. Jeffries, Huey P. Newton: The Radical Theorist (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002), xvii, 42–47, 49, 50–51, 56, 59–61, 77, 82, 120, 131–32.

44 Ibid., 78, 164, n. 55.

45 Ibid., 106–7, 111, 144–45.

47 David Hilliard with Keith and Kent Zimmerman, Huey: Spirit of the Panther (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006), 75–108, 212–45, 247–49, 262.

48 Seale and Newton, “October 1966 Black Panther Party Platform and Program”; Pearson, Shadow rear cover.

49 Charles E. Jones, “Reconsidering Panther History: The Untold Story,” in idem, ed., The Black Panther Party: Reconsidered (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1998), 7–11.

50 All the following references from Jones, Reconsidered. Former Panthers: Steve D. McCutchen, “Selections from a Panther Diary,” 115–33; Miriam Ma'at-Ka-Re Monges, “‘I Got a Right to the Tree of Life’: Afrocentric Reflections of a Former Community Worker,” 136–45; Charles E. Jones, “‘Talkin’ the Talk and Walkin' the Walk': An Interview with Panther Jimmy Slater,” 147–53; Kathleen Cleaver, “Back to Africa: The Evolution of the International Section of the Black Panther Party (1969–1972),” 211–54. Womanist studies: Monges; Cleaver; Tracye Matthews, “‘No One Ever Asks, What a Man's Role in the Revolution Is’: Gender and the Politics of the Black Panther Party, 1966–1971,” 276–304; Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest, “‘The Most Qualified Person to Handle the Job’: Black Panther Party Women, 1966–1982,” 305–34. Studies of the demise: Chris Booker, “Lumpenization: A Critical Error of the Black Panther Party,” 337–62; Winston A. Grady-Willis, “The Black Panther Party: State Repression and Political Prisoners,” 363–89; Ollie A. Johnson III, “Explaining the Demise of the Black Panther Party: The Role of Internal Factors,” 391–414.

51 Nikhil Pal Singh, “The Black Panthers and the ‘Undeveloped Country’ of the Left,” in Jones, Reconsidered, 57–105. See also Cleaver, “Back to Africa,” 214–16.

52 George Katsiaficas, “Introduction,” in Cleaver and Katsiaficas, Liberation, xii. A number of the book's articles previously appeared in a special edition of New Political Science, 21, 2 (1999). The articles are those by Cleaver (“Women, Power and Revolution”); Clemons and Jones; Dahlerus and Davenport; and Doss, Reitan, and Umoja.

53 Ward Churchill, “‘To Disrupt, Discredit and Destroy’: The FBI's Secret War against the Black Panther Party,” in Cleaver and Katsiaficas, 109, 116 (emphasis added). Churchill's article extended the introductory chapters in Churchill and Vander Wall, Agents of Repression.

54 Henderson, “Shadow of a Clue”; Erika Doss, “‘Revolutionary Art is a Tool for Liberation’: Emory Douglas and Protest Aesthetics at the Black Panther,” in Cleaver and Katsiaficas, 175–87; idem, “Imaging the Panthers: Representing Black Power and Masculinity, 1960s–1990s,” Prospects, 23 (1998), 483–516. The analysis of Douglas's art was deepened in Joe Street, The Culture War in the Civil Rights Movement (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007), 144–60, which positioned revolutionary art as a central feature of the BPP's philosophy. Douglas's art is now attracting worldwide attention. Sam Durant, ed., Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas (New York: Rizzoli, 2007) offers a representative selection.

55 Philip S. Foner, ed., The Black Panthers Speak, rpt (New York: Da Capo, 1995). Brown's book was selected as a notable book of the year in the New York Times “Notable Books of the Year,” 1993. See (accessed 21 Aug. 2008). Hilliard's received a respectable review in the New York Times. Adam Hochschild, “His Life as a Panther,” 31 Jan. 1993, (accessed 21 Aug. 2008).

56 Earl Anthony, Spitting in the Wind: The True Story behind the Violent Legacy of the Black Panther Party (Malibu, CA: Roundtable, 1990); Flores Forbes, Will You Die With Me? My Life and the Black Panther Party (New York: Atria, 2006); Assata Shakur, Assata: My Story (Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1997). Shakur's account was first published in 1987, but its themes place it as a reconciliation narrative. See also William Lee Brent, Long Time Gone: A Black Panther's True Life Story of His Hijacking and Twenty-Five Years in Cuba (Bloomington, IN: Universe, 2000); Jack Olsen, Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt (New York: Doubleday, 2000); Mumia Abu-Jamal, We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party (Boston: South End Press, 2004), which combined reminiscences with Abu-Jamal's academic study of the party; Steve McCutchen, We Were Free for a While: Back to Back in the Black Panther Party (Frederick, MD: Publish America, 2008).

