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The Black Panthers: Photographs by Stephen Shames

August 22 — October 6, 2007

Bobby Seale speaks a a Free Huey rally
Bobby Seale speaks at a Free Huey rally in DeFremery Park. At left is BPP Captin Bill Brent;
at right is BPP Captain Wilford Holiday [known as "Captain Crutch"], Oakland, 1968.
© 2006 by Stephen Shames

In the midst of the civil rights movement, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the legendary Black Panther Party in 1966 in Oakland, California.  The party, revered by some and vilified by others, burst onto the scene with a revolutionary agenda for social change and the empowerment of African Americans.  Its methods were controversial and polarizing, so much so that in 1969 FBI director J. Edgar Hoover described the organization as the country’s greatest threat to internal security. 

In April 1967, Stephen Shames, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, met the Panthers at a rally to end the war in Vietnam.  He was invited to photograph them and continued to do so until 1973.  His close friendship with the Panthers, and Seale in particular, gave Shames unusual access to the organization, allowing him to record not only the public face of the party—street demonstrations, protests, militant posturing—but also unscripted behind-the-scenes moments, from private meetings in party headquarters to Bobby Seale at work on his mayoral campaign in Oakland.  The immediacy and intimacy of Shames’ photographs offer a nuanced portrait of this dynamic period in U.S. history.

Free Huey Rally
Free Huey rally in front of the Alameda County Courthouse. Huey P. Newton, cofounder and
Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party, was on trial inside for first-degree murder
of a police officer. He was acquitted on the murder charge but sentenced for
voluntary manslaughter. Oakland, September 1968
© 2006 by Stephen Shames

“The year 2006 marked the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party.  Four decades have clarified the important role the Party played in the African-American struggle to gain equity and justice in America.  The issues addressed in their Ten Point Platform are still relevant today: full employment, decent housing, education, fair trials, economic justice, and the end of police brutality.  The Party sought to build community through service to the people.  To achieve this, they provided free food, clothing, and medical services.  They gave purpose to the aimless, angry youth loitering on street corners, molding young people into disciplined hard workers who served their community.  Their black pride was based not on denigrating whites, but on showing the black community that it needed to control its own destiny….”

Stephen Shames
From The Black Panthers (Aperture 2006)