Monday 20 September 2010


A a major thank you to the filmmakers.

See the film online HERE

Thursday 9 September 2010


Power of the Panther

NZ Herald, 22 Aug, 2010

One of the first things Emory Douglas had to do in his new
job in January 1967 was to draw the pig. "Huey and Bobby
would come over after organising in the evenings and they
would talk about the pig - how they defined the police as

That's Huey Newton and Bobby Seale who had just founded the
Black Panther Party in October 1966 in Oakland, California.
Douglas, then a 23-year-old commercial art student, was
doing his best to take the idea on board. "This is all new
to me. I'm a new kid on the block. This is on-the-job
learning. I'm listening and trying to figure out how I
could express in art form what was requested of me. My
whole experience was interpreting what was being projected
and articulated verbally."

When he talks it's a mix of street and artspeak. Cool. Very
down. What was being projected was point No 7 of the Black
Panther's Ten Point Programme - "an immediate end to police
brutality and murder of black people." It was a programme
born out of socialist and communist doctrines mixed with
black nationalism, militant posture and plenty of
provocative rhetoric.

The party's uniform was blue shirts, black pants, black
leather jackets, black berets, shades and loaded shotguns -
for self defence. The party had reclaimed the American
constitutional right to bear arms - only in this case,
blacks were protecting themselves from the police.

Organised neighbourhood patrols were common - perfectly
legal under Californian law which allowed carrying a loaded
rifle or shotgun in public, as long as it was publicly
displayed and pointed at no one.

This was the new wild west of social change and a tactic
that promoted two very different tellings of history. One
is the story of the Black Panthers as hoodlums and
gun-toting gangsters who terrorised their communities. The
other is the Black Panthers as a legitimate social protest
movement - dedicated young blacks serving the people while
heroically defending themselves against unprovoked attacks
by the racist police.

At the time FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called them "the
greatest threat to the internal security of the country"
and ordered via its counter intelligence programme
'COINTELPRO' extensive covert and illegal methods to
"expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise
neutralise" the party's activities.

It's a legacy that lives on. "Even at our 40th anniversary
people were trying to say we were terrorists and that we
were hoodlums and thugs and criminals," says Douglas who is
here as the Elam International Artist in Residence at the
University of Auckland. "Thousands of people came from all
over the world to the 40th celebrations - they showed
different. They tried to say we were racists. The
progressive whites and activists came forward and they
refuted all of that."

The year 1967, when he offered his commercial art skills to
help produce the fledgling Black Panther newspaper, was the
beginning of Douglas' party politicisation. Already a
member of San Francisco City College's Black Student Union
and involved in the Bay area Black Arts movement, he was a
fast learner. He knew about youth correctional facilities
too. "The fact that you understood the bigotry and
hypocrisy of the authorities first hand, those experiences
kind of shaped what I did."

His pig-in-uniform drawings were crude and provocative -
the pig was always fat bellied, with exaggerated snout and
usually with insects swarming around the head. "That came
from seeing pigs and the slime they're eating and they have
the flies flying around them. In American culture that was
a grotesque thing."

The captions were provocative too: "A low-natured beast
that has no regard for law, justice or the rights of
people, a creature that bites the hand that feeds it, a
foul, depraved traducer, usually found masquerading as the
victim of an unprovoked attack."

Newton and Seale liked what they saw and before long
Douglas had a job title like no other - Revolutionary
Artist and Minister of Culture - and a free hand to draw as
he saw fit. "When I first started working, Bobby and Huey
made sure I understood the politics of what the party was
about. Once they saw that I understood that, and could
articulate it in my artwork, I was given the green light."

The green light - the back page of the weekly Black Panther
newspaper published from 1967 through to 1980 - unleashed
Douglas' pent-up talent and a style of drawing that he'd
tried before, but which had been rejected at commercial art
school. At its peak, from 1968-72, the Black Panther sold
about 100,000 copies a week on street corners and college
campuses across the United States.

