Written by Cathleen Lewis, Manager of High School Programs
“Emory Douglas: Black Panther” is a survey of the graphic designer Emory Douglas’s work from the time he was the Minister of Culture and the designer for the Black Panther, a weekly newspaper that served as the voice of the Panther movement from its inception in 1967. Douglas was a founding member until the Party’s demise in the late 1970s.
This is a show about Douglas, and his unique graphic vocabulary. But Douglas’s body of work, taken as a whole, also gives a visual history of the Black Panther Party. Douglas joined the Party after founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. He is responsible for the now-famous emblems of the crouching panther, and the pig, which after 1968 entered the general vocabulary as a stand-in for the police. Douglas’s posters, handbills, and general design for a newspaper—whose circulation in the US was once estimated to be 400,000—also featured the ennobled photographs of the party’s heroes. It also charted its development from an organization fixated on self-defense against police brutality, to a more complicated organization that not only ran crucial social programs in US ghettos, but became, in coalition with other liberal organizations, a participant in government at the local and the national level.
This lesson is part of the Emory Douglas curriculum that utilizes the artist's work from the period that he was the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Culture and the designer for the Black Panther, the Party’s weekly newspaper. Douglas’s unique graphic vocabulary mixes influences from classic activist artists of the 1930s and ’40s. Selected by the Los Angeles artist Sam Durant, whose work often deals with political and cultural subjects in American history, the exhibition includes more than 165 posters, newspapers, and prints dating from 1967 to 1976.
“The Black Panthers were not Black Nationalist; the Panthers’ goal was an end to global capitalism and imperialism. They believed that the worldwide problems of oppression could only be solved in alliance with countries outside of the Western world, coalitions not determined by race, but by ideology.”
The war in Vietnam, and overarching issues of imperialism and colonialism in countries such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America were concerns of many people during the 1960s. Artists used lyrics and images as tools of activism to talk to other people.
Ask students to listen to Gil Scott Heron’s song “What’s the Word.”
- Show "April 22, 1977," (The city of Oakland...) and ask students to read the text.
- Ask students to describe the image and its relationship to the text.
- Ask students if they thought it was possible that the US would support atrocities in South Africa? Ask them to support their opinions.
Ask students to research conditions in South Africa under apartheid and compare them to conditions post-apartheid. Have students write a research paper and present findings to the class. How have conditions changed? Are all people living and sharing resources? Ask students to support their claims with evidence from their research.
- View the following Douglas images:
- In the Spirit of Revolutionary Solidarity
- Our Fight is Not in Vietnam
- Solidarity with the African American People
- After viewing the images ask students to discuss how the Black Panther Party showed their unity with other groups in their fight against imperialism and capitalism.
- Have students discuss the ways that other Third World organizations modeled their message and imagery after Emory Douglas’s work for the Black Panther Party.
- Third World Organizations
- “The Black Panther Party was but one of the many African American revolutionary organizations that emerged post-Malcolm, and the full momentum of the Black Liberation Movement had a profound impact on the rise of the new Third World Left in the US. But the bold vision of armed, disciplined, and even uniformed rants of militant Black Panthers brazenly confronting “The Man” quickly sparked the imaginations of angry, progressive ghetto youth and students from coast to coast. Other Black, Latino, and Asian groups modeled their political programs almost verbatim after the widely publicized Ten-Point Platform and Program of the Black Panther Party.”
The Black Panthers weren’t the only black organization that claimed to be the heirs of Malcolm X’s legacy. His name, face, and words were ubiquitous in publications and organizational programs across the nation. And as the influence of Malcolm X was felt by the Black Panther Party and other groups like it, the Party in turn influenced their Asian American and Latino counterparts, as evidenced by their presence on the bilingual pages of Third World revolutionary newspapers. Information on the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican organization influenced by the Black Panther Party.
Discuss COINTELPRO with students. COINTELPRO was a counterintelligence agency created to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of Black Nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leaderships, spokesmen, membership, and supporters, and to counter their propensity for violence and civil disorder. COINTELPRO tactics include disrupting the distribution of the Black Panther newspaper, bribery, blackmail, planting spies within the party, and sending threatening letters to Panther leadership falsely signed by leaders of the Party, leaders of other groups, and even gangs like Chicago’s Blackstone Rangers.
- Ask students to read the five goals of COINTELPRO.
- The Miami division of COINTELPRO developed a source at a local television station, and the source produced a news special on black nationalists and on the “New Left.”
