The year 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Facing repression and at great sacrifice, more than 5,000 mostly young Black people joined the BPP between the 1960s and ‘70s to work for “land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.” They built institutions, ran electoral campaigns, created social programs, transformed culture and tried to create a framework of justice that would impact oppressed people worldwide.
One often-overlooked component of the Panthers was the leadership of women. At one point, women made up the majority of the BPP’s membership but their contributions are frequently written out of history.
We at the Intersectional Black Panther Party History Project believe there is value in amplifying the voices of Black women who served on the front lines of the BPP. We asked former members of the now-defunct organization to provide guideposts for activists responding to this political moment and to share their thoughts about how Donald Trump’s election could impact communities of color.
Barbara Cox Easley
I would not be so bold as to suggest what activists should do now. So much has changed since the ’60’s. But I do like the way that today’s activists use social media, the marches and the “rainbow coalitions” across race, culture, etc. I remember meeting with many non Black groups, such as the Brown Berets, the Red Guard, White Panthers and many others. Yes, we, the early BPP members, did have coalitions and partners. This was a method of spreading the BPP’s message, across race, culture and theory. We were working together to [focus] attention on the true enemies of oppressed people around the world.
Due to the racist uprising, as shown by the elections, I would suggest some caution. It appears the oppressor has gotten bolder and will kill or knock off, in some fashion, the leadership of opposition movements. Why not have three or four persons representing organizations? Let us suppress our egos.
All power to the people.
Barbara Cox Easley was a member of the Black Panther Party from 1967 to 1971. She worked in the Party offices in Oakland, Philadelphia and New York. She worked in Germany from 1971 to 1973 with the Voice of the Lumpen educating GI’s about the Vietnam war. She volunteers as a consultant for a community housing group in Philadelphia and she played a pivotal role in organizing the city’s first Panther Film Festival in 2005.*
I’ve been a Buddhist for 37 years, practicing [with] Soka Gakkai International (SGI). Once, when an SGI peer visited the Palace of Versailles in Paris, he stood outside at a circular pool with floating goldfish. The caretaker told him that these fish are content to stay in place, get fat and die young. So occasionally staff throw in a barracuda to get the fish moving swiftly. And they live longer. Donald Trump is the barracuda in the pond outside our palace of democracy.
Already, Trump has announced initiatives and policies to redesign the American social contract in place since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. I would expect that the barracudas set loose will get many people all over the country, even the world, moving, protesting and organizing, as we did in the ‘1960s, in earnest. The ‘60s don’t seem so ancient now that the specter of state repression is casting its shadow over the hyper-materialism that has sedated many Americans. As the ACLU reminds us, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Judy Juanita was a one-time editor of the Black Panther Party newspaper and was an instructor in the first Black Studies program in the nation at San Francisco State University. She is a novelist, playwright, poet and educator. For more than three decades she has practiced Nichiren Buddhism, a philosophy devoted to peace, culture and education.
Frankly, I’m relieved that Trump won instead of [Hillary] Clinton. Had she won, folks would be singing “Kumbaya” and celebrating the first woman president of the United States. We could have looked at another four to eight years of a warmongering Clinton Administration with our people pacified like they were behind the first Black president, [Barack Obama].
What have we gained from the latter? We know what we got with the first Clinton Administration — welfare de-form and mass incarceration; Rwandan genocide and Bosnian bombing.
Apparently, George Jackson was right when he said, “The holder of so-called high public office is always merely an extension of the hated ruling corporate class. It is to our benefit that this person be openly hostile, despotic, unreasoning.”
Trump’s election prompted mass demonstrations immediately all across the country. Students are walking out of class. Coalitions are being formed and plans made for a huge mass protest on January 20 in [Washington], D.C. Folks are talking about reorganizing a United Front Against Fascism, an effort of the ‘60s. I agree that something like that needs to happen and suggest we go more positive by calling for a United Front for Social Revolution (picking up on the slogan made popular by Bernie Sanders).These are just ideas. I’m [also] thinking, along with others, that we do need something like the United Democratic Front of South Africa, the umbrella group that brought together all the anti-apartheid organizations. We must all unite and organize, organize, organize! Dare to struggle! Dare to win!
Kiilu Nyasha has been a revolutionary artist, activist and journalist in the liberation struggle for more than35 years. A former Black Panther, she is a radio and newspaper journalist who has done much to keep political prisoners in the public eye.
Frankye Malika Adams-Johnson
This two-party system does not seem to work in the best interest of the masses. The election of Donald was clearly an example of the White power structure, the 1 percent flexing their muscles to maintain their power base. Although Donald Trump was not their likely choice, their sexism would not and will not ever allow them to even entertain the thought of a woman running the country.
Those of us who are activists must begin to explore our own understanding of a capitalist system and explore whether it is the best system for the masses. In the meantime, on the question of what we do in this political moment, I think more than ever activists need to begin massive political education among the masses around the issues of self-determination so that we as a people don’t fall any deeper in despair waiting on government to improve the quality of our lives.
Frankye “Malika” Adams-Johnson served with the Black Panthers in New York City, helping to educate and feed young people and make a difference in the areas of human and civil rights.Today she is an educator at Jackson State University. She has donated papers from her time in the Black Panther Party to Jackson State, which are on display in the Margaret Walker Center.
The Intersectional Black Panther Party History Project is committed to centering women, gender and sexuality in the history of the Black Panther Party and the larger context of the Black Power Movement. It is made up of Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest, a Houston, Texas-based historian, independent scholar, filmmaker and former director of the BPP Research Project at Stanford University. Tracye A. Matthews, a historian, curator and documentary filmmaker and the associate director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago. Mary Phillips, an assistant professor in the Africana Studies Department at Lehman College who is currently completing a political history on Ericka Huggins, and Robyn C. Spencer, an associate history professor at Lehman College and a fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale. She is the author of the forthcoming book “The Revolution has Come: Black Power, Gender and the Black Panther Party in Oakland.”
*Post has been updated since publication to provide more information about Easley’s Panther participation and to credit the photo to Suzun Lucia Lamaina.