Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A few thoughts.
After Dan Berger re-ignited my interest in ‘60s era radical politics with his excellent Weather Underground book and inspiring appearance at A Cappella Books, I have inadvertently positioned myself as something of an expert on the topic of anti-American activities of the late sixties and early seventies. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. I am the definition of the novice student of radical sixties culture. I know the soundtrack of the period very well, but when it comes to more substantive matters, I am a passionate beginner, a very late beginner to be sure, but a beginner. Do not get me wrong. I have always wanted to change this fetid government of ours, but I was not clear on the history of the subject, until quite recently. Over the course of the last two years I have been catching up and reading everything I can get my hands on. Perhaps my status as a new comer to this material makes my opinion worth hearing. My eyes are nothing if not fresh. For whatever it is worth, I will continue to give my four cents worth in these non-pages. Anyone who cares to hear what I have to say is very welcomed, indeed.

Several friends have recently asked what I considered to be a definitive overview of the Black Panther Party, a book that does for the Panthers what Berger’s book does so very well for Weather. Unfortunately, I am not aware of such a book. I have written at length about several beautiful art books of Panther photography and art, but that is hardly the same thing. I have mentioned in passing several excellent anthologies on the subject of the Panthers. These include Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party, (Routledge Press, 2001), edited by Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas and The Black Panther Party (Reconsidered), (Black Classics Press, 2005), edited by Charles E. Jones. Both titles are excellent collections of essays by dozens of scholars and ex-panthers. There are two similar collections I have not previously mentioned: In Search of the Black Panther Party, (Duke University Press, 2006), edited by Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams, and, just published, Comrades: A Local History of the Black Panther Party, (Indiana University Press, 2007), edited by Judson L. Jeffries. These are likewise recommended, though hardly definitive.

There are a number of interesting memoirs written by ex-Panthers. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is Elaine Brown’s A Taste of Power (Anchor Books, 1994). Three lesser known works I would also recommend are: We Want Freedom (South End Press, 2004) by Mumia Abu-Jamal, A Panther Is a Black Cat (Black Classics Press, 2007) by Reginald Major and Will You Die With Me? (Washington Square Press, 2006) written by Flores Alexander Forbes.

Two recent mixed media releases offer some things that books cannot give. The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service: 1967 – 1980) (Atria Books, 2007), edited by David Hilliard, includes a DVD with some interesting footage and interviews with Hilliard, one of the few surviving Panther founding fathers. On the other hand, the accompanying music-video style footage did not do much for this viewer/reader.

What We Want, What We Believe: The Black Panther Party Library (AK Press DVD), is a floodgate of Panther related information and footage. I have only begun to swim through this material and it is a fun, eye-opening adventure I recommend to all interested parties.

I am still searching for that definitive book on this topic, but in the meantime I will enjoy this new DVD and continue to find much worth finding in the many books already written on the important, vanguard political party called the Black Panther Party.


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