in New Orleans'
'Showdown in Desire: The Black Panthers take a stand in New Orleans'
Author: Orissa Arend
Published 2009 by the University of Arkansas Press
by Elbert "Big Man" Howard
February 19, 2010
"Showdown in Desire" is a unique book a case history detailed in
"spoken word" by a great variety of participants, who, allowed to
tell their stories in their own words, share with us an amazing
experience. By skillfully focusing on the incidents in one community
in the South in 1970, and their connection to the young people who
came together to form a chapter of the Black Panther Party in the
Desire public housing development, New Orleans, Louisiana, Arend
illuminates and enlightens a very significant time in the whole
country's history. In the sharing of these very personal
recollections from these Black Panther Party members, and all the
other contributors, we are immeasurably enriched.
Arend started out by compiling some interviews for a column she wrote
for in the Louisiana Weekly, but this book miraculously developed
into what is a most lovingly, painstakingly preserved original form
of extremely irreplaceable oral histories. Through these exciting,
candid and original spoken stories from 1970, emanating from the
mouths and memories of the people of Desire, we are taken back to
those battles that were fought in the struggle for basic human
rights, the same ones we still struggle for today.
Arend sheds a piercing light which scrutinizes, illuminates and
explains the reasons why the Black Panther Party offered so much hope
through their community-based programs, such as their Free
Breakfast Programs, and their belief in defending their communities,
through their political education classes, and because of their
beliefs that power belonged to the people and that the needs of the
people must be served. The Black Panther Party set an example that
had not been seen before.
Importantly, the Black Panthers of Desire formed relationships and
lived within the communities they served as did the other Black
Panther Party chapters as well. Racism, police abuse and repression,
poverty, poor medical care, injustice and inhumane conditions were
and still remain to this day the everyday conditions facing Black
people, people of color and, indeed, all poor and disenfranchised
people across America.
Significantly, Arend, by stepping back and allowing the stories to
remain in oral history format, has gifted us with a rare and wondrous
body of work. Arend earned people's respect and trust and therefore
was able to include the personal stories of so many of the players
involved in 1970 in Desire: Black Panthers, community leaders, city
officials, lawyers, police and "undercover" police infiltrators, and
community residents themselves.
By allowing these individuals to tell their own powerful stories,
unaltered, what unfolds is a well compiled, mesmerizing oral history
that opens our eyes not only to conditions as they existed for those
people but also how those participants perceived themselves.
What flowered from this powerful book was a coming together of all
those who had been there and told their stories, a rare opportunity
for sharing, growth, healing and understanding.
The challenge Arend now leaves with us is for us to recognize our
humanity, reexamine our lives and the world we live in now, and to
stay motivated, because the challenges we faced are still facing us
now, still need to be fought and won. We must recognize the need to
commit to each other as human beings, for the struggle against racism
and injustice continue, the need for freedom and justice for all
continues, and so we must continue. Our children and grandchildren
are depending on it, and we must set the example.
Power to the People!
Books by Elbert 'Big Man' Howard
1) "Panther on the Prowl"
2) Foreword for Professor Curtis Austin's book, "Up Against the Wall:
Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party"
3) "Solidarity," an essay published in the book "Visions and Voices,"
a collection edited by Kurt Peters and Terry Strauss
Elbert "Big Man" Howard is one of the original six founding members
of the Black Panther Party; he served as the first editor of the
Black Panther newspaper and as the party's deputy minister of
information, central committee member, coordinator of national and
international support committees and spokesperson. He is also a
founding member of the Police Accountability Clinic and Helpline
(PACH). An activist, author and lecturer, he resides in Sonoma County
and can be reached at email@example.com.