UPS observes Black History Month with treasures from Black Panther Party archive

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In celebration of Black History Month, the University of Puget Sound’s Collins Memorial Library is presenting an exhibit about the Black Panther Party, which were active in the 1960s and 70s. The Puget Sound region had a particularly active branch of the party. The exhibit is called “Louder Than Words: A Portrait of the Black Panther Movement.” It is a collection of Black Panther Party newspapers, posters, flyers, pamphlets, photographs, political pins and other materials that were gleaned from the personal archive of Bill Jennings, who joined the Black Panther Party in Oakland in 1968, soon after the party began.

Jennings was active in the party through 1974, during which time he accumulated a treasure trove of the kind of materials that are currently on display. During the 1990s, Jennings realized that the history and legacy of the Black Panther movement needed to be preserved lest this important chapter of American history be forgotten. Since then, he has added to his collection and archive of materials. He also runs a website called “It’s About Time” (www.itsabouttimebpp.com), which is a repository of memory for party members.

The organizers of the exhibit hope that it will inspire people in our region to share their stories of the movement, so that an oral history can be preserved for posterity. Those with stories of the Black Panthers are encouraged to contact libref@pugetsound.edu.

The exhibit is contained in the space where books are checked out, just beyond the library’s entry area. Individual glass cases feature materials relating to different themes. There is a case with materials on the Seattle Panthers, one on Huey P. Newton, one on social programs, one on women in the movement and others.

Interspersed through the exhibit are copies of books from the Black Panther reading list, a list of more than 30 books that new members were encouraged to read. On one wall is a blown-up copy of a flyer that lists the Black Panthers’ 10-point program, which is called “What We Want Now!” Sadly, much of it could easily have been written in 2018. Employment, housing, health care and police brutality are some of the issues raised. There is a book and writing materials here so that visitors can add to the “manifesto area.”

The Black Panther Party started off in 1966 in Oakland, Calif., initially in response to tactics used by the Oakland Police Department. The party experienced dramatic growth, spreading throughout the United States and expanding its reach into the realms of community programs like the Free Breakfast for Children and establishing community health clinics. They also published a weekly Black Panther newspaper, which was shipped to 48 states.

The exhibit includes many copies of the newspaper, which was the main organ of information for the Party. There is also a glass case showing prints of the revolutionary art of Emory Douglas, who did many of the illustrations for the newspaper. Douglas’ art is reminiscent of some of the art associated with the Mexican Revolution.

The exhibit offers a glimpse into the depth and sense of purpose that formed a focal point for many people during the hard struggles of post WWII America. It suggests an intellectual involvement and ideological commitment that had as its goal the betterment of the lives of many. The movement was not without its flaws, but its project was and is a noble one.

The Collins Memorial Library is hoping that school groups will come to visit the show. Interested teachers can contact the library at libref@pugetsound.edu.

“Louder Than Words” runs through May 15.

In conjunction with the exhibit, there will be an event called “A Conversation with Bill Jennings of the Black Panthers” on Monday, Feb. 12, 4-6 p.m. at University of Puget Sound’s Trimble Hall. The event is free and open to the public. Jennings will also be available for an informal conversation Feb. 13 4-5:30 p.m. in Collins Memorial Library’s Archives Seminar Room. Visit www.pugetsound.edu/news-and-events/events-calendar/details/a-conversation-with-bill-jennings/2018-02-12/ for more on the Jennings visit.

For more on the Black Panthers exhibit visit research.pugetsound.edu/blackpantherparty

Trimble Hall is located near the University of Puget Sound entrance at North Alder Street and North 15th Street. Collins Memorial Library is near the corner of North Warner Street and North 18th Street. Ask any student for directions!

For directions and a map of the University of Puget Sound campus: pugetsound.edu/directions. For accessibility information, contact accessibility@pugetsound.edu or (253) 879-3931, or visit pugetsound.edu/accessibility.

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