---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 22 Nov 2002 14:20:48 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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