Douglas' back-page poster image was often reprinted and
pasted on the walls of the street. In tribute to his visit
here, a run of his posters have been plastered around
Symonds St. "It reminds me of what we used to say - our
gallery is the community," says Douglas.

His style began with cartoon-like, thick black outline
drawings which developed to include collage and patterns
from Format, a less expensive version of Letraset. He liked
woodcuts, but found them too time-consuming for the demands
of a weekly deadline. "I tried to mimic woodcuts by using
markers and hard ballpoint pen lines, then using the
prefabricated textured material that you could cut out to
get the tones and the contrasts."

There are three phases that come and go and resurface in
Douglas' drawings. "The pig drawings are the earlier work.
Then there were the self defence drawings, then the ones
that dealt with social programmes."

The comic book style self defence images are the most
confronting - guns in the hands of defiant black men and
women in response to the oppressor that seem like a call to
arms, to rise up and fight. The captions reinforce the
idea: "All power to the people. Death to the pigs." Douglas
says they were about empowering and fighting for freedom.
And effecting change. "It was making them heroes. People
begin to see themselves in the images and they become the
heroes on the stage. They can identify with that."

But while the style is evidence of propaganda and a visual
mythology to give power to the people, it's easy to see how
some might be fearful of such images. Douglas is staunch:
"Those who were frightened were frightened. Those who
admired them weren't."

The social programme drawings, borne out of the Panther's
Ten Point Programme demands for decent housing, education
and employment, are softer, but more confronting in terms
of the predicament and emotion expressed. Here, Douglas
shows the conditions that made the revolution seem
necessary. In one, a woman fights off rats (landlords)
attacking her in her home. "I was trying to show a person
trying to overcome the conditions - exaggerating the
housing situation - but at the same time showing a person
who had politics in their life. Even though they were
struggling they were still concerned with the issues of
that time."

Animals - pigs, rats and vultures - feature often as
representations of not just the police and authority, but
also the entire capitalist military/industrial system. In
one image relating to the New Haven Black Panther trials in
1970 when Seale was imprisoned, the caption reads: "If the
fascist pigs attempt to murder chairman Bobby Seale and the
Connecticut Panthers in the electric chair, there won't be
any lights for days."

They were meant to be provocative, says Douglas. "And some
were meant to be humorous. So this was just saying the
blood sucking vulture is the US Government being choked by
the extension cord and hit on the head with the light

Point six in the party's programme was "all black men to be
exempt from military service." Douglas' images relating to
the issue were often about the Vietnam War and the effects
it had on those returning, such as drug addiction. It was
important, he says, to have authentic detail. "There were
people in the party who had been ex-drug addicts. When I
did this drawing [an addict shooting up] I had one brother
pose for me. But I also asked what kind of syringes and
stuff they used and that's there - what they use out on the

Douglas was very aware of other revolutionary propaganda
art of the time. "We were getting posters from Africa,
Latin America, out of Palestine and Vietnam and seeing
Chinese and Russian, plus the American art protest work. I
was mostly inspired by the work that came out of Cuba."

He says those who went there with the Venceremos Brigades
to show solidarity for the Cuban Revolution often came back
saying his drawings had come from there. Douglas insists it
was the other way round. "It was amazing, they remixed some
of my images." It's amazing too how the party's message
spread around the world, including to New Zealand's
Polynesian Panthers.

The party also got considerable support from white America
including the Honkies for Huey campaign and composer
Leonard Bernstein and friends who held fundraising parties.
The latter was lampooned by journalist Tom Wolfe in 1970 as
"radical chic" - the social elite endorsing radical causes
to assuage white guilt.

As Douglas sees it, Wolfe was buying into the
disinformation campaign. "People donate if they want to."

Did it feel like a revolution in America? "We were hopeful.
We had a swagger about ourselves believing that we could
achieve what we set out to achieve. That was overcoming the
obstacles of transforming society. And we were doing that.
It was the ideal that we were changing the mindset of

Douglas, like other Black Panthers, has obtained the file
the FBI had on him showing the level of surveillance that
was going on - the tracking of his travel, his bank account
(which had $64 in it at the time) and the questioning of
his mother and aunt.

