In new book UC Berkeley historian Waldo E. Martin, Jr. takes Black Panther Party's point of view

Historians in the News
tags: Black Panthers

Mr. Briley is Assistant Headmaster, Sandia Preparatory School.

The Black Panther Party (BPP) is a growing topic of interest for scholars with numerous dissertations being produced on various party programs and local activities, but in Black Against Empire, Joshua Bloom, a Fellow at the Ralph J. Bunche Center at UCLA, and Waldo E. Martin, Jr., Professor of History at the University of California Berkeley, seek to provide a synthesis of Panther political history—focusing upon the meteoric rise and fall of the BPP between 1967 and 1972. This is a well written narrative and analytical history that does not overwhelm the reader with theoretical references, but it is also a book that may antagonize some readers with its sympathetic portrayal of the BPP and its revolutionary ideology.

Essentially, Bloom and Martin write their history from the perspective of the BPP, relying upon oral histories of the party as well as a close reading of the party newspaper, The Black Panther. The authors also devote considerable attention to the turbulent historical context in which the Panthers rapidly grew and declined. Bloom and Martin argue that the core ideological construct provided by the party’s founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale was the concept that black Americans in the nation’s inner cities constituted internal colonies exploited by capitalism and controlled by the police. Thus, colonized and exploited black Americans needed to make common cause with people of color around the world, such as the Vietnamese, Algerians, and Cubans, who were resisting American imperialism. Based upon their experience in Oakland, California, Newton and Seale concentrated their attention upon the police as tools of state oppression, and seizing upon California’s law allowing the open carrying of weapons, the Panther leaders urged the black community to arm themselves against the police and monitor their activities in the ghetto....

In the final analysis, Bloom and Martin seem to lament the passing of the Panthers and their revolutionary potential, writing, “No revolutionary movement of political significance will gain a foothold in the United States again until a group of revolutionaries develops insurgent practices that seize the political imagination of a large segment of the people and successively draw support from other constituencies, creating a broad insurgent alliance that is difficult to repress or appease. This has not happened in the United States since the heyday of the Black Panther Party and may not happen again for a very long time” (401). Bloom and Martin have produced a fascinating and comprehensive political history of the BPP, essentially told from the party’s perspective, which will certainly draw criticism from those contesting the violence and political legacy of the party, but Black Against Empire will likely remain a focal point of BPP scholarship for the foreseeable future.

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