Package 4

Explore the historical references playwright Jarrett McCreary and designer Sara Outing used in creating the fourth package in A BREATH FOR US.

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A group of Black women raise their fists at a rally in 1968
Black and white image of protesters marching and carrying Black Panther flags

Black Women in Movement Leadership

When Ruthy steps up and rises to further leadership within the Hundred and One, she is joining women like Kathleen Cleaver, Angela Davis, and Fredricka Newton as prominent female voices within the movement, both inside and outside the Black Panthers. Black women’s roles in the Black Power movement included political organizing, speaking up in protest, making art that explored and valued their particular experiences, and resisting Western beauty standards in their hair and clothes.

By the end of the 1960s, women made up two-thirds of Black Panther membership. Some were in leadership – Kathleen Cleaver was the first women in the Party’s decision-making body, and Elaine Brown chaired the party from 1974 to 1977. Women within the party ran and organized social programs, recruited rally and protest attendees, and acted as armed security, among a wide range of other duties and responsibilities. But while the Party’s platform included gender equality, women often faced the same misogyny within the Party that they would face outside of it.

Despite those hurdles, women are now credited with keeping the Party running, and many social programs outlasted their city’s Party chapter based on the strength of their efforts.

(Image: Black Panthers from Sacramento, Free Huey Rally, Bobby Hutton Memorial Park, Oakland, Calif., No. 62, Aug. 25, 1968; printed 2010. Photograph by Pirkle Jones.)

Learn More:
READ, WATCH, LISTEN: Black women in the fight for liberation
Introduction to the most prominent women of the Black Panther Party
The rank and file women of the Black Panther Party

Protests and Rallies

Public rallies and protests were a major component of organizing and forwarding the Black Power movement. They were often organized around issues or public events, but were also often planned in response to arrests and assassinations of movement leaders. From late 1967 through 1970, the Free Huey movement saw many rallies and protests in support of Huey Newton, on trial and imprisoned for manslaughter before his conviction was overturned in 1970.

In a pre-digital era, organizing these rallies meant a lot of on-the-ground work – canvassing neighborhoods, passing out fliers, and coordinating with other chapters within traveling distance. Some attracted thousands of attendees from miles around.

Learn more:
PHOTOS: A collection of images of Black Panther Party rallies, protests, community actions, and more
PHOTOS: A collection of images of rallies, protests, and the police response (CW: Includes a photo of a forced strip search)
WATCH: 1968 Free Huey protests in Oakland, plus an interview with Huey Newton

Courtroom sketch of the Panther 21 on trial
A young man opens a door full of bullet holes next to a Black Panther poster

Arrests and Assassinations

One of the main tactics to disrupt the Black Power movement, particularly groups like the Black Panthers – and in the world of A BREATH FOR US, the Hundred and One – was arrest and imprisonment of activists, often on invented or inflated charges. Fred Hampton was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly helping to steal ice cream from a Good Humor truck as a teen. Black Panthers were constantly arrested at the dozens of baseless raids performed on their offices.

Law enforcement and the FBI consistently provoked and incited violence, sometimes by instigating shootouts then blaming the Black Panthers for starting them, and sometimes from the inside. Afeni Shakur, one of the Panther 21, successfully represented herself against charges of conspiracy to plant bombs at NYC police stations. During her questioning of an undercover agent, she got him to admit on the stand that he and two other agents organized most of the illegal activities. She and her co-defendants were each facing 300 year sentences.

Assassinations and what police called “justifiable homicide” were also used against the movement. Bobby Hutton was 17 when he was shot 12 times while surrendering after a shoot out. Fred Hampton was assassinated in his bed. Dozens of Black Panthers were killed by police (28 in 1969 alone), and hundreds were arrested and imprisoned.

(Image: Panther 21 on trial in NYC. Howard Brodie. N.Y. Panther Trial, 1970. Color crayon on white paper. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (043.00.00))

Learn More:
1976 article on the Hampton assassination and civil suit
MAP: Compilation of nationwide raids, shootings, and more
A lesser-known raid: High Point, North Carolina

Chicago in the Movement

Chicago played an important role in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Lasting from mid-1965 to early 1967, the Chicago Freedom Movement was possibly the largest civil rights campaign in the North. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Bevel, and Al Raby, the movement focused on the severe housing segregation in Chicago and racial disparities in education, medical care, and income. The sustained protests and actions led to Congress passing the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

In 1968, 10,000 protestors converged on the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, met by 23,000 National Guardsmen and police. Violence ensued, and the Chicago Eight, including Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale, were put on trial for conspiracy and intent to incite a riot. The same year, Fred Hampton and Bobby Rush co-founded the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers and protested the trial.

Bobby Rush ran the chapter’s medical clinic, which is credited with creating the nation’s first mass testing program for sickle cell anemia. The Rainbow Coalition worked together to push for improvement and liberation – and the FBI responded with intense surveillance, COINTELPRO actions, and three separate raids on the Black Panthers headquarters in 1969 alone. After one of them, the police set the offices on fire. While Hampton was chairman, membership grew quickly. After his murder, the chapters’ activities and recruitment dwindled, and the chapter closed in 1973. Bobby Rush went on to a successful political career; he is currently a long-time congressman in the US House of Representatives.

(Image: The Chicago Black Panther headquarters after a police raid.)

Learn more:
An overview of the Chicago Freedom Movement and Operation Breadbasket
Retrospective on the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers and echoes today
Interview with Jose Jimenez on co-founding Chicago’s Rainbow Coalition