57 Regina Jennings, “The 35th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party,”, 24 May 2002, (accessed 9 Sept. 2008); Christopher Hooton, “Black Panthers Reunite for 40th Anniversary,” Laney Tower, 19 Oct. 1996, (accessed 9 Sept. 2008); “The Black Panther Party at 40,” (accessed 20 Nov. 2008); various reunion meetings are documented at (accessed 9 Sept. 2008).

58 Marine, The Black Panthers, 194.

59 William H. Chafe, Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980); Eagles, “Towards New Histories,” 827–29. For a broad collection of articles (including two on the BPP) that takes direct influence from John Dittmer's Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), the classic local study, see Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard, eds., Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Movements in America (New York: New York University Press, 2005).

60 Note that Williams branded George Sams, a BPP member who was heavily implicated in the Rackley murder, an FBI informant, relying on circumstantial evidence. Sams – who was not interviewed by Williams – claims that he was not an informer. Yohuru Williams, Black Politics/White Power: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Black Panthers in New Haven (St. James, NY: Brandywine Press, 2000), 140, 163; Garrow, “Picking up the Books,” 667, n. 18; Bass and Rae, Murder in the Model City, 262–63; Jon Rice, “The World of the Illinois Panthers,” in Jeanne F. Theoharis and Komozi Woodard, Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, 1940–1980 (New York: Palgrave, 2003), 41–64.

61 Reynaldo Anderson, “Practical Internationalists: The Story of the Des Moines, Iowa, Black Panther Party,” in Theoharis and Woodard, 282–99, esp. 291–94; Robyn Ceanne Spencer, “Inside the Panther Revolution: The Black Freedom Movement and the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California,” in ibid., 300–17 (which offered no evaluation of the Oakland BPP's seedier side).

62 Judson L. Jeffries, ed., Comrades: A Local History of the Black Panther Party (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007); Judson L. Jeffries and Malcolm Foley (Jeffries's MA student), “To Live and Die in LA,” in ibid., 255–90. The authors of the latter article argued unconvincingly (290, n. 72) that that the BPP's history in the city should be treated separately from that of US but did not even touch on the interorganizational relations, for which Brown, Fighting for US, should be consulted. Of the nine contributors to the volume, three were graduate students at Purdue University during Jeffries's period of employment there, two more (excluding Jeffries) studied or worked at Ohio State University, Jeffries's current employers. Elsewhere Jeffries concluded that local newspaper coverage of the BPP varied from city to city. Judson L. Jeffries, “Local News Coverage of the Black Panther Party: An Analysis of the Baltimore, Cleveland, and New Orleans Press,” Journal of African American Studies 7, 4 (2004), 19–38. A further collection, Yohuru Williams and Jama Lazerow, eds., Liberated Territory: Untold Local Perspectives on the Black Panther Party (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), was published too late for consideration in this article.

63 Daniel E. Crowe, Prophets of Rage: The Black Freedom Struggle in San Francisco, 1945–1969 (New York: Routledge, 2000), 5, 8, 223–27.

64 Robert O. Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 1, 228. The issue of public space was made more explicit in Tyner, James A., “‘Defend the Ghetto’: Space and the Urban Politics of the Black Panther Party,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 96, 1 (2006), 105–18. Tyner analyzed the BPP's protest in terms of its questioning of the relationship between social justice and urban public spaces, posing the question who owned the streets? While wisely placing the BPP within a black nationalist (as opposed to civil rights) context, Tyner ignored the BPP's violent underbelly and the lack of private space within the BPP.

65 Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 69–122. For Peniel Joseph, another historian keen to position the BPP within the tradition of black radicalism most closely associated with Black Power, tension between the BPP leaders was central to the Party's decline. Joseph, Waiting 'til The Midnight Hour, 205–26, 228–38, 241–54, 261–71, 286–88.

