In Search of the Black Panther Party

New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement

In Search of the Black Panther Party

Book Pages: 408 Illustrations: Published: October 2006

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, History > U.S. History

Controversy swirled around the Black Panthers from the moment the revolutionary black nationalist Party was founded in Oakland, California, in 1966. Since that time, the group that J. Edgar Hoover called “the single greatest threat to the nation’s internal security” has been celebrated and denigrated, deified and vilified. Rarely, though, has it received the sort of nuanced analysis offered in this rich interdisciplinary collection. Historians, along with scholars in the fields of political science, English, sociology, and criminal justice, examine the Panthers and their present-day legacy with regard to revolutionary violence, radical ideology, urban politics, popular culture, and the media. The essays consider the Panthers as distinctly American revolutionaries, as the products of specific local conditions, and as parts of other movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

One contributor evaluates the legal basis of the Panthers’ revolutionary struggle, explaining how they utilized and critiqued the language of the Constitution. Others explore the roles of individuals, looking at a one-time Panther imprisoned for a murder he did not commit and an FBI agent who monitored the activities of the Panthers’ Oakland branch. Contributors assess the Panthers’ relations with Students for a Democratic Society, the Young Lords, the Brown Berets, and the Peace and Freedom Party. They discuss the Party’s use of revolutionary aesthetics, and they show how the Panthers manipulated and were manipulated by the media. Illuminating some of the complexities involved in placing the Panthers in historical context, this collection demonstrates that the scholarly search for the Black Panthers has only just begun.

Contributors. Bridgette Baldwin, Davarian L. Baldwin, David Barber, Rod Bush, James T. Campbell, Tim Lake, Jama Lazerow, Edward P. Morgan, Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Roz Payne, Robert O. Self, Yohuru Williams, Joel Wilson


“[In Search of the Black Panther Party] avoids a weakness common to collected conference papers, as each of the chapters refers to the other essays and flows clearly into the next piece. Although the general outline of the birth, rise, and collapse of the Panthers is common knowledge, this volume shows the complexity and debatable heritage of the group.” — Thomas J. Noer, Social History

“Collectively, the essays raise important questions about the Panthers that demonstrate the organization’s complexity, and should stimulate an energetic scholarly discussion and reevaluation of the Panthers’ historical significance. . . . Highly Recommended.” — M. Cachun, Choice

“Recent scholarship is well represented, resulting in a collection of essays that treat their subject in a scholarly, yet sensitive manner. . . . Lazerow, Williams, and the contributing authors are to be commended for producing a collection of essays that compels scholars to reexamine the Black Panthers and their true impact on U. S. and African American history.” — Oscar Williams, Journal of African American History

“These diverse and insightful essays, drawn from many untapped sources, collectively highlight the importance of local studies in complicating historians’ understandings of the BPP, which, as the authors point out, must be a key element in creating a historically rich narrative about this era.” — Beth Slutsky, Journal of American Ethnic History

"In Search of the Black Panther Party makes a valuable contribution to the field of Panther historiography." — Paul Alkebulan, The Historian

"Taken as a whole, the essays offer a critical evaluation of the BPP and do not hesitate to challenge the shibboleths and assumptions that heretofore have dominated scholarship on the Panthers. . . . [A]n important contribution. . . ." — Gregg L. Michel, Journal of American History

“Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams have assembled a superb, timely, and significant anthology that historicizes one of the most controversial groups of the 1960s. Wide-ranging in scope, provocative, and deeply insightful, In Search of the Black Panther Party is a major contribution to the burgeoning literature on the Black Panthers and the wider Black Power era.” — Peniel E. Joseph, author of Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America

“Researchers have uncovered more useful information on the Panthers in the past ten years than in the preceding thirty. This wide-ranging collection contains some of the finest examples of today’s exciting new scholarship. It tops the list of required reading for those seeking to make up for lost time.” — William L. Van Deburg, author of New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 1965–1975


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jama Lazerow is Professor of History at Wheelock College. He is the author of Religion and the Working Class in Antebellum America.

Yohuru Williams is Associate Professor of History and Director of Black Studies at Fairfield University. He is the author of Black Politics/White Power: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Black Panthers in New Haven.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Editors’ Note xi

Introduction: The Black Panthers and Historical Scholarship: Why Now? / Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams 1

Part I. The Panthers through the Historian’s Lens

The Black Panther Party and the Long Civil Rights Era / Robert O. Self 15

Part II. The Panthers as American Revolutionaries

Introductory Comment: The Panthers and the Question of Violence / Rod Bush 59

In the Shadow of the Gun: The Black Panther Party, the Ninth Amendment, and Discourses of Self-Defense / Bridgette Baldwin 67

Part III. From the Bottom Up and the Top Down: Personal Politics and the Black Panthers

Introductory Comment: The Panthers and Local History / James T. Campbell 97

“A Rebel All His Life”: The Unexpected Story of Frank “Parky” Grace / Jama Lazerow 104

WACing Off: Gossip, Sex, Race, and Politics in the World of FBI Special Case Agent Williams A. Cohendet / Roz Payne 158

Part IV. Coalition Politics: The Panthers as a “Revolutionary Vanguard”

Introductory Comment: White Tigers, Brown Berets, Black Panthers, Oh My! / Yohuru Williams 183

Invisible Cages: Racialized Politics and the Alliance between the Panthers and the Peace and Freedom Party / Joel Wilson 191

Leading the Vanguard: White New Leftists School and Panthers on Black Revolution / David Barber 223

Brown Power to Brown People: Radical Ethnic Nationalism, the Black Panthers, and Latino Radicalism, 1967–1973 / Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar 252

Part V. Revolutionary Politics: The Black Panthers in the American Imagination

Introductory Comment: “Culture Is a Weapon in Our Struggle for Liberation”: The Black Panther Party and the Cultural Politics of Decolonization / Davarian L. Baldwin 289

The Arm(ing) of the Vanguard, Signify(ing), and Performing the Revolution: The Black Panther Party and Pedagogical Strategies for Interpreting a Revolutionary Life / Tim Lake 306

Media Culture and the Public Memory of the Black Panther Party / Edward P. Morgan 324

Contributors 375

Index 377

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3890-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3837-6
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