He's yet to get his file from Operation CHAOS, the code
name for the domestic espionage project conducted by the
CIA. But the picture emerging as the information becomes
declassified shows the extraordinary measures that were
taken by the authorities to discredit the party - including
letters on forged Black Panther letterhead threatening to
kill donors to the party if they didn't give more. Douglas
agreed there were problems within the party itself that led
to its dissolution in the early 1980s - Newton getting
caught up in drugs and substance abuse and in-fighting
among party factions. But he says the Government's
discrediting campaign also played a big part.

"The fact is what we did is still something people are
inspired by. There is the solidarity and coalition
politics. That's the legacy of what the Black Panther Party
left - kind of like a blueprint that people could be
inspired by."



What: Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture, Black Panther
Party exhibition Where and when: Gus Fisher Gallery, 74
Shortland St, October 3 On the web: Public events: Emory
Douglas and the Art of Revolution - lecture University of
Auckland Engineering Building Monday August 24, 6:30pm; MC5
and the White Panthers - Gus Fisher Gallery, August 29, 1pm

Sunday 29 August 2010


I first entered Louisiana State Penitentiary in the early 60s, at the age of 18. I was in and out of that place for the rest of the decade. Back then, if you were young, black and had a record, police in New Orleans would come looking for you when they had a backlog of unsolved cases: it was called cleaning the books.

In 1969, I was locked up for a robbery I didn't do and, while inside, I joined the Black Panthers. Three years later, an inmate was stabbed to death on my prison block and, because of my politics, the authorities saw a chance to pin it on me. In 2001, I was cleared of this killing but, by then, I had spent 29 years alone in a cell.

It was a dimly lit box, 9ft by 6ft, with bars at the front facing on to the bare cement walls of a long corridor. Inside was a narrow bed, a toilet, a fixed table and chair, and an air vent set into the back wall.

Some days I would pace up and down and from left to right for hours, counting to myself. I learned to know every inch of the cell. Maybe I looked crazy walking back and forth like some trapped animal, but I had no choice – I needed to feel in control of my space.

At times I felt an anguish that is hard to put into words. To live 24/7 in a box, year after year, without the possibility of parole, probation or the suspension of sentence is a terrible thing to endure.

I was kept in the closed cell restricted (CCR) wing of the penitentiary, which is also known as Angola, after the slave plantation that was on the site prior to the prison. Three times a week I was let out for an hour to go to the exercise yard, where I was kept separate from other prisoners by razor wire.

The wardens tried to discourage us from talking, but we defied them. We were beaten up and prisoners were found hanging in their cells. Whenever I was disciplined, it was for talking. I didn't care, I refused to let them dehumanise me.

The worst punishment was the "cold box", our name for the cell within Camp J. It was down a long hallway through three sets of secure doors, and when they pushed me inside, the isolation was total. They would keep me there for a month, in blocks of 10 days, shoving food through a slot in the door. I went for days without speaking to anyone. That kind of sensory deprivation was torture for me – to survive I knew I had to keep my mind active.

One pastime I had was smuggling out praline candies that I made on my cell floor. I traded tobacco to get the ingredients of sugar, peanuts and powdered milk. I made them using a cold drink can for a pot and burning toilet paper to melt sugar.

Another thing I did was to fold up toilet paper into squares and stick them to the floor with toothpaste to make a chessboard. I would call out moves to other inmates. When we were in nearby cells I played with Herman Wallace or Albert Woodfox. Like me, they were Black Panthers kept in solitary because they were seen as a threat. They had started a chapter of the Panthers, which had helped mobilise inmates to curb some of the abuse going on inside Angola at the time.

They are still in solitary after nearly 38 years – more than any other inmate in the American prison system. They were convicted of killing a prison guard in 1972, but there's a lot of evidence that they're innocent.

Since my conviction was overturned in 2001, I have travelled constantly, educating people about the widespread use of solitary confinement in America. The words of the US Constitution prohibit what is called "cruel and unusual punishment", and yet that phrase could have been written to describe solitary confinement.

