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Review

Author(s): Bala Baptiste


Review by: Bala Baptiste
Source: The Journal of African American History, Vol. 92, No. 4, New Black Power Studies:
National, International, and Transnational Perspectives (Autumn, 2007), pp. 571-573
Published by: Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20064237
Accessed: 26-04-2015 20:49 UTC

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571

New Black Power Studies: Book Reviews

the former agent denied that the FBI played any significant
Panthers. However,
to Cohendet, "The Panthers
role in the destruction of the organization. According
themselves."
destroyed
The next section examines the Black Panther Party as a template for other
ethnic

and as the vanguard


for
organizations
to
"Brown
Power
Brown
O.
G.
Jeffrey
Ogbar's

nationalist

movements.

left-wing
People:

radical

Radical

EthnicNationalism, theBlack Panthers, and Latino Radicalism" highlightsthe


role

Panthers'

in serving

nationalist

organizations,
tentative coalitions with

as

an

and Puerto Rican


inspiration for Chicano
Berets and Young
Lords. The Panthers'
such as the Peace and
left-wing organizations

the Brown

radical

Freedom Party are explored in the essays "Invisible Cages: Racialized


Politics
and the Alliance between the Panthers and the Peace and Freedom Party" by Joel

the Vanguard: White New Leftists School the Panthers on


Wilson, and "Leading
David
Barber. The final essay addresses the visual legacy
Black Revolution"
by
of the Black

in Edmund P. Morgan's
Panther Party."
noted, In Search of the Black

Panthers

Culture

"Media

and

the Public

of the Black

Memory
As previously
Panther Party offers the reader
that attempt to treat the Panthers in an academic, but sympathetic
perspectives
manner. Therefore, some may contend that the book does not offer a critical
assessment of the organization. Essays addressing gender are notably absent from

the book, although thememoirs by former Panthers Kathleen Cleaver and Elaine
in several essays. Nonetheless,
Brown are mentioned
and the
Lazerow, Williams,
for producing a collection of essays
contributing authors are to be commended
that compels scholars to reexamine
and African American history.

the Black

Panthers

U.S.

and their true impact on

Oscar Williams
State University

Curtis J.Austin, Up Against the Wall:


the Black Panther Party. Fayetteville,

Violence
Arkansas:

2006. Pp. 456. Cloth, $34.95.

of New

in theMaking
University

York, Albany

and Unmaking of
of Arkansas
Press,

The subtitleof Curtis J.Austin's book Up Against theWall indicates that

internal and external violence

played major

roles in themaking

and unmaking

of

theBlack PantherPartyforSelf-Defense (BPP). The Oakland, California-based


group of armedmilitants set out beginning in 1966 to challenge the statepolice

forces by employing violent "revolutionary"


tactics. In the meantime,
the BPP
serve the community by patrolling the streets in an attempt to stop police
brutality, establishing free health clinics, serving children free breakfasts, and

would

encouraging

voting among black and poor constituencies.

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572

The Journal

of African

American

History

of the BPP over a six-year period between


on the role violence played in the founding
and its downfall. Austin concludes
of the party, its decision-making,
that the
saw
Panthers adopted armed self-defense because
they
police brutality against
black citizens as a principal problem in a post-World War II milieu
inwhich the
Austin

examined

1966 and 1972. His

the activities

narrative focuses

SovietUnion and theUnited States engaged ina global battle for ideological and

political supremacy. The Panthers' emergence and ideology were inspired in part
and the Caribbean
by the struggles of peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America,
to
who
tactics
used violent
colonial
revolutionary
fight their respective
oppressors. Not all of the revolutions of the postwar period were violent on the
Gandhi's
led to
part of the oppressed, he noted; Mahatma
peaceful movement
India's independence
in 1947.
to revolutionary models,
In addition
drew
ideas and
party members
as
Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon, the psychiatrist
inspiration from ideologues such

