[sixties-l] Photos focus on humanity of Panthers in their heyday (fwd)

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Date: Sun Nov 24 2002 - 17:54:25 EST

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    Subject: Photos focus on humanity of Panthers in their heyday

    Photos focus on humanity of Panthers in their heyday


    by Jesse Hamlin, Chronicle Staff Writer
    Wednesday, November 20, 2002

    Pirkle Jones remembers seeing it on the newsthe
    bullet-shattered plate glass window of the Black
    Panther Party for Self Defense headquarters in
    It had been shot up by two Oakland cops on Sept.
    10, 1968, two days after Panthers co-founder Huey
    Newton was convicted of voluntary manslaughter,
    rather than murder, in the death of a police officer
    during a 1967 shootout. A poster of Eldridge
    Cleaver had been shot through the mouth; the
    famous poster of Newton, sitting in a round-backed
    rattan chair with a rifle in one hand and a spear in
    the other, had been blown apart.
    "It was shocking as hell," says Jones, the esteemed
    88-year-old Mill Valley photographer, who had
    been photographing the Panthers with his wife,
    Ruth- Marion Baruch, for an exhibition at San
    Francisco's de Young museum. They hopped in the
    car and drove to West Oakland.
    "We wanted to document it," says Jones, standing in
    San Francisco's Shapiro Gallery surrounded by
    images he and his late wife took of the Panthers in
    when America was riven by assassinations, race
    riots and anti-war protests. That shattered window
    showed "the hostility of certain segments of our
    government against the Panthers."
    FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the militant
    black group the greatest threat to the country's
    internal security. Baruch, who, like Pirkle, belonged
    to the Peace and Freedom Party, thought the
    Panthers had been maligned by the media and
    wanted to offer a more human portrait of the people
    who galvanized black politics and scared white
    Baruch, who died in 1997, had mentioned the idea
    of doing a Panthers photo essay to de Young
    director Jack McGregor. To her surprise, he
    offered to exhibit it. The show was nearly canceled
    because of objections from city officials, but it went
    on, and some 100,000 people saw it. Rather than
    violence, "the quiet, deep-down pathos of human
    existence is stressed," the late Chronicle art critic
    Alfred Frankenstein wrote of these pictures, which
    have been reproduced in "Black Panthers 1968,"
    published last month by Greybull Press.
    "We just wanted to show them the way we saw
    themas human beings," says Jones, a Louisiana
    native who studied with Ansel Adams in San
    Francisco in the '40s, became his assistant and later
    collaborated with him, as well as Dorothea Lange.
    He and Baruch wanted to depict the Panthers'
    "dignity and sincerity. They were people speaking
    out. With so many injustices done against them, they
    were answering back."
    The couple focused on people at Free Huey rallies
    and meetings in Oakland and Marin Cityserious
    young men and women wearing Afros, berets and
    dashikis; women with babies; old people and
    children; a boy eating at the Panthers' free breakfast
    program; Bobby Seale, Kathleen and Eldridge
    Cleaver; a sweet-faced Newton, photographed in
    There's a famous picture Jones took at a rally
    outside the Alameda County courthouse. Three men
    stand on the granite steps in black leather, shades
    and berets, waving "Free Huey" flags emblazoned
    with black panthers. Kathleen Cleaver, to whom
    Jones and Baruch gave images for publication in the
    Panther newspaper, took one look at this one and
    said, "That's a poster." Within a week, thousands
    were printed and spread across the country.
    "It's full of information," says Jones, who declined to
    talk about the Panthers when an FBI agent came to
    his home. "People can read the banners and tell
    where it was made. They can also do some body
    reading of the stance of these people. They weren't
    standing with their shoulders hunched over; there's a
    great amount of strength and honesty, and they
    wanted to communicate that. They knew how
    people reacted to how they looked. They were
    conscious of the power of the image. They were
    very bright people."
    Jones stood in front of his portrait of Newton, who
    would be charged with various violent crimes over
    the years, got a doctorate in sociology from UC
    Santa Cruz, became addicted to crack and was
    shot to death by a dealer on a West Oakland street
    in 1989. "It has an internal feeling to it," Jones says,
    "of a person in thought. There was more to him than
    one would realize."
    Jones particularly likes his photograph of the crowd
    at a Free Huey rally in August 1968 at West
    Oakland's de Fremery Park, known to locals as
    Bobby Hutton park, after another slain Panther. "I
    wanted to show the seriousness of these people as
    they were listening to what was being said. I was
    standing very close to them, and I wanted to make
    their picture, but I didn't know whether I should or
    not. There's something mystical when you're
    photographing. The door was open to me. You
    have young and old, children up in the trees. It may
    sound vain, but I really like it, because of the
    intensity." There weren't many white people there,
    "but I didn't feel self-conscious. I felt very inspired."
    Jones thinks these images are still relevant because
    the world is still full of injustice and inequality. He
    hopes people seeing these photographs "will
    become informed about the positive aspects of the
    Black Panthers."

    BLACK PANTHERS 1968 is on display 11 a.m.
    to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 11 a.m.
    to 5 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 30 at the Shapiro
    Gallery, 760 Market St., Suite 248, San Francisco. (415)

    E-mail Jesse Hamlin at jhamlin@sfchronicle.com

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