When I walked out of Angola, I didn't realise how permanently the experience of solitary would mark me. Even now my sight is impaired. I find it very difficult to judge long distances – a result of living in such a small space. Emotionally, too, I've found it hard to move on. I talk about my 29 years in solitary as if it was the past, but the truth is it never leaves you. In some ways I am still there. I made a statement when I was released that although I was free of Angola, it would never be free of me. Until Herman and Albert can join me on the outside, I have to make good on that promise.


Via the Guardian

ANGOLA-3 Campaign:

PICTURED: BPCC co-founder Sukant Chandan with Robert King, London, March 2010

Thursday 29 October 2009


Olive Morris: Forgotten activist hero
Morning Star
Wednesday 28 October 2009
By Lizzie Cocker

This picture from 1973 shows Olive confronting a rather overwhelmed
property agent Mr Defries, in defence of a squatted building, more info here

In an age when xenophobia and Islamophobia are being stoked
by illegal wars and immigration myths, the need to wrench
hidden realities from history in order to see today's
truths has never been more urgent.

And thanks to the Remembering Olive Collective (ROC)
founded by artist Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre in 2007, a
bit of this history became available to the public last
week at the Lambeth Archives in Brixton, south London.

Olive Morris, despite her awe-inspiring short life, remains
virtually unknown. And she is one of the greatest unsung
heroes I have ever come across.

My encounter with Morris began when a friend switched on my
radar for forgotten female protagonists. He mentioned a
local project he was doing on four practically unheard-of
women activists who left in their wake cultural, social and
political improvements which are enjoyed not just in London
but in some instances internationally.

Three of these women were black.

With my radar on standby, I stumbled across a website which
asked me if I "remember Olive Morris?" above a picture of a
young black woman smiling with her shades on behind a

No, I thought. I had never heard of Olive Morris.

And as I investigated further it became apparent that my
ignorance was widespread.

Morris died aged just 27 in the 1970s. But she had such an
unshakeable impact on those who knew her that many of the
people with memories, documents, photographs and letters
relating to this young woman responded to ROC's calls to
make her story a matter of public record.

As a tireless campaigner for black women, a socialist and
an internationalist, Morris dedicated herself to fighting
injustice wherever she saw it.

One of the most vivid examples was in 1969 when police
arrested a Nigerian diplomat in Brixton as he stepped out
of his Mercedes.

The police were so stunned to see a black man with such a
flashy car that their reflex was to treat him as a criminal
who had stolen it.

Crowds gathered round gaping as the police began to beat

A 17-year-old Olive struggled through the spectators and
physically tried to stop the attack.

She was flung down and subjected to black police boots
kicking her in her breasts. She was stripped naked and told
as the blows kept on coming: "This is the right colour for
your body."

One Nigerian student wrote in tribute to her upon her
death: "It is reasonable to expect that Olive Morris's
heroism will be immortalised alongside such black
luminaries like Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and many others
who were proud to be black."

But despite this ROC found while putting the jigsaw of her
life story together that this woman remained only in the
memories of those whose lives had crossed hers.

So vivid were the memories that these pieces of the jigsaw
have now found an eternal home in the archives.

As I hungrily sifted through them trying to complete my own
puzzle, it was Morris's typewritten words that climbed out
of the papers desperate to deliver the answers for problems
we continue to face today.

A graduate in social sciences from Manchester University,
Morris wrote numerous essays on Marxism, race and class. As
a Brixton Black Panther, part and parcel of her membership
was to attend lessons in Leninism and Marxism.

This education and her own activism influenced her
relationship with progressive movements and she ultimately
became frustrated with the British left, which she
described as having "more in common with the ruling class
and royalty than with fellow workers.

"Today increasingly the British working class is faced with
a choice either to defend the 'national interest' or throw
their lot in with the oppressed people of the Third World.

"The most immediate way in which this can be done is for
them to support the struggle of the Third World people in
this country," she argued.

