Power of the Panther: The Origins of the Black Panther's Black Power Logo

>> Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In recent months, a couple people have told me that, "The Black Panthers started in L.os A.ngeles." Many Oakland-natives would know the above statement to be untrue, considering the role the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense played in the city. The Black Panther iconography holds a special place in Oakland history. For example, in 2007, upon restarting the Laney College Black Student Union (Laney BSU), the community college students incorporated the Black Panther into its organizational logo. However, many people do not know that the origins of the Black Panther and Party lay in Alabama. Student-led efforts for political empowerment of in Jim Crow Alabama led to the adoption and dissemination of the Black Panther as a revolutionary icon that would come to symbolize Black Power against white oppression. After emerging in Alabama in 1965-1966, the Black Panther came west to Los Angeles and Oakland. After the formation of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, the Black Panther later became an internationally recognized icon of “Black Power” and revolution.

The Alabama Origins of Black Power and the Black Panther

In 1965, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), led by then activist Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure)–who later became SNCC’s chair–organized a voter registration project in Lowndes County, Alabama. Although 80 percent of County residents were Black, the white power structure kept all from voting. The LFCO adopted the Black Panther as the organization’s logo. The organization was also known as “The Black Panther Party.”[1] The LFCO registered voters, organized health clinics, and also ran candidates for county offices. Explaining the logo in 1966, the LFCO wrote:
“Their symbol is the “Black Panther” which stands for courage, determination, and freedom. It was chosen as an appropriate response to the racist Alabama Democratic Party symbol, the white rooster and its slogan, “White Supremacy/For the Right.”[2]
The Black Panther rose as a fierce defender of Black Alabamans. Faced with the white dominated political economy–white sheriffs, coroners, education boards, and landowners–the LFCO fought for political rights. Despite evictions and terrorist intimidation, the LFCO ran candidates and brought candidates out to vote.[3]. Out of this struggle also led Willie Ricks (Baba Mukasa) to coin the phrase “Black Power.”[4] The symbolism of Black Power, embodied in the Black Panther, led to two different efforts in Northern and Southern California: Freedom City and the Black Panther Party.

The Black Panther and Watt's 'Freedom City'

Out of the ashes of the fiery Watts Rebellion of August 1965, In Los Angeles, Black Angelenos sought to incorporate the Watts section as “Freedom City.”[5] After the creation of the Temporary Alliance of Local Organizations, a Black united front, the group created the Community Alert Patrol (CAP), a police monitoring organization. TALO later led the drive to enact an idea proposed by SNCC: “Freedom City.” Watts would secede from Los Angeles and “exist as a separate city with powers of incorporation.”[6] The Freedom City movement adopted the Black Panther as its logo [7]. TALO declared:
“For a generation we have vainly protested against a system and a society which have held us in de facto slavery. We have been exploited by the majority of society. We fear the police and the criminal equally. Our votes are overwhelmed by the majority of the electorate, a substantial segment of which has even denied us a public hospital…
“We shall build a city, as the Jews have built a state, where the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be guaranteed…”[8]
As many white-majority cities in the Los Angeles area engaged in defensive incorporation for tax-benefits and to maintain racial exclusiveness, TALO sought political power by creating a city in which New African people would control the political structure and policing and public health institutions. Black Angelenos sought an independent municipality to govern themselves and control their lives. The efforts for self-determination and freedom of Black communities in California also occurred in Northern California.

