Book review: Black Against Empire

By , June 10, 2013

Black Against EmpireBlack Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party
by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr.

Since Karen and Laurie often blog about fashion, it seemed like a good time to revisit the timelessness of a black leather jacket and beret. Not to downplay the social import of fashion, but Black Against Empire concerns the history of the Black Panther Party, one of the few political parties ever to call for the violent overthrow of the United States government and see any modicum of success. Bloom and Martin successfully defuse the explosive controversies surrounding the Party by focusing on its political platform with academic detachment. Their primary sources are Party materials and first person interviews. This is not to say the authors shy away from intra-Party personal conflicts, or extremely dirty tricks on the part of law enforcement, or Party founder Huey Newton’s downward spiral after the organization blossomed to international significance only to implode under its own weight. Remember how Good Will Hunting ends with Matt Damon driving off into the sunset for California? Newton’s life after the collapse of the Panthers is the sequel. Lingering over Newton’s biography is exactly the sort of thing Bloom and Martin do their best to avoid. What I am struck by are the contrasts between then and now. Reading this now throws an entirely different light on the gun control debate. It reveals the Occupy Movement was not that good at occupying anything at least compared to the Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement, the American Indian Movement, or Students for a Democratic Society. Though the difference there might be trying to occupy a university versus trying to occupy a bank. Black Against Empire is vital history and a fascinating addendum to the social justice narrative chronicled by the library’s own Civil Rights Collection.

If you are interested in the Panthers, you might also want to check out the relatively new Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention by Jamal Joseph and the documentary Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975.

If you are genuinely interested in black leather as fashion, you should check out Punk: Chaos to Couture. I might blog about that soon.

- Bryan

One Response to “Book review: Black Against Empire”

  1. Clint says:

    I never thought that I would see the day that Good Will Hunting would be referenced in a review for a book about the Black Panthers. You’ve almost tricked me into another GWH viewing, but I think that I’ll re-watch Agnes Varda’s doc on the Black Panthers instead.

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