Art and social upheaval have walked hand in hand throughout our history. Groups setting out to challenge authority and fight for the rights of the oppressed often use art, music, and poetry to reach larger audiences for their messages of social justice.
During the 1960s, institutional bigotry and segregation sparked riots-or rebellions-here in Detroit and across the United States.
The Civil Rights Movement’s message of non-violent resistance had been successful forcing some change, but many young black men and women felt non-violence didn’t go far enough in turning racist institutions on their heads. As a result, the Black Panther Party was formed looking for a more forceful approach to end systematic racism in the U.S. and around the world.
To help communicate with its membership and spread its message, the party created a newspaper called The Black Panther. The paper’s pages were filled with the party’s daily activities and its ideology. The publication was also accompanied by vibrant and striking illustrations that depicted the party’s work.
Those illustrations were created by the Black Panther’s Minister of Culture, Emory Douglas. Douglas served in that role throughout the party’s existence into the 1980s.
He joins Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson and looks back at how art played a crucial role in spreading the message of the Black Panthers.
Douglas says that his job was to create art that was provocative enough that the point of each article was understood even if somebody didn’t read it.
The Black Panther Party were eventually able to open chapters across the country and eventually around the world.
“This was a youth movement,” says Douglas. “Art played a part in giving an interpretation in a visual way to the social and political message that we were about.”
Click on the audio player above for the full conversation.