The William H. Hannon Library’s Archives and Special Collections recently acquired the 1969 issues of The Black Panther Party Newspaper. I scheduled an appointment and spent time viewing the collection in the department’s reading room. Being the history geek that I am, I was absorbed with the collection for the entire hour.
The Black Panther Party Newspaper, also known as The Black Panther Black Community News Service, was in circulation from 1967-80 and it was published weekly through its Ministry of Information in San Francisco. The library has 21 issues of the 1969 publication and each of these issues contains a wealth of information. Honestly, the challenge I had in writing this column was figuring out how to encapsulate how much depth and importance the newspapers have in content.
While reading through each issue, the newspaper captures the local, national, and global events of the time. The Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement were major events all happening simultaneously, informing and influencing one another socially, culturally, and politically. The newspaper documents the changes of the Civil Rights Movement over time and reminds us that no group or movement is a monolith. The Black Panther Party’s approach to justice and equality is different from Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach.
The Cold War played a major role in both domestic and international politics. For example, the newspaper reports on the struggles in Africa as nations gain their independence including control and access to their own economies and fighting against European and American colonialism and imperialism. Readers can see how nations are in the middle of a fight between the United States and the Soviet Union: the fight between capitalism and communism.
The Cold War informed the war in Vietnam. The Black Panther Party was against the war and was critical of the United States’ imperialist and racist ambitions. These ambitions and the Cold War were not contained on the international front but embedded domestically. Articles written in the newspaper focused on the history of America as an oppressor toward marginalized groups such as Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans and how the oppression continues in contemporary times. The methods to oppress remains the same (violence) but also changes with technologies (i.e., wiretapping).
The party was well informed and well read, and they were conscientious of the laws including the U.S. Constitution. Education is one of the major pillars of the Black Panther Party’s platform and they focused on educating the Black community of their histories as well as the laws. They supported student groups such as the Black Student Union. In one of the newspapers, they wrote about the organizing work the Black student unions were doing in California and throughout the nation and published a “10 Point Program and Platform of the Black Student Unions.” The newspaper talked about the party’s community programs such as their breakfast program. Their breakfast program provided free food for children in the Black community. The party recognized that children starving impacts their education and therefore their futures.
As I carefully turned the pages reading through these issues, I can see how much has changed in society since 1969 and how much has not changed. What the Black Panther Party wrote about in 1969 we see happening in 2022. What stood out while reading the newspaper was how the Black Panther Party warned of the United States government as Big Brother through its technologies listening in on its people. They also criticized the government – state and federal – as fascist including Ronald Reagan, who was governor of California in 1969.
The party was critical of the police and police harassment as part of a fascist government’s tool to control, oppress, and murder marginalized communities, groups, and individuals that the government deemed as the “enemy.” In 2022, we are experiencing Trumpism, a rise in right-wing authoritarianism, and witnessed an insurrection on the country’s capitol. Books written by and about BIPOC, LGBTQ+, gender and sexuality, race, and anything that paints America’s founders and America’s history (singular) negatively are increasingly banned in schools and libraries. City and state legislatures are presenting bills to have cameras in classrooms to see what teachers are teaching. Teachers and librarians caught teaching about subjects that are deemed “controversial” could be fined or jailed. Voting rights continue to be stripped or erased and women’s rights to control their own bodies are threatened. Is fascism coming to America or was it already here? The Black Panther Party argues the latter. As for Big Brother listening in 1969, fast forward to 2022 with social media platforms such as Facebook on devices in the palms of our hands.
Students who want to learn about the Black Panther Party should see this collection at the library. Research has been done and continues to be done on the party. A person can study the party from multiple perspectives. For example, being mindful of looking at the newspapers from the 21st century lens, the Black Panther Party can be studied from a gender perspective. The words used are male-centric and patriarchal yet the party had women members who fought equal status in gender relations and played a significant role in shaping the movement. The founders, such as Huey Newton, recognized how he as an individual and the Black community internalized white, male, patriarchal oppression and projected biases on their own, such as Black women and the gay community. In his letter expressing solidarity with the women and gay liberation movements, Newton talks about internalization, the importance of combating the Black community’s own destructive biases and supporting these liberation movements who are also oppressed and marginalized. Students can study the Black Panther Party from a visual communication perspective: The artwork by artists such as Emory Douglas and Tarika Lewis, communicate clearly what words cannot. Art contributes to the party’s energy and its platform and beliefs.
As I wrote earlier, there is a lot to this collection. I can only imagine having the opportunity to see entire sets of issues of The Black Panther Party Newspaper.
The Black Panther Party’s contributions continues to live to this day. We see their influence in popular culture. We see groups adopt their platform and the party’s structure. We see their community programs still active or revived. As much as the United States government tried to demonize and eliminate the Black Panther Party, the party’s influence continues to remain strong.
By Nicole Murph ’04
- Celebrate Black History Month with LMU. Visit the hub.
- View and Learn: The presentation by Alexis Weiss (she/they), reference and instruction librarian for theology at the William H. Hannon Library, and Dr. Mimi Hoang (she/her), staff psychologist at Student Psychological Services, from the workshop “Creating a Transgender-Affirmative Campus: Pronouns, Bathrooms, and Beyond” on Jan. 19, 2022.
- Save the Date: For the official launch of LMU’s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Center Alliance launch on Feb. 24, 2022, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at St. Robert’s Auditorium. Register here.
- Systemic Analysis: Join us for report out sessions on March 8, 2022, and March 29, 2022, from 4-5 p.m. PST.
- In the Systemic Analysis Report Out sessions, two units present on their progress toward strengthening DEI practices and establishing anti-racist systems within their sectors. These sessions have been beneficial to faculty and staff who are looking to begin their systemic analysis process or continue in their own equity-minded work to get ideas and learn from other areas. Students are also welcomed to join these sessions and participate in the Q&A. Previous sessions are available to view on our Systemic Analysis page, which also includes a copy of each unit’s presentation slides.