- The news media sought out figures to represent the movement that they could use to manipulate and distort their words to portray the movement as radical and extremist.
- Using their media savvy, they employed uncomfortable seating, camera angles, editing, and other tools to misrepresent the movement.
- “Success in this case resulted from hard work and acumen on the part of the Agents who handled the matter. Especially important was the choice of individuals interviewed as they did not have the ability to stand up to a professional newsman.” - Director to 42 Filed Offeces, August 5, 1968
- Ask students about the role of the news media in COINTELPRO’s work against the Black Nationalist movement.
- Does the news media play a role in a democracy, to report the news or make the news?
What do you think the role of the news media should be? Why?
- Have students to watch a clip of and interview of Malcolm X.
- How did Malcolm X conduct himself during the interview? Do you feel that he was handled in a professional manner?
- What was the demeanor of the interviewer?
- Was the interview effective in disarming Malcolm X’s oratory skills?
- Have students discuss Malcolm X’s agility in keeping the focus on his agenda and the movement’s purpose.
Referring to Douglas’s overall practice, how does he focus on the Black Panther Party’s goals? Refer to the the Party’s Ten-Point Platform. Have students navigate through the images and select one that corresponds to each point. Have students provide visual proof as to why they select the images.
- COINTELPRO ran a program of frequently illegal sabotage and infiltration that was kept secret from the public. How do you think this strategy may have altered public perception?
Have students list on the board the different interests of the Black Panther Party by looking at the Emory Douglas images in the digital archive. Ask students to comment on the diversity of the Party’s interests.
Have students write a response to these questions: When have your preconceived notions been altered? What informed these notions? What and who altered them?
- From Guns to Politics
- In 1969, the Black Panther Party’s emphasis shifted from armed resistance to the development of social programs, participation in electoral politics, and international coalition building across racial lines. Alliances were made with democratic and social democratic parties, as well as with organizations like the United Farm Workers, and the Young Lords, who were struggling for equal rights for Latinos, Asian Americans, and gay people. The Black Panther Party used their constitutional right to bear arms until that right was repealed by the state of California in 1967. With law books in hand as well as guns, Huey Newton (a law student) and Bobby Seale patrolled community neighborhoods, cutting down on crime and advocating for self-defense against police brutality.
- East Bay legislator Don Mulford introduced a bill to repeal the law that permitted citizens to carry loaded weapons in public places so long as the weapons were openly displayed [see link to California Penal Code, Sections 12031 and 171.c]. What the Mulford law sought to achieve was the elimination of the Black Panther Police Patrols, and it had been tagged “the Panther Bill” by the media.
See the following PBS Web site for more information on the Black Panther Party patrols, the constitutional right to bear arms, and more information on the Mulford Act.
- View We Shall Survive. Without A Doubt
- Discuss design elements with students.
- How does Douglas draw the eye towards the main figure?
- How does Douglas create symmetry?
- How does Douglas create depth, texture, and variety?
- How does he tell us what the Black Panther Party is doing in the community without naming the Party?
Discuss how Douglas uses thin and thick lines, color (minimal), and a variety of marks to create texture and space, and to move the eye around the image. Discuss how his images become complex images by using variety of mark-making techniques.
- Look at Vote For Survival
- Have students discuss the women in the image.
- Where did she receive her groceries? How do we know this?
- Where did she get her new pair of shoes? What visual evidence do we see that indicates this?
- Is she rich or poor?
- Why is she smiling?
- What sign is she holding?
Inform students that Party Members Chairman Bobby Seale ran for Mayor of Oakland, and Minister of Information Elaine Brown for Oakland City Council. They actively joined electoral politics as well as supporting non-Party members, such as Shirley Chisholm for US President, in 1972. The image speaks of community engagement and responsibilities to civic duty, and also to their need to have basic needs met.
- Look at Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown
- Have students discuss how Douglas used design elements to move our eyes around the page.
- Douglas’s constant use of radiating lines suggests majesty and divinity.
Pictures of Elaine Brown and Bobby Seale are showed in the forefront representing all the people of the community.
- Look at A Vote For Chisholm Is a Vote For Survival
In this image Douglas address poverty in the black community by depicting children in need. Off-center is a framed picture of Shirley Chisholm, who was the first black woman elected to Congress in 1968, and who later ran for president in 1972.
Greg Jung Morozumi, “Emory Douglas And The Third World Cultural Revolution,” from Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas, New York: Rizzoli, 132.
Sam Durant, Black Panther The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas, New York: Rizzoli.