Black Panther: Emory Douglas and the Art of Revolution
by Ken Olende
4 November 2008
The outstanding Emory Douglas exhibition at the Urbis in Manchester
is much more than an art show. Visitors can feel the atmosphere the
Black Panthers developed in and the outrage that made the party grow.
As you enter you are confronted with giant images of racist
oppression and resistance. Brutal photos of lynchings accompany
images of resistance like the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics.
The exhibition is not static. Screens show film of the civil rights
movement, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. Passing through a corridor
between rooms you hear the crack of gunshots.
In another room a classroom of school desks is laid out. Each desk
has a revolutionary book on it that visitors can read. And all around
are Emory's striking images, both as they originally appeared in the
Black Panther newspaper and blown up.
His pictures show ordinary people in struggle. Emory says, "That was
one of the things that made people gravitate to us. Sometimes we took
photos, then I did those pictures of ordinary people looking powerful."
Emory is remarkably modest about his own artistic talents. He said,
"Some of the styles I developed at college weren't compatible with
commercial art so they were rejected," he says. "But when the
opportunity came it just evolved and came out.
"It was also a matter of what could be cheaply duplicated. And of
course I had to do that 'woodcut' style, without actually doing woodcuts."
Emory has obtained FBI files on the surveillance of himself and these
are on the walls.
A big display shows the radical lyrics to Black Steel In The Hour Of
Chaos by Public Enemy. Emory said, "The hip-hop community brought
back an interest. They helped keep the spirit alive".
Anyone interested in fighting the system should get to the exhibition
and make sure that spirit is passed on.
Black Panther: Emory Douglas and the Art of Revolution until 19 April
2009. For more detals go to www.urbis.org.uk
Emory Douglas interviewed about the Black Panthers in print
4 November 2008
The former Minister of Culture in the Black Panther Party talks to
Ken Olende about the fight for black liberation in the United States
and a new exhibition of his art work
The Black Panther Party shook the US with its revolutionary demands
in the late 1960s. Emory Douglas was the party's "Minister of
Culture", responsible for the design
of their newspaper and producing most of their striking graphic images.
He looks back with pride on his time in the Black Panthers. "We did
so many things," he says. "There was confronting the state government
"Then there was serving the needs of the community with the breakfast
programme for poor black kids. Also we gave away 10,000 bags of food.
We were concretely articulating what politicians should be doing.
"In the end it was just being able to stand up against oppression."
In 1967 Emory was studying art at San Francisco City College. He
explains, "The radical poet Leroy Jones was at San Francisco State
University doing plays at that point. I started going up there to do
props and stuff.
"Someone in the BSU (Black Student Union) asked me to come to a
meeting with Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X's widow. They had invited Huey
Newton and Bobby Seale down to do security. After I saw them I knew I
wanted to get involved."
The two had recently set up the Black Panthers and Emory was an early recruit.
"I used to get the bus over to Bobby's place early in the morning. I
began to go out on patrol and that was my initiation."
Going "on patrol" was no small thing – it often entailed armed
confrontation with the police. Emory says, "When I started I had to
observe cadres who had been trained in the use of weapons. I just
stayed in the car as they approached the police."
He adds, "This was long before any internet, but soon everybody knew
what we were doing."
When the state government moved to change the law to make carrying
arms illegal, the Panthers marched on the state capital, Sacramento
to protest. This made the organisation nationally famous.
The party was already involved in other activities as well. Emory
remembers, "They had an advisory committee of folks they knew. One of
them was the well-known dancer Ruth Beckford.
"She suggested the kids breakfast programme. We started running it
out of her pastor's church in West Oakland. Father O'Neil was the
minister, a revolutionary theologist."
The Panthers initiated a range of social programmes.
The party decided it needed a newspaper to put its ideas across. The
writer Eldridge Cleaver, famous for his prison book Soul on Ice, was
Emory was brought in because he was an artist. He says, "Huey Newton
said most of the community wasn't a reading community that would
study long articles, but they would look at a picture and read the
caption and get the gist of what was going on.
"So the whole concept was to try to do pictures with a lot of
captions. The first couple of papers it was mainly Eldridge writing.
Also we'd transcribe things that Huey had said."
As the party became better known more people contributed.
By 1970 the circulation of their weekly newspaper was well over
100,000. "We solicited articles and encouraged chapters and branches
to send stuff in. And then there were people in the movement who
would give us stuff too."
Selling the paper also started out small. Emory laughs, "At the start
I was the only person who used to sell it in San Francisco! Bobby,
Huey and Little Bobby Hutton would sell it in Oakland.
"Eventually chapters and branches developed and everybody started to
sell it. We set up our own distribution and used to mail it out all
over the country.
"Before long we were selling papers everywhere. We even had
subscribers in Europe and Africa."
He reflects on the situation today from his perspective as a leading
activist in the 1960s. "Much has changed, much has stayed the same,"
he says. "Of course there's personal achievement on Barack Obama's
part and it does do something for race relations to a degree.
"Yet at the same time you've still got the bigotry and hypocrisy.
That was what you saw with Hurricane Katrina. People are very much
aware of that.
"Obama is tied into the system. His campaign raises $40 million a
week. That's not coming from common folk. It comes from lobbyists and
"At the same time there is a symbolism for people, particularly
elderly black people.
"They look back to a time when they could be murdered for going to
vote. They still remember that and that's why they have voted decade
after decade. They see this as a new hope.
"But if he does get elected people are going to see that things don't
change just because you get a black president. He needs a grassroots
movement to hold him to his promises."
Emory thinks it is vital to keep the radical history of the 1960s
alive. "I visit art schools and universities," he says.
"The young people want to do political and social commentary. They're
trying to find their own way to go about it. When they see work from
that period they become inspired."
The Black Panthers: defiance in the face of repression
4 November 2008
by Ken Olende
The Black Panther Party was founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in
They were enraged by the racism they saw – particularly police
brutality – and inspired by Malcolm X and the anti-colonial
liberation movements of the time.
At its launch in 1966 the Black Panther Party for Self Defence issued
a ten-point revolutionary programme. Members had a striking visual
image – with black leather jackets and black berets.
Their first activity was "patrolling the pigs". Members would follow
police patrols around Oakland and observe as any black people were
stopped. The Panthers were careful to be polite and obey the law –
but they carried both law books and shotguns.
The FBI could not tolerate the Panthers' revolutionary challenge, and
declared them the "top domestic threat". They were relentlessly persecuted.
Many of their leading members were either arrested or killed in gun battles.
The party never developed stable internal structures or ways or
It relied on the unemployed "brothers on the block" as its base,
rejecting the organised working class as bought off by the system.
Unfortunately this meant they lacked a collective core that would
have been more able to withstand repression.
The level of state repression pushed the Panthers into decline,
creating internal tensions.
"We had government infiltration, as we know now," Emory explains.
"There is documentation from former FBI agents like M Wesley
Swearingen, who actually testified on behalf of leading Panther
The persecution never ended. Some Panthers are imprisoned to this day.
Emory says, "Mumia Abu Jamal is still in prison. Then you've got the
Angola Three. One of them, Albert Woodfox, is out now and another
will hopefully be out soon.
"Then there's the San Francisco Eight who were tortured back in the
day. Then the case was thrown out because of the torture, but now
they are trying to charge them again."
The establishment has never managed to soften the legacy of the
Panthers in the way that has been tried with Martin Luther King or
even Malcolm X.
Emory laughs, "Well, we had a lot of articulate people. Our social
programmes showed up the government's failure to do anything for black people.
"Then of course there were the shoot outs with the police."