#Sayhername: A Black Feminist Guide to the Black Panther Party’s 50th Anniversary Conference and Gala

Authored by Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest, Tracye A. Matthews, Mary Phillips, and Robyn C. Spencer

This article is a two-part series. Read part 1 here.


The Black Panther Party (BPP) 50th anniversary dovetails with the high tide of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. In the context of a police violence epidemic against Black and Brown communities and headlines that ask “Does Black Lives Matter Pick Up Where The Black Panthers Left Off?” the connection between the past and the present is explicit. Activists reach back to the Black freedom movement for inspiration (“Assata Taught Me”) as well as cautionary tales (“this ain’t your mama’s civil rights movement”). The Intersectional Black Panther Party History Project (IPHP), a collective of four historians who center gender and sexuality in the history of the BPP, analyzed the 50th anniversary program to explore these connections.


Comrade Sister

Women have been present in the BPP since the first woman, Tarika “Matilaba” Lewis, then an Oakland High School student, walked into the BPP office in 1967 with the intention to join. Women’s centrality in the BPP is reflected in their visible representation in the almost three dozen panels, workshops and community events organized by the Panther reunion committee. On Thursday, 10/20 (1pm), Charlotte Hill O’Neal shares her story of African exile and ongoing commitment to community programs. Initially a part of the International Section in Algiers until it disbanded, O’Neal and her Panther husband, Pete O’Neal, went to Tanzania like so many other Black Power activists. There the O’Neals continued the Panther commitment to “serve the people.” Charlotte O’Neal’s presentation reminds us of the continuity of the Panthers’ international presence.

On Friday, 10/21 (11am), “Women of the International Section of the Black Panther Party” features O’Neal, Kathleen Cleaver and Barbara Cox. Cleaver is co-founder of the BPP’s International Chapter in Algiers in 1970, the first woman to serve on the BPP’s Central Committee as the Communication’s Secretary and a central coordinator of the “Free Huey”campaign. Cox was an international activist, organizing against the Vietnam War while in Europe. These three women experienced internationalism while married to powerful men and Cleaver and O’Neal both birthed their children while abroad. Parenthood was a key factor in how Panther men and women experienced international organizing and exile.


Courtesy of Omi Gallery at Impact Hub Oakland. All rights reserved.

Courtesy of Omi Gallery at Impact Hub Oakland. All rights reserved.

Women at the Helm

The “Survival Pending Revolution” exhibit opened Friday, 10/7, with a creative roundtable called “We Be The Key.” Tarika Lewis and Ericka Huggins, both on  the roundtable, represent the longevity of women’s Party work. Lewis participated in the early years, outperforming men on the shooting range to earn respect, and creating revolutionary art for the Party’s newspaper. Huggins, joining in 1969, survived two years as a political prisoner and remained one of the longest serving members until 1981. On October 17th at Omi Gallery, a second panel, “Get in Formation: Women Lead the Party,” showcased Huggins, Lewis, M. Gayle (Asali) Dixon, Cathy Campbell and Carol Rucker, each leaders in their own right in specific BPP programs, as organizational decision-makers and in their current communities.

BPP women often are not credited as strategists and ideologues. Elaine Brown, along with Panther scholar Judson Jeffries, will interrogate Panther ideology on a panel Saturday, 10/22 (1pm and 3pm). Brown helped establish the first Breakfast program in Los Angeles, edited the Panther newspaper, replaced Eldridge Cleaver as Minister of Information and was head of the BPP from 1974-1977. Although this panel highlights Huey Newton’s genius and legacy, Brown was influential in electoral politics, coalition-building and as Party leader (when she elevated several women to formal leadership positions), all experiences that give her authority to reveal how she and party members analyzed, interpreted, implemented and remixed some of Newton’s ideas while he was incarcerated (1967-1970) or in exile (1974-77).

The everyday work of women is critical to the legacy of the BPP. The Panthers hold space in the tradition of Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley on Friday, 10/21( 3pm) with a panel, “Self -Defense Against Police Brutality and Murders of Black and Oppressed People.” This panel centers the experiences of  mothers mourning while organizing against the murder of their beloved relatives. Young women speak out as contemporary organizers in #OPEN (Our People Effecting Neighborhoods program), a panel centered around the group’s work in New Jersey on Saturday, 10/22 (3pm).


