The Black Panther Party

Fist Raised In the Air

The Black Panther Party began back in the 1960’s in the Bay Area, in Oakland California. They began with the goal — in truth they had ten goals they explicitly shared — of fighting for African American rights and freedom from oppression. The Black Panther Party was established during a time of great racial divide in society. They were against what was mainstream at the time and they would often use art to portray their message.

One of the mediums that was used by the Black Panther Party was posters. They often used posters to display their party symbols: a black panther and a fist in the air. Each symbol had a specific meaning. The Black Panther, for starters, instilled fear and intimidation to those who saw it — the panther being a vicious animal helped instill this fear. They did this to show that they were serious about the issue of freedom.

The other symbol that they used was the ‘fist in the air’. This was used to symbolize solidarity, unity, and defiance. They were united in a common battle for equality — and this symbol aided in making that clear. The Black Panthers were also defiant in that they did not conform to the behaviors that society wanted them to. African Americans were constantly told how they should and should not act, what they could and could not do. The Black Panthers chose to actively change society’s image of black people.

Black Panther/Emory Douglas 1970

The Black Panthers also used other pieces of art to push for African American pride and equality. Many of the pieces that they used for created by the Black Panthers’ Minister of Culture, Emory Douglas. The pieces incorporated both cartoonish images and words to express their messages, like the poster below. Another poster shows a man holding a weapon which, as stated previously, showed the rage and emotion behind the movement. Emory Douglas was the primary artist published in the Black Panthers’ internal newspaper. People viewed his art as a quintessential part of the Black Panther Party. Emory Douglas’ art was capable of inciting the disenfranchised to action, portrait the people, not as victims but, as a group of people outraged with the current conditions of society.

Power To The People/Emory Douglas 1969

Another lesser acknowledged medium that the Black Panthers used to portray their message was their own bodies. The Black Panthers could be directly identified through their uniform — as depicted below. Their uniform consisted of the following: they wore black pants, black jackets, and black barrettes — which is also why they are sometimes referred to as the Black Barrettes. Although there was some variation, such as dark sunglasses and pins on their jackets, the Black Panther uniform was meant to suggest seriousness, and to intimidate those who opposed them. There are many examples of people and groups using their bodies as ways of expressing themselves — in fact we do that everyday with the attire that we choose to wear — but none had the impact and direct recognition that the Black Panther Party had.

Group of Black Panthers

The Black Panther Party played a pivotal role throughout the civil rights and anti-war movement of the mid and late twentieth century. They helped fight for the rights of all people in the United States. They helped establish the Free Breakfast Program for children in need. They accomplished so much in their history and they did it by fighting against established ideologies. They were truly the embodiment of the term Counter-Cultural.