Books

'Power to the People' Bleeds History on The Now

Fifty years after the formation of the Black Panthers, a pictorial/oral account reminds us of the movement's power, and promise.


Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers

Publisher: Abrams
Length: 266 pages
Authors: Stephen Shames, Bobby Seale
Price: $40.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2016-10
Amazon

The tumultuous story of America in the '60s is often told in a shadowy (at best) outline. The assassination of John F. Kennedy begat a war in Vietnam, which begat the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all of this led to major social and political upheaval within the country. Those same accounts find room for Malcolm X, Woodstock and the arrival of radicalism on college campuses across the US. The Democratic National Convention of 1968 gets some play, too, and if someone can fire off a round about Barry Goldwater and LBJ's role in these matters, so much the better for our history lesson.

History, of course, represents many streams toward understanding, and in the climate of that decade, there were sometimes unexpected confluences resulting in seismic waves. Even accounts that attempt to include some mention of the Black Panther Party can exclude some of the organization’s major contributions and its true significance.

Power to the People provides a glimpse into the lives and efforts of the Panther co-founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale as well as the many who fought and thought beside them. If not a comprehensive history, it will forever remain one that makes the story more vivid and clear in part thanks to the candid and illuminating photography of Stephen Shames as it appears in this well-crafted volume.

The outline of his story and relationship with the Black Panthers goes like this: While attending the University of California-Berkley, Shames photographed Seale at an anti-war rally. The Black Panthers were still a young organization at that time, having formed in late 1966, thus making Shames an early voice in documenting the movement. He became a photographer for the party and a close companion of Seale’s throughout the coming years, including during the Panther co-founder’s mayoral bid in Oakland in 1973.

The two have found each other again in these pages as Shames presents some of his most memorable images from the time, accompanied by Seale’s commentary and recollections from Kathleen Cleaver, Elbert “Big Man” Howard, Ericka Huggins; they are joined in these pages by the voices of Newton and Eldridge Cleaver.

Beyond the sphere of the political theatre, and not quite everything you’ve probably been taught to believe it was, the Black Panther Party sought to respond to the ravages of racism and economic inequality upon their community. Through initiatives such as providing nutritious meals, healthcare, and legal guidance, the Panthers in some ways resembled their white counterparts who were working to move children and the economically disadvantaged forward. There were stark differences, too. Their white counterparts can best be described as social workers armed with three-ring binders and a mountain of case files destined to cause the neediest to become lost in the chaos of bureaucracy. The armed Black Panthers, however, saw reality and responded to the call of need with militant accuracy and efficacy.

That thin line between advocacy and action made a significant difference in the lives of the senior citizens who found community protection in the Black Panthers who shielded them from muggings and robberies. It also made a difference in the free breakfast programs the party created for hungry children and in the offers of clothing, sickle cell screenings, and even schooling.

This description and these words fail to give the full magnitude of the story. The Black Panthers faced criticism and scrutiny from outsides sources, including J. Edgar Hoover, who saw the community-building efforts as little more than propaganda meant to hide nefarious motives he believed the organization held. One may have hoped that by now events and attitudes would more clearly show which side of history Hoover was on, but the world continues to be a reluctant student, one who can be shown the outcomes and still fail to reflect on their significance.

As informative as the accompanying text often is to the full scope of the Black Panthers’ struggle, it is Shames’ photography that tells the story in the sharpest relief possible. His work provides historically significant images of humans finding their voice in society against the odds; images of people of dignity and worth faced with circumstances that lesser souls would shrink from.

There are great struggles chronicled within these pages, including struggles that, upon the book’s publication still lay ahead: Income inequality and the ever-pervasive nature of racism become a focal point for the final chapter. The images on those pages change from black and white to color and the faces are no longer the faces of the Black Panthers and the ordinary people they reached in the time of their struggle. These are the faces of people who face similar circumstances today -- no matter that the clocks and calendars have changed. People are moved by injustice and when circumstances demand it we can count upon the best of them to act.

The final paragraph of the final chapter of Power to the People suggests that in order to carve out a better future there must be a movement to carry the message forward. What none of the Black Panthers nor Shames himself might have realized was how quickly the movement would begin forming before the ink had even dried, if you will, on these pages. Where there is fear, people will react to it. The deepest hope is that that reaction is informed by truth and strength. In that, the Black Panthers provide a template for this and future generations to build a better world.

8

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image