Courtesy of Malik Edwards

Courtesy of Malik Edwards

Reading the Silences

Political prisoners, political repression and coalition politics are areas that could be enriched by gender analysis. For example, the FBI’s Counterintellegence Program’s (COINTELPRO) insidious reach cannot be understood solely in terms of large scale arrests and murders of male political leaders. Beyond abusing and arresting women as well, COINTELPRO was also nimble enough to destroy support systems, undermine trust and close lines of communication. Vicious and often deadly political repression from COINTELPRO heightened all fault lines within the organization and exploited internal contradictions regarding gender relations and roles and sexuality.

In the 1990s, some Panther women embarked on a journey of healing in a series of retreats in an effort to begin healing from their traumas. The enduring legacy of some women learning self-care while imprisoned, often in solitary confinement, is reflected in an 11/9 public event Ericka Huggins will facilitate. It is a one hour session, “Meditation: The Revolution Within”, at the Omi Gallery, during which she will publicly display the power of a different kind of silence: “silence and recognition [that] brings us into a greater connection with our great selves. It is from this place that we can serve the people.” Indeed, during the 1970s, the BPP central headquarters attempted to incorporate a form of spirituality into its structure via its Son of Man Temple and via teaching meditation strategies to the youth at the Oakland Community School.

Huggins’ holistic approach resonates with the growing dialogue around self-care that percolates within many #BLM formations. The Panther conference program shows evidence of the impact of this cross-generational influence. The Panthers have set aside a space for community healing, for wellness and “to address collective trauma.” While tensions and unresolved issues likely will simmer under the surface, only visible to those in the know, the presence of these spaces of reflection has the potential to build bridges and stir souls. Panthers who attend likely will skew towards good health, emotional stability and disposable incomes. But the reality is that some are entering the last quarter of their lives as survivors who are scarred–emotionally, physically, financially–from their time on the front lines of America’s Black Power revolution. The idea of healing, self-care, holistic and spiritual health being part of this potential summit between youth and elders is not just heartwarming; it feels like emotional justice, a term popularized by journalist Esther Armah.

Sexuality will likely remain under the shroud of personal politics, although the many interwoven families and the last names retained long after relationships died tell another story. The Panthers were an organization of husbands and wives, same sex lovers, and brothers and sisters. The collective living some Panthers experienced and their relative youth, in the context of the sexual revolution, freed people in ways that scholars may never be able to capture. Although these matters will not have a formal place on the program, it is worth noting that the Panthers did question ideas about monogamy, the meaning of marriage, and the primacy of the nuclear family. The Panthers worked in solidarity with gay and lesbian liberation organizations in the 1960s and 1970s. Given the violence disproportionately faced by Black trans women and the growing challenge to heteronormativity in contemporary Black radical organizing spaces, it is appropriate that the Panthers have set aside a space at the conference for those who are gender non-conforming. The personal was deeply political to Panthers and the alternative institutions they attempted to build to prefigure the world they wanted to live in represent some of the greatest aspects of their legacy.

IPHP believes that reading gender and sexuality into the BPP’s 50th commemorative activities promotes an understanding of Black liberation movement politics that is as necessary to the Black freedom struggle as a study of the BPP’s Marxist ideology, armed self-defense and electoral campaigns. We will continue honoring and celebrating the Panthers’ extraordinary leadership as we challenge ourselves and others to #sayhername.

Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest, is a Houston, Texas-based historian, independent scholar, filmmaker and former director of the BPP Research Project at Stanford University. Her research, publications and film projects have focused on BPP women, gender and community programs. Current projects include producing and directing a documentary on the OCS and writing a manuscript on BPP women and the community programs. @aleblancernest

Tracye A. Matthews is a historian, curator, and documentary filmmaker. She is currently the associate  director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies and journals and she is currently writing a book on the gender and sexual politics of the BPP.

Mary Phillips is an Assistant Professor in the Africana Studies Department at Lehman College, City University of New York. Her research looks at women and gender in the BPP. She is currently completing a political history on Ericka Huggins. @mfphillips

Robyn C. Spencer  is Associate professor of History at Lehman College, CUNY and currently a fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale. She writes on the history of the Black Power movement and is the author of the forthcoming book The Revolution has Come: Black Power, Gender and the Black Panther Party in Oakland. @racewomanist


Photo credit: Omi Gallery


Love Liberation: A Black Feminist Guide to the Black Panther Party’s 50th Anniversary Conference and Gala

Authored by Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest, Tracye A. Matthews, Mary Phillips, and Robyn C. Spencer

This article is a part of a two-part series. See Part 2 here.

