Thousands of black people left behind after a ravaging hurricane. Daily reports of high crime. Police brutality in inner-city neighborhoods. Damn, don't you wish that the Black Panther Party were still going strong? This crew of mad, black and proud brothas and sistas started in Oakland in the '60s and grew to such prominence that chapters spread all over the country (including to Houston) and the FBI did everything in its power to stop them. If you're too young to remember the Party (which will be having a 40th-anniversary reunion back home in October), some former Panthers will be in town this week to hip you to their contributions to American history.
"We were treating the people better than we were being treated," says Billy X. Jennings, 55, former Oakland Panther and current Black Panther Party historian. "It was all about serving the people, something people haven't seen in a long time. Somebody who's really dedicated to the general well-being of the community." Jennings helped curate "Louder than Words," an exhibit of candid photos showing the Panthers at their late-'60s/early-'70s mightiest, which is on view as part of the 30th annual National Council for Black Studies Conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
The free exhibit is more than a chance to see how much impact and influence the Panthers had back in their day; it's also a reminder that young black people can still come together, effect change and do groundbreaking work, not just in the community but in society as well. "It's the Party's time now, in terms of history," says Jennings. "It's that era now."