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Children and the Black Panther Party, an Introduction
The Black Panther Party has garnered the attention of popular media and academics alike since its inception in the mid 1960s. Through a combination of monographs, films, scholarly and popular articles, and oral history interviews, to name a few, researchers interested in the Panthers’ legacy have documented its dynamic story across many realms, from its far-reaching and widely-replicated community service programs, to the group’s involvement in electoral politics in the 1970s and beyond. The past twenty-five years in particular have witnessed a rise in scholarship addressing the historical role of women and gender in the Black Power organization, much of which has been substantiated by a steady increase in the number of memoirs and essays written by former members. Works by Ericka Huggins, Angela LeBlanc-Ernest, and Tracye Matthews, among many others have helped underscore the nuanced and dynamic nature of the relationship between gender and labor within the BPP, as well as the range of arenas in which the organization operated. Yet, even with this shift in historiographical focus towards the more intimate realms of Panther history, many of the Party’s key players continue to received little attention in Black Power narratives: namely, children.
Though the BPP was comprised of a relatively young membership – most had not yet turned twenty years of age at the time of joining – many Panthers ultimately raised children while working for the Party, while others came into the organization’s ranks with families. From the Party’s early years, children assumed a central presence in much of the group’s everyday operations, as students of its alternative schools, beneficiaries of BPP social service programs, attendees at Party meetings, and as targets of government scrutiny. Many, too, shared in the organization’s collective structure, as residents in communal households, witnessing first-hand the ways in which the personal and political were inextricably linked for Panther families.
Through a collection of articles from the Party's newspaper, The Black Panther, and photographs from the Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch collection, this essay sheds light on the role of children in the Party’s history. Though not a comprehensive or nuanced overview of the experiences of children and youth who grew up in Panther families and communities, it is my hope that this exhibit will broaden our understanding of those involved in the Party’s development. Through these materials, then, this essay aims to offer a glimpse into the history of the children of the Black Power movement, a cohort which I argue both shaped, and was shaped by the Panthers’ vision for social and economic change. See Ericka Huggins and Angela LeBlanc-Ernest, “Revolutionary Women, Revolutionary Education: The Black Panther Party’s Oakland Community School,” in Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle, eds. Dayo F. Gore, Jeanne Theoharis, and Komozi Woodard (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 161-184; Tracye Matthews, “‘No One Ever Asks, What a Man’s Role in the Revolution Is’: Gender and the Politics of the Black Panther Party, 1966-1971,” in The Black Panther Party Reconsidered, ed. Charles E. Jones (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1998), 257-304.