Fanon
said one of the ways
the
was
violent
resistance.
through
Subsequently,
underprivileged gained self-respect
the BPP leadership taught itsmembers this ideology as a way of developing and
and participant

in the Algerian

maintaining solidarity.
The Panthers believed

Revolution.

for African
struggle was the best means
to gain independence from the white supremacist power structures in
Americans
armed revolution was difficult, if not impossible,
the United States. However,
of African Americans,
40 percent of whom
without the support of the masses
that armed

beliefs that condemned


regularly and held strong Christian
The
nonviolent
murder
and
killing.
wing of the Civil Rights
premeditated
was
BPP
founders Huey
Movement
another large impediment. Nevertheless,
attended

church

armed struggle would


succeed
and Bobby
Seale believed
about the end of black oppression at the hands of white supremacists

Newton

and bring
and police

forces.

When Newton and Seale founded theBPP inOctober 1966, theybelieved the

force and violence against black residents, and someone


police used excessive
needed to defend and protect them. The founders armed themselves and recruited
young blacks who carried rifles and guns openly in public for protection. The
Panthers sometimes dared police officers to fire at them, and when they did in

Chicago, Oakland, Los Angeles, and other cities, Panthers and policemen ended
up dead. At the same time, according to Austin, this violence also contributed to
the downfall of the organization. Austin uses details from interviews to provide
graphic accounts of the violence. Through an interview with a former Panther
in Oakland
and
called "BJ," Austin learned that the rift between BPP members

eventually turned bloody; and the Harlem group, under the influence of
leaned toward criminal activity, including
later BPP defector Eldridge Cleaver,
group continued
robbing banks and shooting police officers. The Oakland
efforts
such as the free
its
development
community
agenda through
supporting

Harlem

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573

New Black Power Studies: Book Reviews

located
in the Oakland
for children. BJ, a member
program
to
maintain
and
the
went
to
Harlem
Panthers'
lucrative
expand
help
headquarters,
an
office inHarlem, which then
newspaper sales. The Oakland
chapter opened
breakfast

The East Coast


faction was
chapter for members.
and some of itsmembers were suspected of setting fire to

the local

with

competed

angered by this move

thebuilding thathoused theOakland operation.Firemenfightingtheblaze found

an Oakland

Panther's

"tortured and bullet-ridden

body

[lying]

smoldering

in

smoke and flames."


The unmaking of the Panthers can also be traced to the differences with other
Black Power organizations. While militant black nationalists often assumed a
separatist posture
such as Maulana

in pursuit of their liberationist objectives, cultural nationalists


of US
and the members
that African
believed
Karenga

and understand the values and practices of African


should'know
on
the continent and throughout the Diaspora. However,
local, state, and
peoples
national law enforcement and intelligence agencies exacerbated and even created

Americans

tensions

between

the BPP

and

Karenga's
clashes
and

US

Organization
using agent
led to the
disputes over "turf
Power groups.
some print and broadcast media portrayed the Panthers as cultural
Whereas
labeled them violent criminals. The BPP
law enforcement officials
heroes,
and

provocateurs;
ideological
notorious gun battles between the two Black

sometimes committed crimes


did include former criminals who
membership
while representing the organization. However, Austin pointed out that the vast
in
majority of the Panthers' activities advanced the interests of the communities
discussion of the Panthers
they were located. And to his credit, Austin's
and their activities is based on information from interviews with former party
members, and many had not gone on record previously.
which

Austin cites these interviews in the notes to the chapters; however, few if any
of the audio or videotapes are in the public domain. Instead, Austin has kept them
in his private collection. It is troubling that he has not yet provided researchers
it difficult for other scholars to
opportunities to use his collection. This makes

verify the accounts of the former Panthers whom he interviewed. Perhaps Austin
intends to deposit copies of the tapes in an archive; however, the notes indicate

thathe conducted interviewsin 1996with formerPanthersEddie Thibideaux and

Martin Kenner. Austin's


than enough

book was published in 2006. Ten years is certainly more


the contents of the interviews and make this

time for him to use

important primary source material

available

to other scholars.
Bala Baptiste

Miles College

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