The Black Panther and Community Control in Oakland

In October 1966, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland. The revolutionary organization also utilized the Black Power framework with the first point of its Ten Point Plan declaring:
1. WE WANT FREEDOM. WE WANT POWER TO DETERMINE THE DESTINY OF OUR BLACK AND OPPRESSED COMMUNITIES. We believe that Black and oppressed people will not be free until we are able to determine our destinies in our communities ourselves, by fully controlling all the institutions that exist in our communities.[9]
As West Oakland became the “Black Ghetto” section of the city, the Black Panther’s platform call for full-employment, housing, health, education, and an end to the colonial relationship maintained by the capitalist class symbolized a bold response for independence. The organization’s seventh–and most well known–platform against police brutality and containment led to armed patrols of police. The group later organized other “survival” programs tending to the basic, every day needs of the Black community.[10]

As the symbol of the Black Panther traveled west from Alabama to Los Angeles and Oakland, so did the spirit of “courage, determination, and freedom.” Lowndes County efforts at political control and empowerment through the ballot box and elected office inspired other actions in California. In Los Angeles, the Panther symbolized “Freedom City,” and the Black California Dream of an independent city, for and by Black folks. Not unlike Allensworth, California, formed some 60 years prior.[11] In Freedom City, the people would control the police and political institutions, and would have access to health facilities. In Oakland, the Panther symbolized freedom from the “occupying army” called the po-lice. The Panther would ‘Defend the Ghetto’ [12] and empower Wretched of the Earth [13, ref] to control their own lives. As the Panther traveled west with SNCC, the call for “Black Power” resonated with young people throughout California and later the nation. As the Oakland-based Black Panther Party emerged from student groups at Merritt College and UC Berkeley[14], as many members of TALO and later LA’s Black Congress were students[15]. The organization that launched the Black Panther and Black Power, SNCC, has its origins with students who went beyond the walls of the academy and ultimately altered the course of history, challenged the American Empire[16], and changed the world. Notes
  1. Erica Lee Anderson, "Lowndes County Freedom Organization"BlackPast.org, . [Accessed May 28, 2013].
  2. "Origins of the Black Panther Logo," examples of sources from the H.K. Yuen Social Movement Archives at UC Berkeley, . [Accessed May 28, 2013].
  3. Anderson, "Lowndes County"
  4. "48 Years of Struggle for the Liberation of African People," Uhuru News, . [Accessed May 28, 2013].
  5. Donald Wheeldin, "The Situation in Watts Today," 1967. . [Accessed May 28, 2013]. Further reading: Gerald Horne, Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s, De Capo Press, 1997; Scott Brown, Fighting for US: Maulana Karenga, the US Organization, and Black Cultural Nationalism, NYU Press, 2005.
  6. Keith Hayes, Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African American Holiday Tradition, Routledge, 2009.
  7. “Will Watts Secede?”, The Movement, Publication of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of California, July 1966. . [Accessed May 28, 2013].
  8. Ibid.
  9. "The Ten Point Program," , The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. [Accessed May 28, 2013].
  10. "Community Survival Programs" of the Black Panther Party, PBS, 2002. . [May 28, 2013].
  11. Stephen, Hill, "Allensworth, California," . [Accessed May 28, 2013].
  12. James A. Tyner, "'Defend the Ghetto': Space and the Urban Politics of the Black Panther Party,"Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 96(1), 105–118, March 2006.
  13. Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth was required reading for Black Panther Party members.
  14. Donna Murch, Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, University of North Carolina Press, 2005, documents the origins of the Black Panther Party and its connection to student organizations at Merritt College and UC Berkeley.
  15. Brown, Fighting for Us, connects the US organization with Donald Warden's (Khalid Al-Monsour) Afro-American Association.
  16. Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin, Blacks Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, UC Press, 2012.


Trinidad James allegedly Harvard University Graduate

>> Sunday, December 23, 2012

Atlanta-based, Trinidad-born rapper quit Ivy League to pursue music

Do you think Trinidad James could attend Harvard University?


