- IPHP is committed to #changingthenarrative about gender and sexuality in the Black Panther Party by periodically curating primary sources that provide first hand accounts. If you use any of the sources from this site to teach or find them particularly informative and useful, let us know! Comment in the box below.
Archival Entry #8 December 9, 2016
Women experienced state violence and trauma that some men did not experience.
- “The Brothers had to look on Ericka with a new light because she has been thru a lot of things that some Brothers hadn’t even been thru. The sisters looked up to her and we all saw what we had to do.”
Women armed themselves and advocated for self-defense.
- “The sisters have to pick up the guns just like the brothers. There are a lot of things the sisters can do to change society.”
Women challenged gender discrimination.
- “We realize we have a role to play and we’re tired of sitting home and being misused and unless we stand up, male chauvinism will still show itself and be something that’s just passed over. Unless we speak up against it and teach the brothers what’s correct and point out what’s wrong, then it’s still be here.”
Women demanded to be treated as equals.
- “There used to be a difference in the roles (of men and women) in the party because sisters were relegated to certain duties. This was due to the backwardness and lack of political perspective on the part of both sisters and brothers.”
Archival Entry #7 November 27, 2016
- “Now, you know the Black Panther Party started off and we said that we understood that this thing was a class struggle.”
- “What we are trying to say is that we want a United Front of all ethnic oppressed groups, regardless of race, color, creed or what have you, because the ultimate aim is to overthrow this establishment.”
- “When I have spoken in other countries, like Scandinavia, France, Germany or even England, people find it hard to believe that America, and people like you can sit here and watch this sort of thing happening and you do nothing about it.”
- “You have got to get hip to the fact that what the Black Panther Party wants is to take the wealth from out of the hands of the few….”
Black women in the Black Panther Party were theorists, although they are not often considered intellectual architects. Connie Matthews served as International Coordinator for the Black Panthers from 1969 – 1971. During this time she organized support for the Panthers across Europe. In this speech at San Jose State in 1969, Matthews speaks to the role of college students and the middle class in supporting the movement. In the process she articulates the Panthers political analysis and global vision.
Source: “Connie Matthews at San Jose State On the Vietnam Moratorium,” The Black Panther, October 25, 1969.
Archival Entry #6 November 17, 2016
- “I’ve seen a lot of people I knew and loved die in the past year or so and it’s been a struggle to remain unbitter.”
- “It is obvious that somewhere we failed but I know it will not – it cannot end here. There is too much evilness left. I cannot get rid of my dream of peace and harmony. It is for that dream that most of us have fought.”
- “I discovered what I should have known a long time ago – that change has to begin within ourselves – whether there is a revolution today or tomorrow- we still must face the problems of purging ourselves of the larceny that we have all inherited. I hope we do not pass it on to you because you are our only hope.”
- “For the first time in my life I feel like a woman—beaten, battered and scarred maybe, but isn’t that what wisdom is truly made of [?]”
The late Afeni Shakur was a member of the New York Chapter of the Black Panther Party. She penned this letter while pregnant and incarcerated; the late Tupac Shakur is her “unborn baby” to which she refers. Afeni reflects on the personal and political lessons she has learned since joining the BPP. Shakur’s letter continues our look at the words and lives of BPP women who dared to imagine a different world for their children while exploring the idea of being female and a revolutionary. On May 13, 1971, a jury acquitted Afeni and 12 other BPP members who were a part of the New York Panther 21, targeted by the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) and arrested in April 1969.
Source:Kuwasi Balagoon, et. al., Look for Me in the Whirlwind: The Collective Autobiography of the New York 21. New York: Random House Vintage Books, 1971, 360-361.
Archival Entry #5 November 10, 2016
- “No one ever asks what’s a man’s place in the revolution.”
- “My place is in the revolution. Having a child only makes you think before you act.”
- “Everything women do is viewed as secondary in capitalistic society. In a socialistic society, the labor force needs everybody and therefore women are not looked on as secondary citizens.”
In 1970, a reporter asked Kathleen Cleaver what kind of society she wanted for her son. She responded, “A perfect one. There’s no point in imagining any other kind, is there?” Kathleen Cleaver was the first woman on the Central Committee of the Black Panther Party, serving as Communications Secretary. This article by Karen Lewis published in the January 5, 1970 issue of The Washington Post provides a snapshot of how everyday life might have looked for Kathleen as a new mother living in exile in Algeria.
”Wife, Mother and Revolutionary,” by Karen Lewis. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973), Jan 5, 1970, pp. 51, 53.
