Emory Douglas. Detail of a page from The Black Panther Newspaper, vol. 4, no.10 (Happy birthday Huey). 1970. Two-color ink on newsprint, 17 5/8 × 11 1/2" (44.8 × 29.2 cm). Publisher: Black Panther Party. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Collection of Patrick and Nesta McQuaid and Akili Tommasino, gift of the Committee on Architecture and Design Funds. © 2021 Emory Douglas/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In November 2019, The Museum of Modern Art acquired 30 issues of the Black Panther newspaper, dating from 1969 to 1970, that I had the privilege and responsibility of stewarding for four years. The newspapers, which document the activities and opinions of the Black Panther Party during a crucial period in its history, are the first works by Revolutionary Artist and former Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party Emory Douglas to enter MoMA’s collection.

Before these materials came into my custody, they belonged to my dearly departed friend Patrick McQuaid; when I met him in 2011, he was an American expatriate living in Berlin. In the 1990s, Patrick was a high school student doing odd jobs at the Washington, DC, branch of the Century Foundation, a public policy research institute, where he had been tasked with emptying out and discarding the contents of a cluttered storage closet. Inside, he discovered a box of newspapers labeled “THE BLACK PANTHER,” and had the foresight to ignore instructions and take it home with him. The box would remain in the basement of his parents’ house for over 20 years.

The author pictured with the collection of Patrick and Nesta McQuaid and Akili Tommasino in MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design, October 11, 2019

The author pictured with the collection of Patrick and Nesta McQuaid and Akili Tommasino in MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design, October 11, 2019

The salvaged box of Black Panther newspaper issues

The salvaged box of Black Panther newspaper issues

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded in October 1966 in Oakland, California, by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. A year later, Newton established The Black Panther: Black Community News Service as its journalistic organ.[1] The first issue of The Black Panther, published April 25, 1967, is dedicated to the story of Denzil Dowell, a Black youth killed by police, and reflects the motivations for the Party’s founding: to protect the community from wanton police violence and provide an alternative to the nonviolent civil rights movement.

Duplicate issues recovered from the Century Foundation

Duplicate issues recovered from the Century Foundation

Interior page detail from The Black Panther Newspaper, vol. 4, no.13 (Our main purpose). 1970

Interior page detail from The Black Panther Newspaper, vol. 4, no.13 (Our main purpose). 1970

Back cover, The Black Panther Newspaper, vol. 3, no. 25 (Oakland 1968, Fascism, Chicago 1969). 1969

Back cover, The Black Panther Newspaper, vol. 3, no. 25 (Oakland 1968, Fascism, Chicago 1969). 1969

Selling the newspaper became one of the requirements of Party membership. Some 537 issues of The Black Panther were published between 1967 and 1980; at its height, the international weekly circulation exceeded 100,000 copies.[2] Over the years, its editors included Eldridge Cleaver, Elaine Brown, David Dubois, and Michael Fultz. Except for the first issue, which was hurriedly compiled, The Black Panther was designed by Emory Douglas, whose alternately acerbic and uplifting woodcut-inspired graphic illustrations and photomontages convey the Black community’s vexed relations with exploitative politicians and abusive law enforcement officers, the Panthers’ stance against police brutality and imperialistic American foreign policy, and their hopeful visions of Black power and community prosperity. Producing and distributing the newspaper were often dangerous tasks. Several Black Panther Party members lost their lives for the paper, including circulation manager Sam Napier, who on April 17, 1971, was assassinated in the New York distribution office.

Patrick told me about his collection of Black Panther newspapers and their intriguing provenance when I visited him from Paris, where I was then based, in October 2013. I mentioned that I had been moonlighting as an editorial assistant at Éditions de L’Herne, an independent French publishing house that in addition to volumes on art and literature published translations of radical political texts. I was thrilled at the prospect of unearthing the collection; we immediately resolved to carry out a project that would bring the uniquely preserved set of newspapers to light. Unfortunately, the following month, Patrick passed away in a tragic accident in Berlin; he was only 36 years old. I was devastated and I continue to mourn the loss of my friend. A loving father, avid basketball player, and aficionado of reggae music, Patrick was one of the most curious and compassionate people I have encountered.

Patrick McQuaid

Patrick McQuaid

Two years later, in 2015, I was working as a curatorial assistant at The Museum of Modern Art when I hesitantly reached out to Patrick’s parents Carla and Bill. It turned out that Patrick had enthusiastically told them about our idea. When I visited the McQuaids, they graciously retrieved the box with the newspapers from their basement and entrusted it to me with the charge that I carry out the project that was so abruptly halted.

