ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



By focusing on the diversity of local histories beyond Oakland and Los Angeles,

the contributors to this volume reconstruct a more complex and illuminating portrait

of the Black Panther Party.  The mission of the historian also can become more difficult

as evidenced by problems with the location and reliability of sources.



Books by Floyd W. Hayes, III

A Turbulent Voyage: Readings in African American Studies / Forty Acres and a Mule: The Rape of Colored Americans

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Liberated Territory

 Untold Local Perspectives on the Black Panther Party

By Yohuru Williams and Jama Lazerow

Reviewed by Dr. Floyd W. Hayes, III


In the late 1960s, the Black Panther Party strode across the landscape of America with a bravado and revolutionary spirit that shook the political and social foundations of a nation that had largely adjusted to the measured pace of the liberal Civil Rights Movement.  Founded in Oakland, California, during the turbulent birth of the Black Power Movement, the Panthers saw themselves as a vanguard organization, whose mission was the struggle against America’s racist and bitterly violent capitalist state.  In the face of these evils, the Panthers demanded human rights and a sustainable life for all of the world’s oppressed peoples.

During the past decade, there has been an explosion in the scholarly literature on the Black Power Movement, in general, and the Black Panther Party, in particular. Earlier book-length studies concentrated on the Party as a national phenomenon, on the political dynamics of the Panther chapters in Oakland or Los Angeles, or on Huey P. Newton’s political thought.  In the last few years, scholarly attention has shifted to an examination of local histories of Panther chapters in various cities throughout the United States of America.  This is the focus of the volume under review.

In Liberated Territory: Untold Local Perspectives on the Black Panther Party, editors Yohuru Williams and Jama Lazerow and their contributors challenge the conventional narrative of the 1960s that either evaded any discussion of the Black Panther Party or portrayed the organization in a most negative fashion.   The traditional perspective also focused predominantly on the liberal Civil Rights Movement to the exclusion of the radical Black Power Movement.  Bringing an account of the black experience back into the center of U. S. American history and inserting the story of the Black Panther Party back into the narrative of the 1960s, the authors elaborate a tradition of black radicalism.  De-centering emphasis on the Oakland and Los Angeles chapters, the volume’s essays probe beneath the symbolic significance of the Black Panther Party to the U. S. American public in order to give both scholars and the public a sense of the Party’s local activities that constituted the genesis, trends, developments, contradictions, and decline of Panther chapters and their offshoots in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Birmingham, Alabama, Detroit, Michigan, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  What these narratives demonstrate is the importance of local circumstances in Panther history.

Jama Lazerow chronicles the Black Panther Party’s lineage and activities in New Bedford, Massachusetts.  It is the story of regional interaction between chapters in Boston and New Bedford, both largely unknown in Panther historiography.   Boston and New Bedford were the sites and destination of immigrants from Cape Verde, an island off the shore of Senegal, West Africa.  Lazerow notes that as a result of ideological contradictions between the Oakland and an early generation of Boston Panthers in the late 1960s, a new generation of Panthers, who were Cape Verdeans, emerged in Boston.  Lazerow reviews the complicated process of Cape Verdean assimilation into the black American population of both cities.  Embracing a revolutionary perspective, Cape Verdean Boston Panthers assisted in the development of the Panther chapter in New Bedford.  In typical Panther fashion, the New Bedford Panthers had run-ins with the local legal system.  The Panthers established “survival programs,” such as a liberation school and a community health care program with the assistance of the Boston chapter.  Lazerow argues that while the New Bedford chapter sought an independent direction, it was largely an appendage of the Boston Panthers.  And as the Black Panther Party declined nationally, the New Bedford Panthers lost their dynamism in the 1970s.

Robert W. Widell, Jr., tells the story of the Alabama Black Liberation Front (ABLF) as an offshoot of the Black Panther Party.  Modeled after the Panthers, the group emerged in the 1970s, as an alternative to the leadership of Martin L. King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, a city known for extreme violence against its black population.  Hence, the ABLF challenges the historical narrative of the southern black liberation struggle that privileges the liberal Civil Rights effort while ignoring more radical formations.  As Widell demonstrates, the ABLF was inspired by the Black Panther Party and its revolutionary ideology.   As such, the ABLF fought back against police terror and sought to organize a number of “survival programs.”  The fall of the ABLF came when its core members were arrested, charged, and convicted as a result of a shootout with the local police in the 1970s.

Perhaps the most engrossing and informative chapter is Ahmad A. Rahman’s narrative on the Detroit Panthers.  Expressing opposition to the police murders of black Detroiters as well as dissatisfaction with conventional Civil Rights leadership, the Detroit Black Panther Party was established in 1968.  Rahman chronicles police assaults on the Panthers, even as the Party established a number of community “survival programs.”  He argues that the Panthers fought social and economic inequities, but refrained from employing counter-violence against the violence of the police.  Significantly, it was the revolutionary underground wing of the Panthers, of which Rahman is fiercely critical, that implemented the theory and practice of armed struggle.  However, by 1971, Rahman argues, the complicated relationship between the aboveground and underground had reached a point of diminishing returns.  As confrontations with the police escalated, the counter-violence of the underground Panthers could not match the terror of the local state.  Moreover, the revolutionary arm of the Party suffered from infiltration, leading the Panther underground’s collapse.

