By Aramide Timudu
Between 1877 and 1950, over 4,000 African-Americas were lynched in the United States. In 1912, Thomas Miles Sr., a Black business owner, as lynched in Shreveport, La. for allegedly passing a note to a White woman. His story is one of many that have inflicted pain and terror on Black communities throughout the United States.
Now, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), with the help of Google, is bringing these stories to life. Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror is an online interactive project (lynchinginamerica.eji.org) that sheds light on this horrific chapter of our history, making the information accessible to anyone wishing to seek it out. Those who visit the website will discover the results of years of EJI research and data regarding the victims and also hear from their descendants. Through six audio stories and a short documentary, Uprooted, visitors will learn how these murders have affected the families and the Black community for generations. As the site states, lynchings were “public acts of racial terrorism, intended to instill fear in entire black communities.” More often than not, they also went unchecked by local governments.
Said EJI Executive Director Bryan Stevenson, “I don’t think we can create a generation of people in this country who are truly free, who are unburdened by this legacy and this history of racial terror until we do the hard work of truth-telling.”
The interactive site is just one project from EJI. In 2018, the organization is scheduled open a memorial for the victims of lynching at the From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration Museum in Montgomery, Ala.
By Shola von Reynolds
Panthers line up at a Free Huey rally in DeFremery Park, Oakland, July 28, 1968. The light-skinned man is Gregory Harrison. His brother, Oleander, was in the group that went to Sacramento© Stephen James, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery
The Black Panther Party has long been subject to heavy misrepresentation. As their white contemporaries became the poster children for counterculture, it was black activists who suffered the brunt not only of a figurative media backlash, but also of a literal, physical one. Understanding the party’s name is key to dispelling one of many myths surrounding it – a media depiction of mindless thugs looking to incite violence whenever possible; the panther was chosen as a symbol specifically because it does not strike first.
Of course, it is inherently problematic to consider a counterculture in terms of style, and even more so when that group is marginalised. Nonetheless, one cannot completely understand the Black Panthers without comprehending their style – of dress, of speech, and of activism. It was important to the group when so much was at stake, and what emerged was some of the most iconic and visionary art, fashion and culture of the era, which has not ceased to inform us today.
The Black Panther Party was formed on October 22, 1966 by two young activists – Bobby Seale and Huey Newton – and emerged from the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. The era, which had ended legal segregation, had also left a climate of empowered but disenfranchised black youth. Black Americans still suffered from the economic and physical brutalities imposed upon them. White supremacy still dominated the societal landscape. Violence against black communities was relentless. It is to this end that the party was originally formed– to patrol and provide necessary protection from racist police attacks. As the book states, “the Black Panther patrols galvanised the community and gained nationwide attention by ‘policing the police’.”
Informed and uniformed – they were known to carry law books – these patrols sent out a very powerful message. “Leather jacket and blue shirt. I made it the uniform when we founded the party,” writes Bobby Seale in his new book, Power to the People. He explains the origins of the Panther uniform in reference to the famous blues song (What did I do to be so) Black and Blue? originally written by Harry Brooks, Fats Waller, Andy Razaf. “I’m saying the American community is all beat-up black-and-blue from over 200 years of racist discrimination... Now, let’s make this the uniform.”
Likewise, the beret was to become an important signifier. Two weeks after devising the uniform, Bobby Seale, inspired by a film about the French underground resistance, decided black berets would make for a striking addition. “It’s a militant image, which appealed to people, and it also scared police,” he writes. The Party were conscious of the symbolic and militaristic connotations of the beret, and what they were presenting was a united whole – a solidarity which could no longer be bullied, divided and conquered.
Kathleen Cleaver at a Free Huey rally in DeFremery Park, Oakland, 1968© Stephen James, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery
“The Panthers electrified a generation of black youth,” states Power to the People. As the party grew from six members to over 10,000, it also developed from a self-defence group into a political revolutionary organisation, aimed at furthering civil human rights for everybody. They set up programmes providing free breakfasts for children and free healthcare, and gave away shoes, clothing and food on a nationwide scale. They also protested for the exemption of black people from military service – refusing to be used, as people of colour had been used for centuries, to fight wars they did not agree with.
A core of young visionaries, intellectuals and artists came to forge and re-forge the black Western identity. Key to this was the eschewal of Eurocentric beauty ideals, which had for so long enforced the notion of blackness as unattractive. Kathleen Cleaver (the first woman appointed to the Panther’s Central Committee) spoke out: “All of us were born with our hair like this and we just wear it like this because it’s natural, because the reason for it, you might say, is like a new awareness among black people that their own natural appearance, physical appearance, is beautiful.” Natural hair became political; a symbol of defiance, but also of self-acceptance.
The Panthers’ immediate influence was discernible amongst other revolutionary groups and intellectuals, many of whom admired both what the party were doing, and the style with which they were doing it. Fashions were adopted alongside ideas. The polo-neck is a particularly interesting example of this – its association with the Panthers popularised it, and while it was thought of as Beatnik attire before they adopted it, it was the black jazz and arts scenes of the 1930s in Europe and the US which gave rise to so much of the language, aesthetics and fashions which came to influence the likes of the Beats and European intellectuals.
Panthers stand just offstage at a Free Huey rally in DeFremery Park, Oakland, 1968. Che Brooks (arms folded) was a San Francisco Panther who went to San Quentin State Prison and started the prison chapter© Stephen James, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery
By the late 1970s, the group’s membership had significantly declined. As was to be the case for so many countercultures, various aspects of it were to be adopted and diluted for popular culture after its radical centre was ‘extinguished’. The party’s open door policy had been taken advantage of: informants were sent in by the F.B.I. with the sole aim of neutralising the group. The most prominent members of the party were victim to ruthless government tactics and constant harassment, whilst others were ultimately killed by police.
The legacy of the party is a living one, having introduced forms of cross-sectional politics which came to define the future of activism, as well as models of community action which continue to be utilised today. Their cultivation of style and the arts was not only to disseminate into popular culture, but to redefine it, making it possible for the first time in a long time for blackness to be viewed not only as beautiful, but as cool, ntellectual, and powerful.
A boy salutes the Panthers, New Haven County Courthouse, May 1, 1970© Stephen James, Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery
Source : AnOther Magazine http://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/9194/retracing-the-creative-legacy-of-the-black-panthers