Introduction to the #Blackpanthersyllabus

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Beyoncé’s new song, “Formation” and her recent performance at the Super Bowl 50 halftime show has ignited a storm of controversy over the past few weeks. Much of the critique of Beyoncé’s performance reveals a general misunderstanding of the history of the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the Black Power movement in general. Critics continue to draw comparisons between the BPP and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), erroneously equating black nationalism with white supremacy. Established by college students Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California in 1966, the BPP (originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) was the largest and arguably most influential black revolutionary organization of the twentieth century. During the late 1960s–a period marred by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, urban unrest, and unrelenting police violence–thousands of young black men and women joined the BPP, dedicating their lives to protecting black communities and combating police brutality.

The recent PBS airing of Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution, which coincided with the Party’s 50 year anniversary, has reignited public interest in the Black Panthers and the Black Power movement. The Black Panthers is the first feature-length documentary to highlight the historical significance of the Black Panther Party, offering a more complex and nuanced view of the Party beyond the images that tend to occupy the popular imagination. Although The Black Panthers sheds light on the historical significance and legacy of the Party, the documentary certainly does not–and could not in only 2 hours–tell the entire story. For this reason, we encourage everyone to read some of the recommended texts below to further enhance their understanding of the BPP and the significance of Black Power as a national and global political, cultural, and economic movement. Understanding the history of the BPP sheds light on contemporary black politics including the continuing struggle against urban police brutality.

In the spirit of #Charlestonsyllabus, Dara Vance (@divafancypants), a PhD candidate in History at the University of Kentucky, expressed the need to create the #blackpanthersyllabus to better contextualize the history of the Black Panthers and offer nuanced perspectives on Black Power. With the help of Shawn Leigh Alexander (@S_L_Alexander), Robyn Spencer (@racewomanist), Shannon Hanks ( from The Black Scholar) and other several scholars on Twitter, Dara and I began compiling the list and soliciting reading suggestions using the hashtag. AAIHS blogger Ashley Farmer (@drashleyfarmer), a historian of Black Power, selected the final texts and organized the readings based on key themes and subfields. Special thanks to everyone on Twitter who contributed suggestions. Please be sure to view #blackpanthersyllabus for additional reading suggestions and resources.


General Overviews on Black Power
General Overviews of the Black Panther Party
Local and Individual Chapter Studies 
Women, Gender, and Black Power
Women and Gender Politics in the Black Panther Party

Survival Programs
Political Thought of the Black Panther Party
Autobiographies
Documentaries
FBI, COINTELPRO, and Government Repression
Black Panther Newspaper, Artwork, and Photographs
International Chapters and Influence
Coalitional Politics and the Party’s Influence

*This list is being maintained by Keisha N. Blain. Please email her if you find broken links, duplicates, or errors.