Fall 2012: One Hectic Academic Semester

>> Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A quick note to update family, friends, and folks about life on campus and why you haven't seen me in traffic. It's hard to believe the semester is halfway over. After getting through two weeks of midterms, my feet get weary. But I may wobble,but I don't fall down. So, I have over 20 academic units and I'm still involved in some Berkeley-centered extra-curricular shindigs. I'm enrolled in two political science classes and four African American Studies courses. Yes, very busy. In Political Science, I have Latino Politics and African Politics.
  • For Latino Politics, my research paper for the class will be a comparative analysis of the 2010 Gang Injunctions in Oakland, examining the response of crime prevention measures targeting both the Black and Latino communities. The lectures are cool, but I like the readings.
  • For African Politics, the my research will answer the question: Why hasn't Tanzania had a Civil War? The lecturer is the best in the Department I've had thus far. As for the course, I find it rather forgiving of the international institutions that underdeveloped Africa, but what do you expect from Berkeley? Numerous classmates will go forth to become economic hitmen and hitwomen (pun unintentional). 
My African American Studies courses are most interesting:
  • One course, Introduction to Black Intellectual Thought has us surveying a wide group of people, from Booker T Washington and W.E.B. DuBois to Ida B. Wells and Assata Shakur. Our final assignment requires us to draft a memoir about our own ideology about race or participation in a social movement. 
  • Another course is in the History Department, called "Creating African America focusing on Black History from beginning of Transatlantic Slave Trade to Civil War. 
  • I'm also enrolled in Historian's Eye, a project focused on documenting the present moment in relation to the (most) recent capitalist crisis. My focus will be on the community at Alameda Point, the former Naval Air Station, one of the last residential concentrations of African Americans in Alameda. 
  • A related project (though I'm not getting academic credit) is a research proposal I've been working on with the Veve Clark Scholars Institute for Engaged Scholars. I'm writing a history on the Estuary Projects, a wartime housing projects in Alameda that was destroyed in 1968. My goal is to fit the Alameda Point and Estuary narratives into the larger honor's thesis. 
  •  Finally, I'm doing an Honor's Thesis. This will be my capstone project at Cal. Initially, I planned to complete "A history of African Americans in Alameda." I began working on finding information about early Black Pioneers in Alameda, through the World Wars, and the post-war migration, to the present point. However, the topic–I was told–was too large. Indeed, I've found a wealth of information (surprisingly all these other historians have neglected it). I decided to narrow my topic to Housing, specifically housing discrimination and activism.
  • Oh yeah, I sit in on a Swahili class twice weekly so I don't forget what I learned in Tanzania. 
I won't list my extracurricular, extrajudicial, extraterrestrial activities here, but believed they've been reduced--but I stay ... active.

So it may be a while until we cross paths, but pray for your brother like you had knee pads. Life happens for a reason, we can't be mad. Just know that "everything cool. And yes I will be present on the first day of school, and graduation" (Yes, that's Outkast).


Baby Got Back and Hip Hop Resistance to Mass Media Representations of Beauty

>> Monday, October 15, 2012

Sir MixaLot's "Baby Got Back"
"Oh my god, Becky, look at her butt."

So begins the infamous introduction to Sir Mixx-a-lot's classic, Baby got Back. The 1992 Billboard topping song was a controversial ode to the Black Women's other Assets. Earlier this year, my Tanzanian friends were playing Drake's The Motto, unaware of the origins of Lil Wayne's final bar.

Twenty years later, the Baby Got Back has been parodied by In Living Color and even Burger King in a Sponge Bob Square Pants remix. Still, the original song captures the contradictory roles of Hip Hop as it both celebrates Black Life and redefines Value in a society that seeks to denigrate Black Culture, while also seemingly objectifying Black Women's bodies.

Although the song was comical and alleged to be sexist, Baby Got Back was a bold, Black lyrical and visual declaration of celebration of Black Women, from a Man's perspective, challenging European notions of beauty in mass media. Through its lyrics and visual representations, it presented and praised an alternate aesthetic to dominate discourse that exalts the pure white woman and belittles the lewd, animalistic Black female.

The song begins with two young, presumably 'typical' white valley girls staring at a Black woman rotating on a raised platform in a tight, yellow dress that accentuates her figure. The voluptuous woman's posterior makes her the object of rappers' attention, according to Becky's friend, and "they only talk to her because she looks like a total prostitute." The bodies of Black women in American have long been sexualized in America. Caricatures of the Black woman as a Jezebel stereotypically present Black women as promiscuous. Lacking further words to describe this "total prostitute," the antagonist concludes "She's just so ... Black," thus completing the conflation of Black Womanhood with Prostitution.