Morris sympathised with Trinidadian activist Claudia Jones
who was poorly treated by the Communist Party, which failed
to acknowledge her far-reaching capabilities and consigned
her to an administrative role, and Grunwick striker Jayaben
Desai who was virtually abandoned by trade unions.

She became disillusioned by institutions for the working
class, which instinctively she would have had the most
natural allegiance with.

"We have used the great British tradition of trade unionism
to try and further our cause for equality and justice, but
on countless occasions we have found that the movement does
one thing for white workers and another for black workers,"
said Morris.

"White workers have time and time again refused to give our
unions recognition, they have crossed our picket lines for
racist reasons, they have organised against our
organisation in the trade unions.

"Take for instance STC (Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd)
where white trade unionists and union officials - with
exception of a few - put skin colour before the overall
interest of the proletariat and often resorted to physical
violence against their black fellow workers."

Morris was exasperated by what she saw as an inherent
self-interest that blocked mainly white apparently
progressive groups from seeing where the real battles
needed to be fought. She lambasted the Anti Nazi League
"trendies" for busying themselves with "shouting their
empty phrase of 'black and white unite and fight'."

Empty, she said, "because there was no sound basis on which
such unity could be built."

The ANL, she continued, has "become one big carnival
jamboree of political confusion for the middle class.

"It doesn't raise the political questions. It buries them
in the name of 'broadness'."

Morris highlighted that the National Front, which the ANL
directed all its enthusiasm into fighting, was merely a
symptom and not a cause of the racist ideologies and
practices which prevailed in every sector of society.

As the black groups Morris worked with organised to fight
oppression on all levels - running supplementary schools,
clubs and recreational facilities, clubbing together to buy
houses, striking, organising pickets and circulating
petitions - she urged people truly dedicated to fighting
racism to confront the issues which affect black people's
lives on a daily basis in schools, the police, local
government and even trade unions.

"Not a single problem associated with racialism,
unemployment, police violence and homelessness can be
settled by 'rocking' against the fascists, the police or
the army," she said.

"The fight against racism and fascism is completely bound
up with the fight to overthrow capitalism, the system that
breeds both."

The symptomatic BNP and other far-right organisations are
rearing their ugly heads above the fertile ground laid by a
political framework which has perpetuated the
criminalisation, social immobility and isolation of black
and ethnic minorities.

But black history has a lesson for the left.

As long as support is only forthcoming when racism is so
visible that it can no longer be ignored rather than being
part of the daily battles against all discrimination that
permeates society, the struggle to create equal conditions
for everyone will keep taking one step forward and 10 steps

To get a glimpse into the rest of Olive's life visit or visit the
at the Lambeth Archives in the Minet Library,
52 Knatchbull
Road, London SE5 9QY

Olive Elaine Morris

Born in 1952 in Jamaica and moved with her family to
Britain aged nine

Died of cancer in 1979

Travelled to China, north Africa, Ireland and Spain

A council building in Lambeth bears her name

Groups she cofounded or worked with:

The Black Panther Movement (later the Black Workers Group),

Brixton Black Women's Group

The Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent

Manchester Black Womens Co-operative

National Co-ordinating Committee of Overseas Students

Black Womens Mutual Aid Group

Brixton Law Centre

The squatter movement

Tuesday 6 January 2009


Thanks to the Black Panther Alumni for putting page 16 of the Panther Legacy magazine published by the BPCC, and available from us (see previous posts about how to get a copy/copies).

See the link for the page, which features the picture above and also this quote from Brother Huey:

"We realize that some people who happen to be Jewish and who support Israel will use the Black Panther Party’s position that is against imperialism and against the agents of the imperialist as an attack of anti-Semitism. We think that is a backbiting racist underhanded tactic and we will treat it as such. We have respect for all people, and we have respect for the right of any people to exist. So we want the Palestinian people and the Jewish people to live in harmony together. We support the Palestinian’s just struggle for liberation one hundred percent. We will go on doing this, and we would like for all of the progressive people of the world to join our ranks in order to make a world in which all people can live."

(On the Middle East, Huey Newton)