The Black Panther Party (BPP) has declared 2016 the #yearofthePanther, a year with nationwide events to “reclaim the history and legacy of the BPP and to connect with current organizations.” Founded in 1966, the BPP developed as a political organization committed to the liberation of Black and oppressed people. The Panthers challenged institutional inequities by policing the police and provided much needed resources and services to the community. While they are most recognized for their breakfast program for children, they created over 50 practical community programs and grew into an organization with worldwide impact.

The Birth Of A Nation

‘The Birth Of A Nation’ Has Its Problems But It’s Still Worth Seeing

By: Imani J. Jackson

Deciding whether to support or sit out The Birth of a Nation has inspired an internal tug-o-war for many people, myself included.

On one hand, I respect and understand the outrage directed at Nate Parker. Parker wrote, directed and starred in a rebellion story, which includes rape scenes, and hit the big screen about 17 years after a woman accused Parker and Birth co-writer Jean Celestin of sexual assault in college. On the other hand, a jury of Parker’s peers found him not guilty and Celestin’s conviction was later overturned. These results – coupled with a desire not to penalize the brilliant black actresses who helped bring this story to light –  urged me from solidarity by omission (through boycotting) and toward supporting a multifaceted cast whose work tells an important story.


GenForward Poll: Half of black youth face job discrimination

By: Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Qymana Botts saw white colleagues with the same amount of experience getting promoted to cashier ahead of her at the Indiana discount store where she worked. When she asked her supervisors why, they told her she didn’t project the image that they wanted from their cashiers: straight hair — not her natural Afro — and more makeup.

“When it came time for promotions and raises and things like that, I was told I need to fit into a more European kind of appearance,” Botts said of her 2010 experience. “They wanted me to straighten my hair, but I wasn’t willing to do that.”

Botts, 25, is not alone.


Call for Submissions: The King Bey Bible

It’s time for poets and essayists to get in formation.

Feminista Jones and Olivia Cole are teaming up to publish an anthology of writing inspired by and dedicated to the one and only Beyoncé: The King Bey Bible. For many, Beyoncé is the human incarnation of the possibility of another world: a world run by Girls! Consider this their interpretation of a “lost text”.

Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, smiles while speaking during a campaign event in Hartford, Connecticut, U.S., on Thursday, April 21, 2016. Tuesday night's New York primary not only ended a multi-state losing streak for current front-runners Donald Trump and Clinton, who won roughly 60 percent of the vote each, but also moved them an important step closer to the general election.

Young adults prefer Clinton on income gap, divide on jobs

By: Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Young adults are more likely to trust Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump on handling wages, income inequality and personal finances, but they’re divided on which candidate would better handle job creation, a new GenForward poll shows.

Young Hispanics, blacks and Asian-Americans favor Clinton on all four economic issues, but young whites are more likely to favor Trump on both job creation and their personal finances.


Black, Latino youth less likely to get money from folks

By: Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — More young blacks and Latinos feel that they can’t depend on family to help them with financial needs, from big-ticket items like college tuition to smaller expenses, than do whites or Asians, according to a new GenForward poll.

And more than half of millennials overall say an unexpected bill of $1,000 would cause them financial difficulty, a sign that young Americans are still struggling years after the end of the recession, according to the poll released this week.


EXCLUSIVE: Alicia Garza on What’s Missing from the Black Lives Matter Movement

By Liz Adetiba and Jordie Davies


The Oakland-based organizer and activist Alicia Garza, who is also the originator of the Black Lives Matter rallying cry and one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter Network, thinks Black people have a lot to talk about outside of police violence. In this interview, we discussed with Garza what she believed is missing from the movement, how it is portrayed in the media, and the various points of entry for activism–from politics to protest.


EXCLUSIVE: Witness Describes The Fight For Sovereignty At ‘Standing Rock’

By Lamont Lilly


Mainstream media would have most of us believe that the current struggle at Standing Rock, North Dakota is all about clean water – that its only focus is stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) from running through Indigenous reservation land. And yes, it is about these things. But while such a narrative may create “hot headlines,” it fails to capture the full truth and essence of what‘s really going on there.

On Sept. 9 through Sept. 12, our Workers World Party delegation gathered with 8,000 others to support the national call to mobilize for support.