The song kicks off with Mixx's fast-tempo flow. The song is an honest celebration of Black Feminine Form, commencing with the words, "I like Butts and I Cannot Lie." The song alludes to provocative Hip Hop pioneers, 2 Live Crew and their famous Full Metal Jacket sample, and even references Bill Withers, as Mixx is willing to let the subject of his attraction–not the object of his affection–to "use me, use me," as she's not the "average groupie." Maybe the Withers' example is a stretch, but Hip Hop has long provided another medium and platforms, as corporate media rarely allowed different perspectives than the dominant paradigm.

Mixx-a-Lot turns his attention to mass media saying, "I'm tired of magazines, saying flat butts are the thing." He sees his perspective as that of the majority of Black men. He suggests, "ask the Average Black Man," and he'll tell you that the woman they'd prefer, "gotta pack much Back." Encouraging Black Women to be proud of their physical form. "So Cosmo says 'You're fat,' well I ain't down with that." He adds "shake that healthy" butt, combating the notion that super thin models are the epitome of health, calling Playboyesque models with "silicone parts ... made for toys" "bimbos." Instead, Mixx desires to "keep my women like 'Flo-Jo'," acknowledging the gorgeous former Olympian, opposed to Jane Fonda's workout tapes.

Finally, the lyric, "Give me a sista i can't resist her," inspired the Khalid Muhammad's introduction on Ice Cube's song, "Cave B*tch," another song critiquing this white hegemonic aesthetic. The lyrics paint a picture that "Black is Beautiful," and the video–somewhat–continues this vision.

Sir MixaLot in Big Booty Heaven, during "Baby Got Back" video.
Situated in a blue-skied sort of "Big Booty Heaven" on the Mountain Top–conveniently a the Mt. Rushmore of "Big Butts"–Sir Mixx-a-Lot raps while women wearing 1980s dance skirts shaking what their mothers gave them. While the grandiose "Booty Mountain" is somewhat comical, it exaggerates his sincere admiration with big butts, thus minimizing the men and women in the video, as to lift ... the butt.

The video evokes other Black Power tropes, as Mixx-a-lot wears a DMC-like Black leather jacket and hat. He gives himself a "Soul Brother" fist-heart-pump when speaking to that average black man, whose aesthetic preferences are commonly ignored, who appears on "WBUN" news to express solidarity with 'Back.'

The song contrasts the popular images with satire of "rock videos with knock-kneed bimbos walking like h*es." A woman wearing a madonna-styled coned bra is brought down from the pedestal of high culture, to be replaced by a Black Woman with a complete figure. And a woman with long hair and more Melanin than anyone who'd appeared on Cosmo's front cover evokes the imagery of The Birth of Venus.

Meanwhile, subliminal reverse text images flash on screen throughout the video, including "RUMP" "THICK" "REAR"--even the scientific term, "DORSIUM."

The lyrics and visual imagery combine to deliver a one-two combo to white, patriarchal depictions of Black beauty. Still, the video and song are not without contradictions.

The lyrics on the bridge, "LA Face with the Oakland booty" was to the disappointment of many Bay Area women who appreciated the acknowledgement of their diverse body shapes, but not the devaluement of their faces–especially compared to LA. And the focus on just the butt could be overlooked if their were other songs like, "Baby got Brains," for example.

With MixaLot standing a top of larger-than-life butt, some imagery in the video could interpreted in many ways. Such as the various fruits as representations of other human body parts. Also, the invitation to roll in his Mercedes was part of the growing materialism that emerged during the late 1980s in Hip Hop.

The idea that in response to seeing the superior physique of the Black Women, that "even white boys got to shout," was a funny line, but it can be seen as another example of needing validation of white men.

