On 22 August 1989 Huey Newton was killed on one of the same violent
West Oakland street corners that the Black Panther Party had tried to
transform. His death pushed the party to the front pages of newspapers and
launched countless retrospectives on the or ga ni za tion’s legacy. Despite the
fact that he was imprisoned (1967–71) or in exile (1974–77) for key years in
the bpp’s development, Newton’s death was used as a portal into the past of
the party. Entering gradu ate school at that time, I was more intrigued with
the or ga ni za tion that Newton had helped build. I want readers of this book
to come away with an understanding that the Black Panther Party was a
vehicle for social change, a sum greater than its parts. The structure of this
vehicle has remained largely invisible as the bpp’s history has largely been
told through the lives of leaders, the evolution of places, the intractability
of state vio lence, or as a series of moments and flashpoints on a timeline
rather than through the lens of orga nizational history. The constant during
the party’s evolution over sixteen years was its orga nizational structure.
The party provided an operational apparatus— hierarchy, meetings, rules,
fund- raising mechanisms, and other formal and informal structures— that
was a direct reflection of its ideological framework and its analy sis of the
material conditions in the United States at the time. The dialectic between
these dynamics— structure, ideas, possibilities— has formed the engine of
this book. The memos, minutes from meetings, letters, artwork, photo graphs,
wiretap transcripts, poems, trial documents, speeches, flyers, directives, press
releases, daily work reports, manuscripts, audiotapes, and videotapes that the
Panthers generated form a rich repository of strug gle that I have mined to tell
the narrative history of the Black Panther Party from the inside out.
I want readers to know what it meant to live inside an or ga ni za tion that
considered itself revolutionary—to experience comradeship, to feel the joy
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