Remaking Black Power
Remaking Black Power
As readers finished the July 1, 1972, edition of the Black Panther Party’s newspaper, they found a full- length, mixed- media image of a middle- aged black woman on the back page. The woman, dressed in hair rollers, a collared shirt, an apron, and no shoes, stares directly at the viewer, one hand on her hip; the other supports a bag of groceries from the Panthers’ free food program. The woman also prominently displays her button in support of Panther leader Bobby Seale’s mayoral campaign.
The caption above contextualizes the woman’s politics and party support: “Yes, I’m against the war in Vietnam, I’m for African Liberation, voter registration and the people’s survival!”1 This image was one of over a dozen pieces of artwork that Panther Party member Gayle Dickson created, many of which featured black women leading protests and championing party programs.2 Not only did her artwork translate the party’s expansive political agenda, it also reflected how the Panthers— often thought to be a male- dominated organization— expressed and promoted its agenda through images of black women.
Dickson’s artwork was emblematic of the diversity of black women’s political expression in the Black Power era. Beginning in the 1950s, black activists and intellectuals increased their efforts to develop oppositional institutions and practices designed to bring about black political, cultural, and social autonomy. By the time that Dickson became an artist for the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s, Black Power had coalesced into a worldwide movement dedicated to fundamentally redefining race, class, and gender hierarchies. The image described here was one of myriad expressions of Black Power that black women developed during the early 1970s, the height of the era in which black activists fundamentally re imagined black manhood, womanhood, and empowerment through political expressions that ranged from electoral politics to Pan- African solidarity efforts. More than simply party propaganda, Dickson’s art was a window into some of the common ways in which black women imagined their political roles and potential during the Black Power era. In this image alone, she illustrated how they envisioned themselves as militant domestics and revolutionary black women. She also showed how they often identified as . . . . FULL EXCERPT