66 Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams, “Introduction: The Black Panthers and Historical Scholarship: Why Now?”, in idem, In Search of the Black Panther Party, 1–12. Other examples of the wider approach to BPP history include Craig Peck's and Daniel Perlstein's investigations of BPP educational practice and Regina Jennings's analysis of BPP poetry. Craig Peck, “Educate to Liberate: The Black Panther Party and Political Eduation” (Stanford University PhD dissertation, 2001); Perlstein, Daniel, “Minds Stayed on Freedom: Politics and Pedagogy in the African-American Freedom Struggle,” American Educational Research Journal, 39 (Summer 2002), 249–77; Jennings, “Poetry of the Black Panther Party,” 106–29.

67 Tim Lake, “The Arm(ing) of the Vanguard, Signify(ing), and Performing the Revolution: The Black Panther Party and Pedagogical Strategies for Interpreting a Revolutionary Life”; Joel Wilson, “Invisible Cages: Racialized Politics and the Alliance between the Panthers and the Peace and Freedom Party”; David Barber, “Leading the Vanguard: White New Leftists School the Panthers on Black Revolution”; Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, “Brown Power to Brown People: Radical Ethnic Nationalism, the Black Panthers, and Latino Radicalism, 1967–1973”; Roz Payne, “WACing off: Gossip, Sex, Race, and Politics in the World of FBI Special Case Agent William A. Cohendet,” all in Lazerow and Williams, In Search of the Black Panther Party, respectively 306–23, 191–222, 223–51, 252–86,158–80.

68 Jama Lazerow, “‘A Rebel All His Life’: The Unexpected Story of Frank ‘Parky’ Grace”; Edward Morgan, “Media Culture and the Public Memory of the Black Panther Party,” both in Lazerow and Williams, In Search of the Black Panther Party, respectively at 104–57 (quote on 134), 324–73.

69 Rhodes also argued that this media relationship was a prime factor in the rise of Eldridge Cleaver. Where most accounts focused on internal factors that enabled Cleaver to supplant Newton during the early months of the latter's incarceration, Rhodes argued that Cleaver – the most articulate and media-savvy Panther – was able to reach out to a relatively wealthy white liberal constituency. Rhodes, Framing the Panthers, 201; Panther (Polygram film, 1995, director: Mario Van Peebles); A Huey P. Newton Story (40 Acres and a Mule film, 2001, writer and performer: Roger Guenveur Smith, director: Spike Lee) based on Smith's one-man play; Forrest Gump (Paramount film, 1994, director: Robert Zemeckis). Notably, the audible lyrics of the song playing on the Gump soundtrack during the BPP scene (Jimi Hendrix's version of “Hey Joe”) are: “where you going with that gun in your hand.” Another fruitful area for Rhodes to study might have been the PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize. The two episodes that feature the BPP (“Power!” and “A Nation of Law” – chapters nine and twelve) focused almost exclusively on the issue of police brutality and the BPP's militant, gun-toting protest image, with a small section on the social programs – somewhat unsurprisingly, since the chronology and approach of the series placed the BPP firmly in a context of civil rights activism.

70 Austin, Up against The Wall, xxi, 335.

71 Paul Alkebulan, Survival Pending Revolution: The History of the Black Panther Party (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007), 58, for the relationship between the BPP's popularity and its militarism. Note also the titles of BPP leaders – field marshall, for example – for an indication of the BPP's paramilitary image.

72 Like BPP studies, civil rights historiography has in part been defined by a split between local and national approaches. Recent local studies of the civil rights movement include Emilye Crosby, A Little Taste of Freedom: The Black Freedom Struggle in Claiborne County, Mississippi (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005); Peter B. Levy, Civil War on Race Street: The Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge, Maryland (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003). Studies with new approaches include Brian Ward, Just My Soul Responding: Rhythm and Blues, Black Consciousness and Race Relations (London: UCL Press, 1998); Brian Ward, ed., Media, Culture, and the Modern African American Freedom Struggle (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001); Renee C. Romano and Leigh Radford, eds., The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006). Suzanne E. Smith, Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), arguably bridges the divide. One of the most fruitful branches of recent civil rights studies is the new approach to the movement's opponents; Roz Payne's study is the first example of a similar approach to the study of the BPP. Clive Webb, ed., Massive Resistance: Southern Opposition to the Second Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Presss, 2005); Eagles, “Towards New Histories of the Civil Rights Era,” 842–43; Payne, “WACing off.”

The author wishes to thank Robert Cook, Simon Hall, Malcolm McLaughlin and the anonymous reviewer for JAS for their helpful comments on this article.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of American Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-8758
  • EISSN: 1469-5154
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-american-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed