"My job is to educate people about the true legacy of the BPP."
Commons Archive invited Billy X Jennings, de facto Black Panther Party archivist and historian, to talk about the Party’s accomplishments. The event’s standing-room-only crowd revealed the community’s hunger for Black Panther history. "It’s About Time," the digital collection makes BJ's impeccably organized physical archive of 'The Black Panther' newspapers and other ephemera on the Panthers available to all. Since North Oakland is the birthplace of the Black Panther Party, the Golden Gate Library, which had been a meeting ground for the Party, was an ideal site for this information-rich presentation.
'The Black Panther' newspaper used powerful graphic illustrations to share the Panthers' trailblazing social programs and community building strategies. Gayle Asali Dickson, an artist and activist who joined the Black Panthers in 1968, spoke about her work with Emory Douglas on the newspaper from 1972-1974.
Designed to make the most of inexpensive printing technologies, her dynamic illustrations of Panther social programs used thick black lines, tactile textures, and bright colors. Her accessible imagery illustrated the oppressions that made revolution necessary. She illustrated what 'survival pending revolution' looked like–support by the community for communities that have been systematically neglected. Her drawings of the Party feeding people, registering them to vote, and making sure that seniors had safe routes when paying their bills were a tool for liberation and a call to revolution.
'The Black Panther' newspaper was also an economic support system for rank-and-file members: each issue was sold for 25 cents and sellers kept 10 cents. "For Black Panther Party members who were not working, who had been kicked out of the house, who had no place to stay, if you sell 100 newspapers, you have $10 in your hand," says BJ. Beyond a source of income, the newspaper was also an effective recruitment method that spread the Party's message and encouraged new people, like Jennings, to join.