Sunday, March 2, 2008

"What we Want, What we Believe!"

The Black Panther Party was established in 1966 to promote African-American empowerment and social change. Their methods were in stark contrast to the prior peaceful protests, and included militant demonstrations and attacks on police. Stephen Shames spent six years with the Black Panthers, photographing both the public and private aspects of their organization. The 1960’s and 1970’s was a racially charged, tumultuous time in America and Shames’ 1970 picture depicts the seriousness of the issues and how passionately the Black Panther Party felt about creating a better society for African-Americans.

In this picture, children are standing at attention, wearing uniforms and berets, in a classroom at a Black Panther run school. A poster of a man hangs above the children, creating the feeling that someone is watching them. The militaristic discipline of the organization and the seriousness of their ideals is shown in the faces of the children, none of whom are smiling.

The Black Panthers’ militaristic approach can be related to the Vietnam War which was at its peak at this time. The Vietnam War sparked powerful feelings, and the Black Panthers were showing that there was a war that needed to be fought at home rather than across the globe. There were many protests at this time, but the Black Panthers distinguished themselves with their ferocity and militarism, sending their message louder than the rest of the protests that were going on.

The students are living in a special Panther children’s house due to the racially motivated police shootouts that occurred in member’s houses. Innocent children removed from their homes so they won’t be shot by police shows the turmoil present at this time.

It is impossible to look at this picture and not see the devotion to the message that the Black Panther Party was sending out.

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