[Related: What you need to know about the Dakota Access Pipeline and #NoDAPL]

Resistance, unity and mass consciousness

Shortly after our flight into Bismarck, North Dakota, we drove directly to the State Capitol Building for a local protest there.  I began to realize that this was much bigger than just a fight for water. Is water a central component to this struggle? Yes! Yes, it is. But as local members of the Indigenous community began to gather, as school-aged Native youth began marching down the street in pouring rain, I quickly realized that the current developments at Standing Rock were not only politically and culturally significant, but that this moment in time was becoming historic. This “local protest” had indeed become, monumental.

Representatives of Indigenous Nations began pouring into Bismarck from all over the country. In spite of the rain, more and more people just kept coming. A protest had become a reunion, a reunion for some who had never even spoken to each other, a reunion many thought would never happen again. The struggle for water had performed the miracle of bringing nations together from all over the Western Hemisphere. Resistance had created both unity and mass consciousness.

It was Friday and we had just arrived. So much was unfolding, and we hadn’t even made it to the encampment at Standing Rock yet. We had merely decided to support a local protest we heard about via Facebook. We still needed to get settled and set-up for the evening. After the protest, we finally arrived at Main Camp of Standing Rock late Friday afternoon, just a few hours before dark. We debated for a half hour about where to pitch our tent, and finally, collectively found a spot.

Word broke during camp that evening that the Obama administration and U.S. government had decided to temporarily “halt” further construction of the DAPL in the immediate Lake Oahe area by Standing Rock. But the overall project had not been “ceased” in North Dakota, or elsewhere.

Indigenous Nations came from all over: Ontario and Vancouver (Canada), Hawaii, Ecuador, Jamaica, Arizona, Alaska, Massachusetts, California. There were elders and small children, women and men. Some drove. Some flew. Some even came in by canoe.

Main Camp organizers noted that over 260 nations had gathered, the largest of any such gathering since Wounded Knee in 1973. Morale was high from the decision to “halt,” but leaders and organizers were still quite leery. After 500 years of colonial lies, false promises and broken treaties, many of their elders had seen this story before. They reminded the media and informed the various nations to stay vigilant.

As organizer and Standing Rock Sioux elder, Phyllis Young stated: “Our freedom is in our DNA. Our culture is bigger than the U.S. Constitution. When one nation’s rights are violated, we are all violated.” On the subject of settler treaties, Young reminded us that “these agreements are problematic because they do not recognize our sovereignty. They have not kept their promises.”

 [Related: Leonard Peltier, Native American Activist and Prisoner, Seeks Clemency]

Building collective memory

Our time and efforts were divided between four different encampments. If you’re coming from Bismarck, the first encampment you’ll approach is “The Frontline.”  This was the site where private security firm, G4S sprayed Water Protectors with pepper spray, prompting dogs to attack women and defenseless children.

Located just off the road, the camp is small in size but well-guarded. A few yards behind the company’s barbed wire gates, you can actually see the uprooted soil, courtesy of U.S. Army Engineers and private construction vehicles. North Dakota later issued a misdemeanor warrant for Democracy Now host, Amy Goodman at this same site. Goodman was simply documenting what was happening there.

Main Camp is where the masses resided — a 20-acre plot of flatland surrounded by sacred burial space, “Facebook Hill” (where people can pick up just enough cell service to post on social media), and scattered marsh remnants of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers. Main Camp is where most of the socializing and public assemblies took place.

Though much smaller, Sacred Stone is probably the camp most recognized by name. Sacred Stone is the location of the initial resistance, dating back to early spring of this year.

Last, but certainly not least, is Red Warrior Camp – the heavily targeted and radical youth encampment located just between Main Camp and Sacred Stone. It was Red Warrior Camp that initially took to social media and began to spread the word. And it’s Red Warrior Camp that has truly inspired and galvanized Native youth. We were honored to formally meet with them the day before we left. In return, we left the Red Warrior Camp much of our camping equipment and the remaining supplies that we could spare. Their spokesperson, Cody Hall  had just been arrested the day we arrived, and was being held without bail.

Main Camp, which housed over 7,000 people, was highly organized and well laid out. Tents and tipis were sporadically spaced at the site of your own choosing. The kitchen, dry storage and main assembly circle were all conjoined. While the main circle was open-air seating, all other stations were well constructed for the harsh conditions of North Dakota.

There was a medical room and camp infirmary, a freedom school and welcome center – a donation center and legal support station. There were safety teams and ground sanitation. Several thousand of us were fed for free, sheltered and provided for, every day. Many participants came merely on faith, and with very few resources. The ingenuity required to seamlessly feed three meals a day to thousands, is no small feat.

