Lesson: Emory Douglas: Decoding Images and Vocabulary Activity

  • Grade Level: High School (9 - 12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Graphic Design, Art, Literature, Global Studies, History
  • "June 7, 1969," (Free the NY 21...)."June 7, 1969," (Free the NY 21...).
  • Black Panther EmblemBlack Panther Emblem
  • "Marh 27, 1975," (For The Young, The Old...)."Marh 27, 1975," (For The Young, The Old...).
  • "March 9, 1969," (All Power to the People)."March 9, 1969," (All Power to the People).
  • "September 11, 1971," (U.S. Govt. Approved)."September 11, 1971," (U.S. Govt. Approved).


Written by Cathleen Lewis, Manager of High School Programs, and Joseph Keehn II, Associate Educator.

“As the Black Panther Party’s Revolutionary Artist, graphic designer, illustrator, political cartoonist, and the master craftsman of its visual identity, Douglas used distinctive illustration styles, cartooning skills, and resourceful collage and image recycling. This made the paper as explosive visually as it was verbally. The Panthers were adept at creating recognizable signifiers and icons that identified their members and eventually represented their ideology.” 

Douglas’s signifiers of revolution effectively branded the Black Panthers. Have students look at Douglas’s images, and list the elements that constantly surface in his imagery. Some examples might be: black berets, leather jackets, military-style machine guns, and the Panther logo. The message being: “This is what revolution looks like.”

The origins of the Black Panther Logo

While viewing the image of the Black Panther logo discuss its origins with students. The symbol of the panther was chosen because it is an animal that defends itself to the death, but never attacks.
(Link here to the archives)
The Black Panther Logo, was first used by The Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) as a symbol to represent their political party. LCFO Party members adopted the Black Panther as a symbol for their independent political organization. The LCFO, also known as the Black Panther Party, was started in 1965, under the direction of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) by activist Stokely Carmichael. Lowndes County in Alabama was 80 percent black but not a single black citizen was registered to vote. Carmichael arrived in the county to organize a voter registration project, and from this came the LCFO.

“The Alabama law says that if you have a Party you must have an emblem. “We chose for the emblem a black panther, a beautiful black animal which symbolizes the strength and dignity of black people, an animal that never strikes back until he's back so far into the wall, he's got nothing to do but spring out. Yeah. And when he springs he does not stop.”
—Stokely Carmichael SNCC Activist

“Although there was no formal organizational relationship between that Black Panther Party and the subsequent Black Panther Party for Self-Defense organized in Oakland, California, several figures—including SNCC field organizer Stokely Carmichael—served to bridge these two key organizations in the Black power movement.”

“In May of 1966, Alabama held elections for county offices. These were the first elections since passage of the Voting Rights Act eight months earlier in August of 1965, and for the first time since Reconstruction that blacks were eligible to vote in significant numbers. When the newly formed LCFO candidates ran for county offices, new voters had to be taught practical information about county office, such as how many members on the board, and the responsibilities of office. Since the “separate-but-equal” laws, a segregated school system ensured that many blacks had limited literacy skills, the LCFO created an illustrated Political Education Primer to educate black voters.”
Click here for a sample of the Political Education Primer that was distributed by the SNCC Freedom Fighters.


Allegory a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning.
Alliteration, assonance, and rhymes are repetitions of the same or similar sounds that link the various parts together, as in poetry or song lyrics. A visual parallel may be the repetition and patterns of color, forms, shapes, and brush marks.
Chiasmus an inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases. A visual crossing or misplacement, such as having two or more heads on the wrong types of bodies.
Hyperbole is extravagant exaggeration. Visually can be accomplished by increasing/decreasing size and scale; also, visual representations of strength, power, immortality.
Intertextuality is the relationship between texts, especially literary ones. Visually, it refers to, remaking, re-creating, or borrowing visual ideas and elements from historical or contemporary artist(s) to pay homage to or modernize an idea.
Metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. In visual form this can occur by merging or superimposing two disparate images.
Metonymy uses of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated; a changing of name. Visually, this is done by having one image stand in for another.
Personification is the representation of abstract ideas by using human or animal forms.
Pun or double entendres are words that can have multiple implied meanings. Visually this can be accomplished by superimposing, overlapping, or using curious positioning.  
Simile compares two things, often introduced by “like” or “as.” Visually, this is down by juxtaposing two images in such a way that a similarity between them is implied.
Symbols are signs or objects that have acquired culturally fixed meanings, such as crucifixes for Christianity and skulls for death.
Synecdoche a figure of speech that substitutes a part for the whole, the whole for a part. Visually, images of part of fragmented images stand for a whole.

Suggested Procedures:

  1. As homework, have students define the following:

    • Metaphor
    • Simile
    • Metonymy
    • Synecdoche
    • Hyperbole
    • Personification
    • Symbols
    • Allegory
    • Alliteration
    • Assonance
    • Rhymes
    • Intertexuality
    • Puns
    • Chiasmus

  2. From their homework, have students share their definitions, and their thoughts on what each term means. After discussing the vocabulary, have a student write on the board definition for each term that the class agrees on. Refer to the vocabulary section for complete definitions.

  3. Using the Emory Douglas images in the digital archive, ask students to place one image next to each vocabulary word.

  4. Ask students to discuss each image in relation to the selected vocabulary word. Tell students that they are going to define the words using visual language. What choices has Douglas used in this image that supports this particular vocabulary word? What message is Douglas presenting, in terms of the vocabulary word chosen? What other vocabulary words can be discussed by using this image?

  5. Have students select an image from a magazine of their choosing and write about the image using the learned vocabulary. Students should support their writing with visual evidence.