Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People

Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People
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September 28, 2021
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With passion and precision, Kekla Magoon relays an essential account of the Black Panthers—as militant revolutionaries and as human rights advocates working to defend and protect their community.

In this comprehensive, inspiring, and all-too-relevant history of the Black Panther Party, Kekla Magoon introduces readers to the Panthers’ community activism, grounded in the concept of self-defense, which taught Black Americans how to protect and support themselves in a country that treated them like second-class citizens. For too long the Panthers’ story has been a footnote to the civil rights movement rather than what it was: a revolutionary socialist movement that drew thousands of members—mostly women—and became the target of one of the most sustained repression efforts ever made by the U.S. government against its own citizens.

Revolution in Our Time puts the Panthers in the proper context of Black American history, from the first arrival of enslaved people to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. Kekla Magoon’s eye-opening work invites a new generation of readers grappling with injustices in the United States to learn from the Panthers’ history and courage, inspiring them to take their own place in the ongoing fight for justice.

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I've been looking forward to this nonfiction book since at least 2009, when The Rock and the River came out, and Fire in the Streets only made me want it more. I've helped students with National History Day projects about the Black Panthers, and when I say that this is sorely needed, believe me. There isn't even an adult book that covers this organization as comprehensively and objectively as Revolution in Our Time does. The author has been working on this since at least 2012, and the dedication to research clearly shows.

The Black Panther movement was a turbulent organization in a turbulent time, but it's important to know a lot of Black history in order to fully understand the circumstances which led up to the 1960s. Events going back to the founding of the US to the Civil War to Separate But Equal to Northern Migration and World War II are succinctly explained, but the brevity does not lessen the impact. When even the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s failed to keep Black people from suffering from systemic racism, the Black Panthers felt that a new method of protest needed to be mounted. Since nonviolent protests were having little impact, they felt a need for an aggressive alternative.

As Magoon says in Chapter 5 (of the ARC), "In a vacuum, it is easy to default to saying, "Violence is never the answer," and thus addresses the most difficult issues of the Black Panthers. The country, still dealing with the consequences of WWII and Korea and now heavily involved in Vietnam and protests against it, and also dealing with the Cold War and Hoover's horribly misguided attempts to deal with the threat of Communism, found it difficult to deal with Black citizens armed with legal weapons embracing Leninistic philosophies. It was an uncomfortable time, but this discomfort was crucial to seeing change made. The descriptions of why and how Panther leadership determined their mission and processes against this historical background are helpful in understanding why these extreme measures were taken.

I have always been intrigued by the amount of social improvement programs that the Panthers ran. Some of these are discussed in Williams-Garcia's 2010 One Crazy Summer, and all are discussed here. Education, both for children and for adults (I love that there was a book list in the weekly newspaper!), was very important, but there was a strong understanding that people cannot learn on empty stomachs. Free food programs were implemented on community levels, and these expanded to include clothing, shoes, and other programs for issues that were essential for survival. Since the median age of Panthers was 19, this was a movement clearly driven and forwarded by the young, so they were not forgotten.

There were strict rules, and very clear mission statements for the organization, as well as a sort of uniform (the classic beret, black jacket, and light blue shirt), and these, along with the sense of purpose, helped engender strong feelings of community. They were also helpful when members were frequently arrested on trumped up charges, especially where weapons were concerned.

There were some problems. Many of the leaders ran into trouble with the law, often being jailed, or were killed. These occurrences aren't downplayed, but are framed in contexts that help make sense of the impossible circumstances the Panthers found themselves fighting against. It's easy to think that those who live by guns, die by guns, but Magoon clearly describes the precipitating events that drove these actions and shows how necessary they were.
Good Points
It's hard to find information about the Civil Rights movement in the 1970s, but here we finally see the causes and societal pressures behind the winding down of the Panther, until their official disbandment in 1982. Clearly, however, the fight is not over, and we see the legacy of the movement and learn about the fates of some of the key players.

There are biographies at the end of the book, a timeline, a helpful bibliography, and complete index, as well as plentiful period photographs and illustrations throughout.

Search you public library for books about the Black Panther Movement. Aside from Martin's Black Against Empire (2013), Shames' and Seale's Power to the People (2016), and the Talbot's By the Light of Burning Dreams (2021), I doubt you'll find much. And those are all adult books. This is absolutely the most complete and balanced book that I have seen on a critically important but underrepresented organization in the Civil Rights movement. I cannot recommend it enough.
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