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In 1967, while a student at the University of California, Berkeley, Stephen Shames met Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale at an antiwar demonstration in San Francisco and began photographing the Panthers. This self-assigned project continued for the next six years, ending in 1973, after Bobby Seale’s unsuccessful mayoral run in Oakland. Embraced by the organization, Shames was allowed unprecedented access, thus enabling him to capture not only its public face—street demonstrations, protests, and militant posturing—but also unscripted behind-the-scenes moments, from private party meetings to Bobby Seale in prison. Through his prolific output, Shames amassed an impressive archive of images, most of which have never been seen. Those that have been published appeared in the Black Panther, the party’s own newspaper, and a few other publications. For an organization that often suffered as a result of their portrayal through images, Shames’s photographs offer a nuanced portrait of this complex and often misunderstood group that helped define the turbulent 1960s.
Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party, in 1966, in Oakland, California. The organization’s ten-point platform and program (“What We Want, What We Believe”) called for the immediate end to institutionalized racism and expressed the urgent need to address the material conditions of the black community. Employment, health care, housing, education, exploitation, and police brutality were issues with which other civil rights organizations of the time were grappling. The Panthers, however, also asserted their right to self-defense, to legally carry weapons. This decision would come to define them, as would their patrols of the police and their extensive community outreach programs, most famously the Free Breakfast for Children Program. By helping to define the black power movement, demanding equality, respect, dignity, and empowerment for black communities across America and oppressed peoples throughout the world, the Black Panthers proved to be pivotal to the Civil Rights movement.
Aperture, a not-for-profit organization devoted to photography and the visual arts, has organized this traveling exhibition and produced the accompanying publications. This Aperture exhibition is a variation of the original exhibit organized at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The Haggerty presentation of this exhibition and related programs are made possible through funding by the Martha Smith Endowment Fund, the Stackner Family Endowment Fund and the Joan Pick Endowment Fund.
View a video interview with Stephen Shames
Wednesday, September 15
Dr. Andrew Witt, Associate Professor, Department of History, Edgewood College
Picking Up the Hammer: Re-thinking the Black Panther Party
Reception to follow.
Wednesday, September 29 at 6 p.m.
Lecture: The Black Panthers: Making Sense of History with Stephen Shames, photographer
The lecture will take place at the Law School in the Appellate Court Room, located on the main floor, just off of the lobby. Reception to follow in the museum.
All programs are free, open to the public and take place at the Haggerty Museum of Art, unless otherwise noted.