Panel Will Explore Legacy of the Black Panther Party

March 30, 2017

On Tuesday, April 11, the Department of African American Studies will sponsor a panel discussion with three former members of the Black Panther Party to explore the lessons and legacy of the group's mission. The panel has been organized by Dr. Adam Ewing.

The Black Panther Party (BPP) burst onto the national scene on May 2, 1967, when members of the Oakland-based organization marched into the California State Assembly chambers—armed with pistols and rifles—to protest anti-gun legislation meant to curtail the activities of the group. By the end of the decade, Panther chapters had opened across the country, and an International Section had been established in Algiers, Algeria. The organization’s powerful critique of “internal colonialism,” its community programs, and its uncompromising stand against racism, imperialism, and capitalism earned the Panthers widespread respect among allies at home and abroad. The Panthers’ commitment to armed self-defense and revolutionary transformation also attracted the attention of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who declared the organization “the greatest internal threat to the internal security of the country,” and made the Panthers the primary target of his agency’s secret Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), established in August 1967. 

Much of what has filtered down about the Panthers in popular memory remains incorrect or incomplete—a product, in part, of the determined efforts of Hoover and his agents to discredit and undermine the legitimacy of the organization among prospective sympathizers. This is a shame, not only because the BPP was one of the most important protest organizations of the twentieth century, but because its basic critique of the conditions facing black ghetto residents—police harassment and brutality, structural poverty, widespread neglect—have remained fundamentally unaddressed in the years since the Party’s destruction. In our current, post-Ferguson era, it is worth understanding why the Panthers’ demands went unmet in 1967, and how we might use this knowledge, fifty years later, to build a more just and more equitable future. 

To explore the lessons and legacies of the Black Panther Party, VCU’s Department of African American Studies has invited three former members of the Party to campus to engage in a discussion with members of the VCU and broader Richmond community:

Jihad Abdulmumit is a former member of the Plainfield, New Jersey chapter of the Party, and later joined the Black Liberation Army (BLA). He currently serves as national chair of the Jericho Movement, which advocates for the release of former Panthers who remain in prison, and for the release of other political prisoners. Abdulmumit himself was a political prisoner, incarcerated for more the two decades for his activities with the BLA. 

Pamela Hanna is a former member of the New York chapter of the Party. 

Sekou Odinga is a former member of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), a founding member of the New York chapter of the BPP, and the section leader for the Bronx. He later joined the Black Liberation Army. Odinga was released from prison in 2014, after spending more than two decades behind bars for, among other things, assisting in the escape of exiled BPP and BLA member, Assata Shakur.

The panel will be held on Tuesday, April 11 at 7:30 PM in the second-floor space of the Depot (814 West Broad Street). The event is free and open to the public.