“Brilliant, painful, enlightening, tearful, tragic, sad, and funny, this photo-essay book is at its core about healing, and about the social justice work that still needs to be done in the era of hip-hop, Black Lives Matter, and the historic presidency of Barack Obama.” —Kevin Powell, author of The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey into Manhood
“A brilliantly conceived volume. Bryan Shih and Yohuru Williams demonstrate why the Panthers' story—its lessons and failures—even fifty years after its founding remains key to understanding national and international struggles for freedom and justice today.” —Cheryl Finley, professor and director of visual studies, Cornell University
Even fifty years after it was founded, the Black Panther Party remains one of the most misunderstood political organizations of the twentieth century. But beyond the labels of “extremist” and “violent” that have marked the party, and beyond charismatic leaders like Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver, were the ordinary men and women who made up the Panther rank and file.
In The Black Panthers, photojournalist Bryan Shih and historian Yohuru Williams offer a reappraisal of the party's history and legacy. Through stunning portraits and interviews with surviving Panthers, as well as illuminating essays by leading scholars, The Black Panthers reveals party members' grit and battle scars—and the undying love for the people that kept them going.
With a splendid assemblage of pictures and interviews, photographer Shih and historian Williams shine fresh light on the people in and the diverse activities of the Black Panther Party (BPP) on the 50th anniversary of its founding. Shih's photographs of the 45 interviewees have the vibrancy and immediacy of treasured family portraits. The interviewees' compelling recollections are buttressed by succinct but substantive essays from other contributors, including Alondra Nelson and Rhonda Y. Williams. Though iconic figures (Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale) haunt the book, the voices here are those of little-known grassroots members. Five broad themes organize the work: BPP history from its California roots to its spread through American cities; BPP's impact on other movements throughout the world and in the U.S.; the role of women in the group; BPP's free community services, such as neighborhood health clinics and give-away breakfasts; and Cointelpro, the FBI's secret campaign against the BPP and other radical organizations. Appendices include the "Panther Ten-Point Platform and Program" and a dismaying selection of Cointelpro documents. The special virtue of this book is as bottom-up, rather than top-down, history an illuminating view of the everyday aspects of "one of the most misunderstood organizations of the 20th century."