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A Historical Retrospective of Black Lives Matter Through the Black Panther Party and African American Historical Collections

Introduction

The painful reality of their lives [in the black ghetto] from childhood on reveals that the inequities they encounter are not confined to a few institutions. The effects of injustice and discrimination can be seen in the lives of nearly everyone around them. A brutal system permeates every aspect of life; it is in the air they breathe.

– Huey Newton, The Black Panthers, And The Decolonization Of America. (2017). In Struggle on Their Minds... (p.88)
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The Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPP) was founded in Oakland, California in October 1966 and operated until 1982. Initiated by activists Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, the BPP was an innovative political organization geared toward advancing a revolutionary political, social and economic system.

According to Mary Bassett, “The Black Panther Party … evolved from an organization focused on armed self-defense against police brutality to one that framed police violence as part of broader social violence. Protection meant advocating for a wide range of social and economic rights, including the right to health.... Its legacy remains relevant today” (Bassett, 2019, p352).

UCSB Library’s Special Research Collections holds a wide array of archival collections. This exhibition, "A Historical Retrospective View of Black Lives Matter through the Black Panther Party and African American Historical Collections," captures the legacy of the BPP through historical documents that include newspaper articles, letters, posters, photographs, etc.

The images represented in this exhibition provide critical primary resources for researchers interested in what the BPP stood for and its revolutionary work in and for Black communities. While the BPP folded under state attack in 1982, its legacy is still with us today. For example, its spirit resonates in the slogan: “All power to the people!” As the fight against systemic racism and oppression continues, their legacy remains alive and forceful in shaping contemporary America.

All documents in this exhibition are from the Special Research Collections of the UCSB Library. They consist of: