Publishing As Political Action: The Enduring Influence Of The Black Panther Party Newspaper

Publishing As Political Action: The Enduring Influence Of The Black Panther Party Newspaper

Via the National Archives UK

Via the National Archives UK

Publishing has long played a major part in empowering and organizing the Black community. The newspaper for the Black Panthers was no expectation. The Black Panther newspaper debuted in Oakland 1967, which was actually the first year of the Party. It started out as a four-page, hand-typed newsletter. It was put together with an IBM typewriter, Elmer’s glue, and a copy machine. 

“Its first edition announced a community meeting and featured an article about Denzil Dowell, who was killed by an officer of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department,” Cross Cut reported.

As the party grew so did the paper.

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“Within a year, its distribution was over 250,000, and it continued to publish through the ’70s. The paper served as the Party’s ideological mouthpiece, chronicling police brutality, championing liberation struggles around the world, and connecting 48 Party chapters in 30 major cities,” the Columbia Journalism Review reported. The paper had dispatched from all over the world — Oakland, New York, Algeria, New Zealand, among other places. At its peak, from 1968 to 1971, The Black Panther was the country’s most-read Black newspaper

The newspaper was sold by the party’s members and was also a source of financial empowerment for them. Each issue sold for 25 cents; sellers kept 10 cents.

“Selling papers was an everyday responsibility for almost all Panthers,” Elmer Dixon, who with his brother Aaron co-founded the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, told Cross Cut. “It was very important to keep the information flowing out into the community.”

The paper was also a way for the party to recruit new members as well as spread the Party’s message. All members were required to read the newspaper.

“Black Panthers selling papers on the corner made you think that there’s a bunch of people who believe in this other way,” Stanley Nelson, director of a documentary film on the group, “Vanguard of the Revolution,” told The Columbia Journalism Review. 

Oakland member Billy X Jennings used to sell the newspaper and has now become the de-facto historian and archivist of the Black Panther Party. Jennings, who started developing his Black Panther newspaper archive for a 30-year reunion of former Party members, currently hosts an online collection of Black Panther newspapers and maintains a physical archive of newspapers at his home in Sacramento. 

The newspaper was much more than a tool for the party and its message. It told the story of Black people and people of color, not just from the U.S. but from around the world. 

“The Black Panther’s voice stood out: the paper regularly featured fiery rhetoric, called out racist organizations, and was unabashed in its disdain for the existing political system…it became well known for its bold cover art: woodcut-style images of protestors, armed Panthers, and police depicted as bloodied pigs,” The Columbia Journalism Review reported.

The paper would run stories about police brutality and social justice for a radical Black audience from around the county. It ran speeches by Eldridge Cleaver, editorial cartoons and art by Emory Douglas, and contributions from Panthers and supporters from across the country. Each issue also included the Party’s manifesto, the 10 Point Program

“The paper reported on key events affecting the Party and the Black community, such as the eight-month trial of the Panther 21, a group of 21 members accused of conspiracy to attack a New York City police station and an education office; the raid and murder of Fred Hampton, a popular Panther leader in Chicago; and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. It also covered other resistance movements and activism in the Bay Area, most notably the case of Los Siete, a Chicano group framed for the murder of a San Francisco police officer,” The Columbia Journalism Review reported.

The Black Panther ran an impressive international section that reported on liberation struggles around the world; under editor in chief David DuBois (stepson of W.E.B. DuBois).

It also wasn’t afraid to tackle problems within the party, such as sexism. 

As the party’s membership fade, the paper eventually folded in 1980.