From the moment the I saw the 'Black Panther' movie early this year, I knew I would write this blog. This movie which has made over $1.3 billion worldwide ($1,324,656,634 to be exact) has been described as a cultural phenomenon and we could not agree more. But why? My research into the Black Panther and its relevance in African American history shows that there is a TRUE connection and a NEED that is being served by the 'Black Panther'.
When the term 'Black Panther' is heard it often conjures up images 'angry black men' in iconic black leather jackets, afros and black berets marching angrily. Rarely does it mention the 10-point manifesto of the Black Panther Party founded in 1967 in Berkeley, California by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton which called for better housing and education and yes...an end to police brutality. It also does not conjure up the core of the Black Panther Party which was community service. They organized school breakfast programs, health clinics and even voter registration drives but none of this is celebrated.
The guns and defiance are more remembered. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and I am afraid this is the case here as well. The image of LEGALLY armed black men marching into government establishments was simply too much for America to handle. A tape with President Nixon suggesting the use of the FBI was released proving how the 'Black Party Movement' was targeted. It is amazing to me that despite all the hardships faced by the African American and amid their civil rights heroes being gunned down that there wouldn’t be an effort to understand but rather the movements were targeted for destruction.
Even today another movement also formed in Berkeley, California is demonized, the ‘Black Lives Matter' movement along with millionaire law abiding NFL players (Colin Kaepernick) are examples of groups that are still fighting against police brutality over 50 years after the 'Black Panther Party' started the struggle. While this is so unfair, it is not nearly as unfair as what happened to the people in the birth place of the 'Black Panther’, Lowndes County, Alabama.
In 1965, Lowndes County Alabama was 80% black who had NO representation on the county level. So after the voting rights act passed, it was time... for the first time, to exercise African American voting power. A new party was formed called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). While there we literacy tests to hinder voting rights of the majority black population, it was still problematic for them to vote, so a simple symbol... like the donkey for democrats and Elephant for republicans was born...the Black Panther. It was because of this symbol that they started being known as the Black Panther party.
Despite all the effort to elect black leadership and the overwhelming majority population being black, none of the Black Panther party candidates won. This was because of voter intimidation on another level was going on. American citizens lost their homes and jobs if they participated in community meetings, marched or supported the LCFO and especially there was trouble if you actually 'pulled the lever for the black panther". The displaced and intimidated 'Black Panther Party' members were forced to live along highway 80 in what is now known as the 'TENT CITY'. Yes ... American citizens were living like refugees because they voted for themselves. This 'Tent City' was very dangerous as you might imagine because of the racists that surround them. Reports were that even 11-year-old boys were training with shotguns in case the imaginable happened during the night. Stokely Carmichael a leader in this movement in Alabama later took the symbol to California and joined Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in formation of the ‘infamous’ "Black Panther Party' we spoke of earlier.
Ironically, at the same time all this drama was going on an all-white comic company named Marvel introduced the 'Black Panther'. First appearing in a Fantastic Four comic #52 in July 1966, the black panther was the first mainstream superhero of African descent in an American comic book. I read the first reference and Ben Simmons aka the 'THING" for you, comic buffs, asked ‘how some backwards African king could provide them with the superior technological space age fighter jet they were flying in at the time’. They were very few black comic book heroes previously and none before the black panther had superpowers.
If we look at the time frames, while the comic book is published before the founding of the Black panther party formed in Berkeley, California, the comic book Black Panther comes after the Lowndes Country Freedom Organization adopted the symbol in 1965. Stan Lee, co-creator of the comic, denied that the comic was named after any of the political uses of the term "black panther", including the LCFO, citing "a strange coincidence". 'Strange coincidence or not' King T'Challa 'decided' to call himself the 'Black Leopard ‘to avoid appearing to support the 'radical' Black Panther Party, this new name obviously did not have the same ring to it, luckily in proper American fashion cash rules and the king decided to go back to be the 'Black Panther'. King T'Challa explained in the comic Avengers #105, ‘'T'Challa explained that renaming himself made as much sense as altering the Scarlet Witch's name, and he is not a stereotype.'
The comic also did not pre-date the 761st Tank Battalion which was primarily black independent tank battalion during World War II. They were known as the 'Black Panthers' after their unit’s distinctive insignia and their motto was 'Come out Fighting'. The law was that the military would be segregated at least until after World War II. General Patton gave the ‘Black Panthers’ praise, they received a presidential unit citation for its actions as well as 1 medal of honor, 11 silver stars and about 300 purple hearts. They were one of the more effective tank battalions in world war II'. A little-known fact that the first African American to play in Major League Baseball, First Lieutenant Jackie Robinson was a member of the 'Black Panthers'. He desegregated baseball but not before he had all charges cleared for insubordination because he refused to sit at the back of the bus. True ‘Black Panther’ bravery!
So, is this 'coincidence ' as Stan Lee stated? Or is it fate? Or a mix of both? Regardless of where you fall on this issue, there is a connection between the African American and the 'Black Panther'. A strong and resilient connection to what the 'Black Panther' represents which is hope, pride and dignity, that is well deserved and earned by the African diaspora, but often not given by our fellow countrymen. There is a section of our society that believes that 'Wakanda' truly is a 'shithole' country and they also use their power of definition to demonize African and African diaspora efforts at justice and equality.
King T'Challa seems to be our hero that fights in various forms over the decades as the "Black Panther' against all that deny us justice and equality. This movie embodies that sentiment which is evident in the record breaking success the movie has had. This movie shed light on the cultural void experience (the negative space left from the forceful removal of culture from the African American). This cultural void needs to be filled and the 'Black Panther' fills it with pride, dignity and strength. Strength to fight wars while being segregated, strength to desegregate baseball, strength to vote for yourself when the consequences are painful, strength to feed and support you community while standing up and defending yourself.
The Black panther movie success proved that there is a longing to see ourselves a s part of the majority, with the power and all the technological advances and not simply as a token added for diversity sake. African Americans wore African clothing to the movies which touched the hearts of Africans who also felt pride and validation. This movie fills our void. This movie provides us with pride and empowerment. This movie endorsed unity between Africa and the African diaspora. This movie through the eyes of Kill monger sparked debate over the relationship between Africa and the African diaspora. This movie highlighted that a lack of belonging to home, makes you lost and lacking in enough culture. This movie shows that Africans have a long way to go before they can understand the plight of the African American. This movie shows how Africans isolate themselves from the problems faced by the African diaspora. This movie makes us realize that we must welcome our distant cousins home and feel their pain.
ORIGINAL 'PANTHER' COVER ARTWORK/PAINTING BY NATHAN JALANI TAYLOR. PLEASE SUPPORT HIS AMAZING WORK
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