Archival Entry #4 November 3, 2016
In 1969, BPP member Rose Smith was targeted by FBI’s Cointelpro Program along with other members of the New Haven 14. As a political prisoner she was placed in isolation from the larger prison population at Niantic State Farm due to her political beliefs. She wrote the letter below explaining the horrors she witnessed while incarcerated for a crime she did not commit. It was published in the Black Panther newspaper on September 6, 1969. Her words reclaim the voices of current day political prisoners. See Jericho Movement to learn more about political prisoners incarcerated.
- Women endured state sanctioned violence in prison.
“We have seen the beating of two sisters here . . . After the beating, they were both thrown into a cold, damp cellar which the girls call the dungeon. They were left there without food until the head pigs felt it was time to let them out.”
- Political prisoners were under high surveillance.
“The guards have been seen with shotguns. When we asked one of the fool reactionaries here why the sudden change in the system here, we were told that they had order from the head pig D.A. Marckle and the Commissioner to step up on their security.”
- Panther women illustrated an unapologetic fierceness in calling out systematic structures.
“We as political prisoners have been subjected to the fascist tactics of the Niantic, Connecticut state prison and its mad dog reactionary paper pigs.”
Archival Entry #3 October 26, 2016
The excerpt from The War Before: The True Life Story of Becoming a Black Panther Keeping the Faith in Prison, Fighting for Those Left Behind by Safiya Bukhari edited by Laura Whitehorn was published on IPHP WordPress page on 10/26/16.
Sharing Panther women’s stories help to #changethenarrative around the day to day activities of Party members and and reveal the longstanding commitment to support political prisoners.
Safiya Bukhari joined the Black Panther Party in New York in November of 1969, became a member of the Black Liberation Army, and went on to create several organizations aimed at freeing political prisoners: the National Committee to Defend Political Prisoners, the New York Free Mumia Coalition, and the Jericho Movement to Free U.S. Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War. She was a tireless organizer and political strategist whose writings are remarkable because they discuss the “how” of organizing and the texture of daily life within the Panthers. She passed away in 2003.
Photo courtesy of www.safyiabukhari.com
The excerpt from Safiya Bukhari’s writings in The War Before: The True Life Story of Becoming a Black Panther Keeping the Faith in Prison, Fighting for Those Left Behind edited by Laura Whitehorn that accompanies this article demonstrates:
- Community work was the core of Panther political life and included not just “serving” people but organizing them to challenge their conditions.
- Panther offices were highly organized and were run by the OD, Officer of the Day. Women like Safiya Bukhari sometimes played this role.
- Women honed skills and commitments in the Black Panther Party that shaped their subsequent political involvements.
The excerpt above is from The War Before: The True Life Story of Becoming a Black Panther Keeping the Faith in Prison, Fighting for Those Left Behind, a collection of Safiya Bukhari’s writings edited by edited by Laura Whitehorn.
Archival Entry #2, October 17, 2016
The Black Panther newspaper article was published on IPHP WordPress page 10/17/16.
This “Letter from Kathleen [Cleaver] to Ericka [Huggins]” October 24, 1970 #changesthenarrative. Huggins had been imprisoned in New Haven, CT, since May 1969, when her daughter, Mai, was 5 months old. Cleaver had given birth abroad only a couple months after Huggins was incarcerated. Pictures of defiant Panther children with berets are very popular, but children often experienced separation from their mothers. The images that accompany this article of Panther women nurturing their children offer a rare view of activist mothering and sisterhood in the struggle.
- The Panthers were engaged in global revolution and looked to women revolutionaries around the world. “Our revolutionary sisters in Asia, Africa and Latin America–the hinterlands of the American Empire–are enduring parallel conditions for parallel reasons and our numbers and fortitude increase daily.”
- Motherhood Mattered. “I always think about the pain you feel at being torn asunder from Mai.”
- Radical activists actively thought and wrote about love.“As long as we retain our love–for each other, our families, our Party, our People and our justice–we will never be defeated.”
- “Letter from Kathleen [Cleaver] to Ericka [Huggins]” October 24, 1970
*This source can be found in The Black Panther newspaper, 3/6/71: p. 9. The original publication is in the 12/14/1970 issue, page 9, and the photo accompanying that one shows the iconic image of Ericka Huggins with upraised arm and clenched fist.
Archival Entry #1, October 12, 2016
The Chicago Defender article below was posted on IPHP’s facebook page on October 12, 2016.
- “Being a Panther woman is a 24 hour a day job and you can’t pick out what you want to do. It’s no pampered life. You must do what is necessary.”
- “The kind of liberation women seek will not come until after the abolition of capitalism.”
- “We don’t condemn nor condone makeup. It’s up to the sister if she wants to wear it.”
“Meet Women of the Black Panthers,” by Fredia A. Smith, Chicago Daily Defender, Jan. 24, 1970.