During a time of heavy conflict over media censorship, "Baby Got Back" was a bold statement praising Black Women and combating mainstream European standards of beauty. I imagine it falls short of many feminists' standards of acknowledging the innate beauty of women, but his effort to present another narrative and acknowledge different concepts raises this song to the level of an anthem.

And his word to the 'thick soul sistas', i won't cuss or hit you," also drastically differs from music today that reinforces America's normalization of verbal and physical abuse of women. And the centering of Black Women in a video is a stark different of rapper's of today who no longer objectify Black Women, but instead idolize "others." Thus, Hip Hop must been seen as a tool of resistance that has been co-opted and now serves elite, corporate, white supremacy-infused capitalism.

Sir Mixx-a-Lot - "Baby Got Back" (1992)


Obama's '99 Problems' Remix

>> Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"If you're havin' bank problems I feel bad for you son I got 99 problems but Mitt's not one" 
–Barack Obama in 99 Problems remix "99 Problems" is a creative mash-up of public speeches by President Obama to the instrumental of Jay-Z's song of the same title. The song uses most of the profanity, critiques of magazines, some key phrases and an equivalent to Jay-Z's dialogue with the racist white cop–but with Mitt Romney instead. A side-by-side comparison of the lyrics would show how creative this remix is, but I will focus on how well this remix raises the contradictions of our 'first Black president.' The song starts off speaking on last years left-leaning Occupy protest and how Obama works for the banks:
I got protesters saying our economy blows And my Wall Street brothers want Occupy closed You b*tches keep saying, "No change = no votes." I work for the banks, stupid. What type of threats are those?
In start contrast to the Tea Party protests of 2009, Occupy Wall Street was a major critique of financial capital and capitalism. Yet, despite many tough words, Obama supported the bank bailouts, receive record Wall Street campaign contributions, his economic advisers and appointees were from big banks too. The second verse parodies Jay-Z's experience being pulled over by a racist cop while driving with a cocaine hidden inside. Jay characterizes the cop as having a sort of southern, lower class, nasal voice. In this version, Obama is speaking about his ascendancy to the White House:
"The year is 2009, and the White House is mine But the economy’s in full mother f*cking decline My choices at the time were to sh*t on the poor or Fellate the banks to get elected once more"
What were Obama's choices at the time? Were there other alternatives than to 'fellate' the banks or defecate on the poor? In the Obama-Mitt (cop) dialogue, instead of asking to search his trunk, Mitt wants Obama to prove his citizenship:
"I ain't steppin’ down from shit ‘cause this president's legit 'Well, do you mind if we see that birth certificate?' All my records are blocked, you conspiracy hack. And I know my rights. So, you gon' need a warrant for that"
In the outro, anyone still comparing Obama to King is up for a rude awakening to that 'dream.' The video indicts the Nobel Peace Prize winning Obama for "fraud, repression," and "deceit":
Criminal, fraud, repression, deceit I murder and I plunder for the world elite We invade countries till we have all they own “I have a dream.” Well, I have a drone
In 2009, many people conflated Obama's ascendancy to the presidency as the realization of Dr. King's "dream." Yet, dreams and "drones" are not compatible. King opposed militarism and called the United States the "greatest purveyor of violence" on the planet. Thus this line, simply, draws the contrast between the two figures. (Where's Rev. Wright?) What do you think of the video? Will this have any impact on the election? And if you're into Hip Hop history, Jay-Z's song was taken from an old Ice-T track. And the beat's producer, Rick Rubin, used to produced for early Hip Hop acts like Run DMC. Note: I drafted this blog post for a class. Thought I'd share.


About This Blog

Insight into my daily regimen. Obviously of a different specimen. Me, myself & I. So fly. Welcome to the Daily Regiment.

This blog is an outlet for me to write about my life experiences. While there will be consistent themes in my writing -- because I am what I project in written form -- the topics will vary from day to day, and post to post.

If you are interested in my formal news reporting, you can visit The Reginald James Report or The Black Hour.

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