Tag Archives: Black Panther Party

The Black Panther Paper @ 50

bpissue one cover

Fifty years ago today, on April 25, 1967, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense published the first issue of its paper. They published to publicize the case of Denzil Dowell, a black man killed by the police in North Richmond, CA. The BPP would publish the paper for several years. At peak circulation reached into the hundreds of thousands and found its way around the world. It provided important funds for the party, an important source of information, and required collective work that made community relationships. It wasn’t a perfect paper–it had didactic content, was sometimes used for personal attacks, etc.–but no paper is. Take the time to read some issues… whether you are enthusiastic or skeptical, you may be surprised by what you find. The Black Panther  stands as one of this country’s most significant communication efforts in the history of the long fight against racism and in the long quest for the liberation of black people, other oppressed people, and a just world. It lit the imagination for freedom. Happy 50th B-Day to The Black Panther!

You can download the issue here: BPINS_1967_4April

(There are a lot more resources on the history of the paper, and there are of course all of the issues of the paper, which have mostly been digitized. @ me if you have questions about where to go.)

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Amiri Baraka’s “Communications Project”

Comments I delivered for a panel on Amiri Baraka’s essays at the 2015 MLA Annual Convention in Vancouver. The panel was organized by the Divisions on Non-Fiction Prose Studies and Black American Literature and Culture. Margo Natalie Crawford, Jeremy M. Glick, William J. Harris, and Aldon Lynn Nielsen also spoke on the panel, Brian J. Norman and Dana A. Williams presiding.

1.

When we talk about the Black Arts Movement—or, for that matter, most movements—how can we do so? By that I mean, how can we address not only the flux of movement, but also the diversity of thought and action shaped by regional conditions and philosophical differences? How can we take stock of the activity of movement broadly but also specifically—what it looked like on the ground? And in the case of the Black Arts Movement’s most emblematic figure, Amiri Baraka, whom we honor here, how shall we assess the volume and diversity of his movement work and his contributions to the development of art, culture, politics, and consciousness?

Cover, Black Revolutionary Theater, Special issue of The Drama Review, Summer 1968
Cover, Black Revolutionary Theater, Special issue of The Drama Review, Summer 1968

In order to think about these questions, I want to turn to the spring of 1967 and to a unique document of that moment, Baraka’s “Communications Project”, published in 1968 in the “Black Revolutionary Theatre” special issue of The Drama Review.[1]  Ed Bullins served as guest editor; the issue contains primarily plays, by Bullins, Sonia Sanchez, Marvin X, Jimmy Garrett, Baraka and others. Of the few critical pieces, Larry Neal’s seminal essay “The Black Arts Movement” is probably the issue’s most widely circulated piece, and alongside other essays by Neal, Addison Gayle, Carolyn Rodgers, Baraka, among others, it is certainly one of the most emblematic pieces of Black Arts criticism.

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Town Cartography: Chinaka Hodge’s Chasing Mehserle

“Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/ Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern [Western] breeze.”

-Billie Holiday (performer) and Abel Meeropol (writer), “Strange Fruit” (1939)

“It’s my brother, my sister./ At the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean there’s a railroad made of human bones./ Black ivory/ Black ivory”

-Amiri Baraka, from “Wise, Why’s, Y’z” (1995)

“7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.”

-Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, “Black Panther Party for Self-Defense Ten-Point Platform and Program” (1966)

Chinaka Hodge‘s recent work, Chasing Mehserle, first at the Intersection for the Arts (and then for another few performances at Z Space), ends at the beginning. Or at the ending. It ends in the ocean. With ancestors lost, found, never lost, never found. The ocean is for O–the ocean is for O-s-c-a-r: Oscar Grant.

Our guide, in charge of this chase, this hunt, is  Watts Trustscott (played by Michael Wayne Turner III); he announces himself to be a cartographer: he introduces the Town–the town that you know is THE Town if you are in, from, of the Bay (the name of this blog and my hometown is/needs the “B”). He runs down neighborhood names while projected images of Oakland  street maps swirl and float in the background. But Hodge is the real mapmaker here, a surveyor not only of space but time, drawing lines that connect, that show us the topography of Oakland after Oscar Grant–more accurately, the topography of Oakland after Johannes Mehserle. In this Town, Watts, unable to set foot off his front steps, watches as blond white girls whizz through West Oakland on bikes, heading… home?–heading to the buildings they now inhabit on blocks that Watts knows well, the cartographer he is, and yet is afraid to venture onto.

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