teleSUR speaks with Mary Phillips, one of the founding members of the Intersectional Black Panther Party History Project.
When one looks back at the revolutionary Black Panther Party, one envisions iconic Black leaders sporting black berets and leather coats, with their rifles tucked on their side, mobilizing crowds on campuses and streets across the United States.
This valorized masculine imagery served an essential purpose — projecting a strong front as the Black liberation movement geared towards bulwarking the Black community from state-inflicted violence and police brutality, the two main motives that led to the formation of the Black Panther Party.
As Clayborne Carson, an African American professor of history at Stanford University said in the 2015 “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” documentary, “one of the ironies in the Black Panther movement is the image of a Black male in a ripper jacket and a gun, but the reality is that a majority of the rank and file by the end of 1960s were women.”
Mary Phillips, an assistant professor at the Department of African Studies at the City University of New York, or CUNY, shares Carson’s view. Phillips, one of the founding members of the Intersectional Black Panther Party History Project, also believes common portrayals of the group are one-sided.
“The public image of the party was very one dimensional, there were men who were serving the breakfast, there were men who were teaching at schools, but the image portrayed is defined by the stereotypical standards of gender roles, that is not how it played out and that is not how the party functioned. Everybody did everything. The work was divided according to your skill sets for the most part,” she said.
“There were men in the Black Panther Party who were braiding children’s hair, there were men who were taking care of the children, nurturing children, they were caretakers.”
Women played a crucial role in shaping the Black power movement. | Photo: Cau Napoli via Creative Commons
But even though men in the group were portrayed as the vanguard, women in the party were at the helm of most activities.
By the early 1970s, women formed nearly two-thirds of the Black Panther Party. They not only served important leadership roles alongside the men, such as state and national secretaries, chair positions and editors, but they were also serving essential roles, such as feeding children, ensuring that they remained in schools and strategizing to protect the neighborhood. . .