In his discussion of the Milwaukee Panthers, Yohuru Williams chronicles the dynamics of early 1960s civil rights activism and armed self-defense as the confrontational cauldron that gave rise the city’s Black Panther Party.  Led by a white Roman Catholic priest, with the support of a militant self-defense group called the Commandoes, civil rights protestors marched against a variety of racial socioeconomic inequities.  By the late 1960s, following the emergence of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, the Milwaukee chapter of the Panthers came into existence, challenging the white leadership of the city’s civil rights activists.  Williams recounts contradictions between the Black Panther Party and community organizations over the provision of local services, arguing that the Panthers emphasized “survival programs” over armed conflict with local cops.  However, increasing Milwaukee police repression, together mounting internal conflicts within the ranks of the Panthers, resulted in the Party’s demise.

In the Epilogue, Devin Fergus examines the changing character of the Black Panther Party during its last years of existence.  Challenging the Party’s revolutionary anti-statist public image, he argues that between 1972 and 1978, the Party shifted into a liberal organization that fitted well into the American civic nationalist tradition.  This is evident, according to Fergus, as the Panthers, mainly under the leadership of chairwoman Elaine Brown, sought to use the courts of law in order to protect their constitutional rights as any US citizen would do.  As additional evidence for this political shift, Fergus also points out that in 1973, Brown and Panther founder Bobby Seale ran for elective office in Oakland.  Two years later, under Elaine Brown’s leadership, the Black Panther Party punctuated its repudiation as a revolutionary organization by breaking with Angela Davis and the Communist Party USA.  Fergus maintains that a similar trend characterized Panther chapters in numerous cities.

Liberated Territory demonstrates the importance of local circumstances in Panther history.  By focusing on the diversity of local histories beyond Oakland and Los Angeles, the contributors to this volume reconstruct a more complex and illuminating portrait of the Black Panther Party.  The mission of the historian also can become more difficult as evidenced by problems with the location and reliability of sources.  Perhaps the chapter on Detroit is most representative of this difficulty.  Finally, this reviewer found the Epilogue to be most troubling.  What were the internal and external forces that led to the fundamental transformation of the Black Panther Party from a revolutionary formation to a liberal group under the leadership of Elaine Brown?  Because of a broad criticism of her stewardship of the Party by former Panther members, and the glaring inaccuracies in her memoir, A Taste of Power, Fergus might have examined Brown more thoroughly.  This criticism aside, Liberated Territory makes an important contribution to the growing scholarship on the Black Panther Party.

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A History of the Black Press By Armistead S. Pride and Clint C. Wilson II

In this work, Dr. Wilson chronicles the development of black newspapers in New York City and draws parallels to the development of presses in Washington, D.C., and in 46 of the 50 United States. He describes the involvement of the press with civil rights and the interaction of black and nonblack columnists who contributed to black- and white-owned newspapers. . . . Through reorganization and exhaustive research to ascertain source materials from among hundreds of original and photocopied documents, clippings, personal notations, and private correspondence in Dr. Pride’s files, Dr. Wilson completed this compelling and inspiring study of the black press from its inception in 1827 to 1997.

This is a major and noteworthy contribution to scholarship on the African American press. As Washington Post columnist Dorothy Gilliam concludes in the foreword, “Pride and Wilson’s comprehensive history is a lasting tribute to the men and women within the black press of both the past and the present and to those who will make it what it will be in the future.

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A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story

By Elaine Brown

Brown here relates the dramatic story of her youth, her political awakening and her role in the Black Panther Party when she succeeded her lover Huey Newton to become the group’s first female leader. Though smoothly written, the book contains much reconstructed dialogue that may daunt readers. Brown’s memoir takes her from a Philadelphia ghetto to California, from college to cocktail waitressing, from wanting to be white to joining the black power movement. She meets Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson and Bobby Seale, goes to jail, visits North Korea and North Vietnam, debates Marxism and gets involved in Oakland, Calif., politics. When other Black Panthers seemed to lose sight of the revolution and seek power for its own sake, Brown, with a growing feminist consciousness, left the group.

She now lives in France and expresses ambivalent feelings about the party she once loved. Having made her acquaintance, the reader wonders about her present life.—Publishers Weekly

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Weep Not, Child

By Ngugi wa Thiong’o

This is a powerful, moving story that details the effects of the infamous Mau Mau war, the African nationalist revolt against colonial oppression in Kenya, on the lives of ordinary men and women, and on one family in particular. Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau, stand on a rubbish heap and look into their futures. Njoroge is excited; his family has decided that he will attend school, while Kamau will train to be a carpenter. Together they will serve their country—the teacher and the craftsman. But this is Kenya and the times are against them. In the forests, the Mau Mau is waging war against the white government, and the two brothers and their family need to decide where their loyalties lie. For the practical Kamau the choice is simple, but for Njoroge the scholar, the dream of progress through learning is a hard one to give up.—Penguin 

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To the Mountaintop

My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement

By Charlayne Hunter-Gault

A personal history of the civil rights movement from activist and acclaimed journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault. On January 20, 2009, 1.8 million people crowded the grounds of the Capitol to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama. Among the masses was Charlayne Hunter-Gault. She had flown from South Africa for the occasion, to witness what was for many the culmination of the long struggle for civil rights in the United States. In this compelling personal history, she uses the event to look back on her own involvement in the civil rights movement, as one of two black students who forced the University of Georgia to integrate, and to relate the pivotal events that swept the South as the movement gathered momentum through the early 1960s. With poignant black-and-white photos, original articles from the New York Times, and a unique personal viewpoint, this is a moving tribute to the men and women on whose shoulders Obama stood.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 29 April 2010 




Home   Floyd W Hayes III Table

Related files:  Revolutionary Suicide  Black Panther Platform & Program   Cleaver Bio  Defection of Eldridge Cleaver   Retrospective on Soul on Ice 

Cleaver Speaks to Skip Gates  Fire Last Time Ishmael Reed’s Preface  Maxwell Geismar’s “Introduction”   Daniel Berrigan on Cleaver  Tearing the Goats