The summer interns at The Norton Museum of Art have had busy few months, curating shows and giving tours of the various shows on display. The main show they put together from the Norton photo archives opened July 30 called The Summer of ’68: Photographing the Black Panthers, featuring a collection of 22 photographs by husband-and-wife team Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch. These photos are recent additions to the Museum Collection, as they chronicle the lives and work of the controversial, California-based group’s members. The show will be on view through November 29, 2015.
The photographs span a variety of subject matter that document the activity, places and faces of the Black Panther Party during the tumultuous summer of 1968. The exhibit highlights the organization’s work as a catalyst for social change in the community of Oakland, CA.
During this time, the Black Panther Party was seen by most of the United States as a violent, militant organization, but Jones and Baruch took it upon themselves to portray the party in a different light. The Black Panthers were formed in California in 1966 and they played a short but important part in the civil rights movement.
They dressed in black leather and black berets, donning as their identity a revolutionary look forged by such controversial revolutionaries as Fidel Castro and Che Guevera. The Black Panthers believed that the non-violent campaign of peace preachers like Martin Luther King had failed and any promised changes to their lifestyle via the ‘traditional’ civil rights movements of non-violent protest, would take too long to be implemented or simply not introduced. Recent films like Selma and The Butler showed the many ways communities and individuals were acting and reacting to civil rights protests and issues.
The language of the Black Panthers was violent as was their public stance as voiced by their leaders Huey Percy Newton and Bobby Seale. The Black Panther Party had four goals: equality in education, housing, employment and civil rights. They had a 10 Point Plan to get there. The call for a revolutionary war against authority at the time of the Vietnam War alarmed the FBI to the Black Panther’s activities. Whatever happened in the ensuing trials and events, the FBI was successful in destroying the Black Panther’s movement.
Those who supported the Panthers claim that the FBI used dirty tactics such as forging letters to provoke conflict between the leaders; organizing the murders of some leaders; initiating a “Black Propaganda” campaign to convince the public that they were a threat to national security; using infiltrators to commit crimes that could be blamed on them so that leaders could be arrested and writing threatening letters to jurors during trials so that the BPP would be blamed for attempting to pervert the course of justice. None of the tactics have ever been proved or admitted to by the FBI, and it was a dark time in American history for all involved.
In California, the party leader of Oakland, David Hilliard, claimed that the Panther Party was at the top of the FBI’s most wanted list. Hilliard also claimed that California Governor Ronald Reagan, constantly vilified the group.
But to view the Panthers as a purely revolutionary and violent movement is wrong. In areas of support the BPP created a Free Food Program to feed those who could not afford to do so for themselves, ultimately feeding nearly 200,000 people; their Free Medical Research Health Clinics provided basic health care and an Intercommunal Youth Band gave community pride to the movement.
In a book of his essays called “To Die for the People”, Huey Newton wrote that these groups were what the African-American community wanted and that the Panthers were providing its own people with something the government was not. They preached for a “revolutionary war” but though they considered themselves an African-American party, they were willing to speak out for all those who were oppressed from whatever minority group. They were willing to use violence to get what they wanted, something that causes controversy to this day.
The Summer of ’68 was organized by the Norton’s 2015 Summer Interns with the help of the Museum’s Education and Curatorial Departments. This summer’s interns are: Claire Hurley, who will be a junior at the University of Virginia; Lily Harants, a rising senior at Hofstra University; Lauren Plawecki, entering her senior year at the University of Michigan; and Emilia Garber, a recent graduate of Ohio University.
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Black Panthers Take A Photo Stand at the Norton Museum of Art, Featuring an Exhibit Called called The Summer of ’68: Photographing the Black Panthers.