The Black Panther Party: Revolution, Repression, and Black Radical Politics
The Black Panther Party was one of the most influential social movements of the 20th century, as well as one of the most mythologized and misunderstood. At its height, the Black Panther Party had 68 chapters in the U.S., an international branch in Algeria, and was a coalition partner to political organizations in six continents. In cities across the country, Black Panthers, famously adorned in black berets, black jackets, and powder blue shirts, kept vigilance against police misconduct while also administering numerous programs that fed, clothed, and provided medical services to community residents. The Party’s open defiance of state actors, as well as its campaigns against U.S. imperialism, made it the target of vicious state repression—both physical and psychological. At the same time, the movement itself was riven by schisms and the dynamics of interpersonal conflict and violence. What is the legacy of the Black Panther Party? What, as a social movement and as a strategy of radical politics, were the Party’s strengths and weaknesses, its potentialities and limits? And what can it teach us about Black struggle today, both at home and abroad?
In this course, we’ll analyze the Black Panther Party through an examination of key moments of its shifting political strategy from 1966 to 1981: Black nationalism, internationalism, intercommunalism, and autonomous branches. We’ll explore the economic, political, and cultural context within which the movement emerged, rose, and fell; and seek to understand the theories and ideas that inspired the Panthers, were produced by them, and, at times, divided them. We’ll delve into the major questions that drove the founding of the Black Panther Party and that remained salient throughout its lifetime: is violence necessary for social change? What does it mean to work for the community? What are the possibilities of revolution in an economically interconnected world? Is there a way to counter state interference and repression? How do radical organizations deal with internal conflict and contradictions? What is the importance of female (and feminist) leadership in the Black struggle? What is the relationship between Black liberation and the liberation of all people? To answer these questions, we’ll consider primary sources (speeches, declarations, photography, and movement ephemera) as well as memoirs and scholarly studies. Authors to be potentially discussed are Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Katherine Cleaver, Fred Hampton, Safiya Bukhari, Joshua Bloom & Waldo E. Martin, Robyn C. Spencer, Mary Phillips, among others.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 14 — October 05, 2021