Black Panther/Student Movement

The Sixties in the United States was a time of extreme political involvement for many.  Many other countries saw similar activity, such as France with the Situationist Movement, but in the United States perhaps the most memorable and widespread were the civil rights and student activism that came about during this period.  Students and youth, opposed to the military intervention in Vietnam as well as the  mainstream liberalism and social conservatism that they saw, created a counter-cultural movement that sparked social revolution across the west.  Central among their many issues were rights for women and minorities.  These groups, such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), used such tools as the strike, rallies, marches, sit-ins, posters, film and an extremely active underground press to spread their message.  In addition to the – largely white – student groups operating primarily on campuses across the US, many civil rights groups and groups focused on people of color were gaining national attention.  These groups included, but were not limited to the Black Panther Party, the Red Power / American Indian Movement, Chicano movement and more.

Many of these groups focused not only on visual arts and demonstrations, but also wrote extensively.  They would frequently issue manifestos, lists of goals/desires, calls to action and generally discuss their platforms.  For example, the Black Panther Party (BPP) had four desires : equality in education, housing, employment and civil rights. It also had a 10 Point Plan to get its desired goals.  The ten points of the party platform were:

1) “Freedom; the power to determine the destiny of the Black and oppressed communities.

2) Full Employment; give every person employment or guaranteed income.

3) End to robbery of Black communities; the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules as promised to ex-slaves during the reconstruction period following the emancipation of slavery.

4) Decent housing fit for the shelter of human beings; the land should be made into cooperatives so that the people can build.

5) Education for the people; that teaches the true history of Blacks and their role in present day society.

6) Free health care; health facilities which will develop preventive medical programs.

7) End to police brutality and murder of Black people and other people of color and  oppressed people.

8) End to all wars of aggression; the various conflicts which exist stem directly from the United States ruling circle.

9) Freedom for all political prisoners; trials by juries that represent our peers.

10) Land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, peace and community control of modern industry.”

Beyond their writing, the BPP demonstrated their values through their imagery and aesthetics.  Take, for example, what former member Jamal Joseph said in a documentary.  “The panthers didn’t invent the idea that black is beautiful,” former member Jamal Joseph said in Stanley’s documentary. “One of the things that Panthers did was [prove] that urban black is beautiful.”  By sporting the highly iconic afros, berets and jackets the BPP created a trademark image still recognizable 50 years later.  More than just branding though, what the BPP did was embrace and affirm black beauty.

BPP Members
BPP Aesthetic

The BPP were truly a group rivaled by few in the clearness and pervasiveness of their brand/image.  In addition to flyers, posters and banners, the BPP’s newspaper also showcased some incredible artwork.

BPP Paper
BPP Newspapers


But, of course, the most iconic of all BPP images is the black panther itself.

Much of this iconography still remembered today could be attributed to Emory Douglas – Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party from 1967 until the Party disbanded in the 1980s.  His graphic art was featured in most issues of the newspaper The Black Panther (which had a peak circulation of 139,000 per week in 1970). As the art director, designer, and main illustrator for The Black Panther newspaper, Douglas created images that became icons, representing black American struggles during the 1960s and 1970s. According to Emory in The Black Panthers and Their High Impact Art, “The symbol of the panther came from Alabama during the civil rights movement, the discipline, determination to want to fight against the injustice young people who were confronted with the same issues they are today.” [1]

Emory Douglas Art


[1] Aleph, Faena. The Black Panthers and Their High Impact Art. 30 June 2015. Film.

1 Comment

  1. Hey there. I stumbled upon your website while looking for pictures of street art revolutionary style. I don’t know if you’re interested or are already in some kind of movement to make a change radically and politically. If so, please count me in. No one else is going to change the status quo for us so we just do it ourselves.

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