In addition to the elements of traditional dance, custom dress and tribal flags, there was also a special emphasis placed on remembrance — remembrance of the old names and Native languages that so many still fight to preserve, remembrance of past freedom fighters and political prisoners. Elders and youth alike noted the important contributions of Sitting Bull and Leonard Peltier, Russell Means and John Trudell.

With over 260 Indigenous nations represented, yes, of course there were a few internal differences. But there was also a celebration of those differences, a moment of magic that so many were able to come together and build on their commonalities. Not only was there a collective sense of pride, urgency and organization — a collective memory was etched in communal stone, passed down to the next ‘Seven Generations.’

“We want our grandchildren to see this, to be here and touch the land,” said Chief Arvol Looking Horse. “I remember my grandmother teaching me about Wounded Knee, and we have to pass this down…the story of today.”

It was so important that the youth and children were able to witness this display of unity. This is the moment that they too, will pass down to their children — the preservation of culture, history, tradition — the interconnection of water, soil, air, life — the importance of respecting the land, animals and fellow human beings.

 [Related: Black Power: A Q&A With Charlene Carruthers]

Water is life, not a business

Standing Rock is more than just a fight to stop construction vehicles from digging up the soil.  What this is really about is the preservation of the Indigenous way of life — a way of life that walks in accord with the natural elements and resources around them — a way of life that not only honors each other, but also the Earth, the land, the water. It is a way of life that deeply respects the air we breathe, the sun, the soil — a way of life that seeks to live in unity with these elements, not to somehow profit from them. Water is life, not a business.

Standing Rock is not only a political struggle for the right to assemble, protest and create change. It is, as well, a cultural struggle for independence and autonomy, for sovereignty and complete liberation — a resistance against forced displacement and assimilation. There are also elements of class struggle, here — a “stand-off” of the poor and working class against big oil companies and the super-rich.

This struggle is about supporting the right to be free from corporate greed and white supremacist domination, the right for Indigenous people to determine their own destiny, the right to function without the U.S. government meddling in the internal affairs of Native Nations.

What we saw at Standing Rock were the effects of colonialism continuing to play out, 500 years later. Some Indigenous have survived through surface-level assimilation, adopting more Eurocentric names, styles of dress and religious practices. Others have refused to assimilate and remain rooted in the old ways. Some favor prayer and non-direct actions; others embrace a more militant form of resistance by any means necessary.

The only negative aspect of our entire stay was the state repression. Drones, helicopters and aerial surveillance were an absolute constant. No kidding! Checkpoints, encampment warrants and threat of arrests were very real. Supporters and organizers were quite conscious of the repressive character of the state, yet refused to allow that presence to dampen the occasion. I guess that’s to be expected when you’re pursuing liberation.

Nearly 70 people have been arrested for simply standing up to the DAPL, but many more are springing to take their places. When we talk about #NoDAPL, it is so critical that we demand all charges be dropped against protesters, local supporters and those who are being targeted.

Standing Rock is, in many regards, no different than Black Lives Matter, no different than the Palestinian resistance and Latinx Movement. The struggle against capitalism, state violence and white supremacy will undoubtedly, require all of us to stand together.

Much thanks to #StandingRock for allowing us to be there. Long live the Indigenous Nations! Free Leonard Peltier! All power to the people! ■


NC-based activist, @LamontLilly is the 2016 Workers World Party, U.S. Vice-Presidential Candidate. He has recently served as field staff in Baltimore, Ferguson, Oakland, Boston and Philadelphia. In 2015, he was a U.S. delegate at the International Forum for Justice in Palestine in Beirut, Lebanon.


Photo: Oakland-based photo journalist, Sunshine


Why Increased Enrollment At Historically Black Colleges and Universities Is Not Enough

By: Imani J. Jackson

Black people in America cope with everything from daily race-based micro-aggressions to police officers killing us with impunity. These realities lead some young people to seek schools that do not hyper-police blackness or seek to eliminate black people altogether — environments that normalize the African Diaspora. So, it isn’t surprising that several HBCUs are reporting freshmen enrollment surges. Even students who started their educational journeys in other environments, like predominantly white institutions (PWIs), are transferring to HBCUs too. But, the question remains: will attending HBCUs to escape persecution at PWIs do enough to protect students from other forms of exclusion and oppression?