Women key in shaping Black Panther Party | The Clayman Institute for Gender Research – by Nicole Martin on Monday, January 6, 2014 – 12:26pm
Photo of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, armedWhen many people think of the Black Panther Party today, the image that comes to mind is male-centered and violent: a powerful man wearing the Panther’s signature black beret, with gun prominently in hand. This image has been seared into the collective conscious and appears on thousands of posters and t-shirts. It may be surprising, then, to learn that by the early 1970s the Black Panther Party was two-thirds female.
Historian Ashley Farmer, who is a postdoctoral fellow at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, offers an alternative to the conventional, macho portrayal of the Black Panthers. Farmer’s research shows that women played an instrumental role in shaping the black power movement. Their participation created new political models that encouraged women to be active and public revolutionary figures alongside men.
Farmer combed through publications such as The Black Panther newspaper to find evidence of black women’s public role. She looked particularly at newspaper artwork produced by women artists. What she found is that these women defied gender roles by depicting women as strong, gun-toting revolutionaries. In addition, women set a community-focused revolutionary agenda that supported programs for daycare, groceries, and housing. This research forms part of Farmer’s future book, tentatively titled What You’ve Got is a Revolution: Black Women’s Movements for Black Power.