The posters looked down onto the street from the top of the garage next door to Wayne’s house, iconic gazes staring out defiantly, images replete with beret, gun belt and shotgun in various poses of challenge, provocation and contempt. These posters had become a reflection of the times for a lot of people back in those days, symbols of a burgeoning inner city militant revolutionary new way of thinking.
Out of these struggles was born the Black Panther Party, and the movement had taken hold in many of the major U.S. cities, including on the street where we lived at that time, and our city was no different, being an urbanized metropolis where the seeds of unrest and resistance were met with a fervor and acquiescence from those who felt that the system had let them down.
The news media at that time seemed to revel in the violent aspects of the Black Panther movement, and it was a real fact that some very extreme and violent confrontations took place between the Panthers and the Police. Thus in the newspapers, and in the news on TV, the Black Panthers were portrayed as a menacing and communistic criminal element intent on causing social strife. The posters were frightening to many.
But these were not the Black Panthers that I knew where we lived, and as an outsider I took a much different perspective. I saw another way than the militant course of action, more enlightening and informative, of betterment of oneself, and of using education as a means of empowerment, of nurturing children and having the pride that accompanies elevating one’s dignity by raising consciousness.
On our street the Panthers had a breakfast program that kids who needed it could go to before school started so they wouldn’t be hungry in the morning when they had to be at their sharpest. The Panthers gave lessons on self-reliance and self-awareness to the kids, and used various means of tutelage such as The Red Book, and Marxist ideology while fostering self-control as a positive endeavor.
I guess it really must have seemed so radical and contemptuous to many of the people in this country that these minorities would take this kind of approach to the status quo, after what many felt were the failures of the civil rights movement. For what did the white majority see? Violent communists, the black leather jacket and the black beret, arms lifted up high defiantly with fists raised to the sky.
The Panthers were not as singularly turbulent and tumultuous as many in the majority thought; they were about pride, and the means to embolden people. The mantra was positive yet at the same time defiant, it was about dignity and respect both given and received. Mostly it was about the long struggle in this nation against ignorance, hypocrisy and the unfair treatment of ethnic minorities.
The Black Panther posters on the wall where we lived were just a part of the effort to motivate and provide some passion and inspiration for anyone on any street in any city who embraced and supported the cause.
(Down the street from our house - Ray took this picture back in his High School days)