Beyoncé’s new song, “Formation” and her recent performance at the Super Bowl 50 halftime show has ignited a storm of controversy over the past few weeks. Much of the critique of Beyoncé’s performance reveals a general misunderstanding of the history of the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the Black Power movement in general. Critics continue to draw comparisons between the BPP and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), erroneously equating black nationalism with white supremacy. Established by college students Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California in 1966, the BPP (originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) was the largest and arguably most influential black revolutionary organization of the twentieth century. During the late 1960s–a period marred by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, urban unrest, and unrelenting police violence–thousands of young black men and women joined the BPP, dedicating their lives to protecting black communities and combating police brutality.
The recent PBS airing of Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution, which coincided with the Party’s 50 year anniversary, has reignited public interest in the Black Panthers and the Black Power movement. The Black Panthers is the first feature-length documentary to highlight the historical significance of the Black Panther Party, offering a more complex and nuanced view of the Party beyond the images that tend to occupy the popular imagination. Although The Black Panthers sheds light on the historical significance and legacy of the Party, the documentary certainly does not–and could not in only 2 hours–tell the entire story. For this reason, I collaborated with my colleagues Dara Vance and Ashley Farmer to create #Blackpanthersyllabus, a list of recommended texts to further enhance their understanding of the BPP and the significance of Black Power as a national and global political, cultural, and economic movement. Understanding the history of the BPP sheds light on contemporary black politics including the continuing struggle against urban police brutality.
Read my introduction to the #Blackpanthersyllabus on AAIHS