The box Patrick saved contained 37 copies of the Black Panther newspaper, representing 30 issues (three in duplicate, and one in triplicate), spanning May 4, 1969, to February 28, 1970. The Black Panther newspaper was typically distributed folded in half, but the Century Foundation stored its copies flat and in a dark box, so they remained in excellent condition and maintained the brilliance of Emory Douglas’s beautifully colored covers and spreads with minimal creases. All the issues bear the systematic annotations of the Century Foundation, including an intake stamp denoting the date the paper was read and cataloged, and the initials of the reader. Throughout, names and reported locations of certain Black Panther Party members are underlined and circled with a blue colored pencil (see below). The Century Foundation’s motive for holding multiple subscriptions to The Black Panther and assiduously annotating the issues remains murky. Founded in 1919 as the Co-operative League by business leader Edward Filene, and known as the Twentieth Century Fund during the period in question, the organization described itself as a “philanthropic foundation for research and public education on current economic, social and international policy issues.”[3]

Detail of the Century Foundation’s intake stamp, from The Black Panther Newspaper, vol. 4, no. 8 (Free Breakfast for School Children). 1970

Detail of the Century Foundation’s intake stamp, from The Black Panther Newspaper, vol. 4, no. 8 (Free Breakfast for School Children). 1970

Page detail showing Party members’ names underlined and circled with a blue colored pencil, from The Black Panther Newspaper, vol. 4, no. 3 (By lifting their hands against these revoluationaries, they lifted their hands against the best that humanity posesses). 1969

Page detail showing Party members’ names underlined and circled with a blue colored pencil, from The Black Panther Newspaper, vol. 4, no. 3 (By lifting their hands against these revoluationaries, they lifted their hands against the best that humanity posesses). 1969

A page from The Black Panther Newspaper, vol. 4, no. 4 (No justice in Amerikkka). 1969

A page from The Black Panther Newspaper, vol. 4, no. 4 (No justice in Amerikkka). 1969

The selection of papers documents a particularly compelling period in the history of the Black Panther Party and covers major events including the 1969 assassination of Illinois chapter chairman Fred Hampton, the trial of 21 New York City–based Panthers who were accused of planning attacks on police stations and subsequently acquitted, and the eventually successful appeal for the reversal of the 1967 voluntary manslaughter conviction of Huey P. Newton. In addition to the Ten Point Program, which was printed in every issue, the papers feature recurrent reports about the successes of the Black Panthers’ Survival Programs, including free clinics and free breakfasts for children and the promotion of cultural activities (see left).

Patrick’s box also contained a copy of the controversial Black Panther Coloring Book, published in 1968 by an artist then known as Mark Teemer, the Lieutenant of Culture for the Sacramento Chapter of the Black Panther Party; Teemer is now known as Akinsanya Kambon.

Cover of the Black Panther Coloring Book, 1968

Cover of the Black Panther Coloring Book, 1968

During the four years before my former colleagues in MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design contacted me about acquiring the collection, I studied the newspapers, stored them as safely as I could, spoke about them at conferences, and contacted cultural institutions in hopes of keeping the collection intact and publicly accessible. It was both thrilling and instructive to share my nascent research, first with the students of interdisciplinary artist Kamau Amu Patton at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and, later, with Los Angeles–based artist Awol Erizku at MoMA PS1, at the invitation of former MoMA librarian Jennifer Tobias. I have been particularly struck by emerging artists’ enthusiastic embrace of this historic material.

The contemporary relevance of the Black Panther newspaper is a double-edged sword: both a testament to the pervasiveness and persistence over time of the oppressive forces that called the Black Panther Party into action, and, especially in the era of “fake news,” a reminder of the power of marginalized voices. The timeliness of the struggles and revolutionary art of the Black Panther Party is tragic but telling. More than 50 years after the founding of the Black Panther Party, and 40 years since its cessation, the Black Panther newspaper not only teaches us about the ambitions, successes, failings, merits, challenges, and aesthetics of the Party, but also provides a template for forging boldly equitable paths forward. Its message has again become urgent at a time when the murders of unarmed Black and Brown men, women, and children by police—as well as debates about prison reform, income and education inequality, and food justice—are receiving increasing public and media attention.

MoMA’s acquisition of the Black Panther newspapers underscores the import and impact of the Black Panther Party on visual culture, and specifically highlights the revolutionary fine art practice of Emory Douglas. As an art institution, MoMA is especially well suited to present, interpret, and contextualize Douglas’s work. Moreover, this acquisition enables MoMA to better promote the history and legacy of the Black Panther Party. While preserving these important cultural artifacts for posterity, the Museum has made their full contents accessible online, where they can inspire new generations of revolutionary artists and empowered citizens.

A page from The Black Panther Newspaper, vol. 4, no.10 (Happy birthday Huey). 1970

A page from The Black Panther Newspaper, vol. 4, no.10 (Happy birthday Huey). 1970

I would like to thank my former colleagues for giving the newspapers formerly in my care a proper institutional home and for inviting me to mark the occasion of their MoMA debut with a public conversation with Emory Douglas on October 14 and this article, which commemorates Patrick McQuaid’s radical act of reclamation. I reiterate my gratitude to Patrick’s son Nesta, mother Carla, and brother Dan for the opportunity to live with and learn from his collection. It has been a great gift, and I am honored to have helped MoMA share that gift with the world.

NOTES:
[1] The March 13, 1971, issue introduced the renamed The Black Panther: Intercommunal News Service
[2] Joshua Bloom “If You Can Get Your Hands on Copies of the Black Panther Newspaper,” p.xxiii in Hilliard, David. 2007. The Black panther: Intercommunal News Service
[3] Century Foundation records, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. b. 118 f. 7 Beaton, Leonard—The Politics of Arms Control 1969

Emory Douglas will join curators on Thursday, October 14, at 7:00 p.m. EST for a live-streamed discussion of his work. He will also hold a workshop with emerging artists as part of MoMA’s Art and Practice series, moderated by Professor Colette Gaiter, on Wednesday, November 3. You can further explore the printed legacy of the Black Panther Party and the Black Power movement through the Museum of Fine Art, Boston’s Black Power in Print project, launching October 15.