As Revolutionary Artist and Minister of Culture for The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, Emory Douglas was responsible for the party’s striking agitprop posters and its newspaper’s political illustrations. His revolutionary art, collected in a new book edited by the artist Sam Durant, spoke of the social conditions and institutional racism within the US that the Black Panther Party had been born out of.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was formed in Oakland, California by Huey P Newton and Bobby Seale in October 1966, just over a year after the assassination of Malcolm X. The movement fervently rejected the subjugation of African Americans and aimed to further the US civil rights movement through its meetings, demos and publications like the Black Panther newspaper.
Controversially, unlike the non-violent methods of other campaigning political groups in the late 60s, the Black Panthers advocated a hard-line form of self-defence – as the slogan went – “by any means necessary”. This included armed resistance. Indeed, Durant refers to Emory’s art as a series of “dangerous pictures” and they remain, nearly 40 years later, directly confrontational and highly challenging creations.
Douglas first met with the BPP in early 1967 but it wasn’t until Eldridge Cleaver became its Minister for Information and immediately recommended Douglas as the party’s Revolutionary Artist that he became a fully committed activist. His first job was working on the second issue of the party’s newspaper which, at its peak, managed to circulate around 400,000 copies. Douglas’ striking work, with its use of heady collage, thickly drawn characters and uncompromising slogans, quickly came to visualise the party’s struggle against oppression and their belief in “all power to all the people”.
Black Panther: the Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas is published by Rizzoli International at £29.95