Lesson: Emory Douglas: Revolution in Our Time, Part 1

  • Grade Level: High School (9 - 12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Graphic Design, Art, Literature, Global Studies, History
  • "June 27, 1970," (We are from 25 to 30 Million Strong...)."June 27, 1970," (We are from 25 to 30 Million Strong...).


Written by Cathleen Lewis, Manager of High School Programs

“Emory Douglas: Black Panther” is a survey of the graphic designer Emory Douglas’s work from the time he was the Minister of Culture and the designer for the Black Panther, a weekly newspaper that served as the voice of the Panther movement from its inception in 1967. Douglas was a founding member until the Party’s demise in the late 1970s.
This is a show about Douglas, and his unique graphic vocabulary. But Douglas’s body of work, taken as a whole, also gives a visual history of the Black Panther Party. Douglas joined the Party after founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. He is responsible for the now-famous emblems of the crouching panther, and the pig, which after 1968 entered the general vocabulary as a stand-in for the police. Douglas’s posters, handbills, and general design for a newspaper—whose circulation in the US was once estimated to be 400,000—also featured the ennobled photographs of the party’s heroes. It also charted its development from an organization fixated on self-defense against police brutality, to a more complicated organization that not only ran crucial social programs in US ghettos, but became, in coalition with other liberal organizations, a participant in government at the local and the national level.

This lesson is part of the Emory Douglas curriculum that utilizes the artist's work from the period that he was the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Culture and the designer for the Black Panther, the Party’s weekly newspaper. Douglas’s unique graphic vocabulary mixes influences from classic activist artists of the 1930s and ’40s. Selected by the Los Angeles artist Sam Durant, whose work often deals with political and cultural subjects in American history, the exhibition includes more than 165 posters, newspapers, and prints dating from 1967 to 1976.

Suggested Procedures:

  1. Discuss the power of words with students. The written and spoken word have transformed ideas into reality, and have sometimes allowed us to continue to dream, and wonder…what if? When have words transformed your ideas? Did you act upon them? Look at All Power to the People and ask students to consider the text. What is at the heart of the statement “All Power to the People”?

  2. Introduce students to Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Both Gandhi and King were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Visit www.nobelprize.org/ for information on the lives and works of both recipients.
    • Who was Gandhi, and what social justice issues did he focus on?
    • What did he achieve for South Africa?
    • Who did his actions affect?
    • Was his dream realized in his lifetime?
    • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was inspired by Gandhi’s message. What elements of Gandhi’s practice did King incorporate in his activism?
    • Ask students to read Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.  

  3. Introduce students to Nelson Mandela.
    • Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired Mandela.What in King’s activism was inspiring?
    • What were the social issues that Mandela was advocating for?
    • What were the personal sacrifices that Mandela had to give up for South Africans’ rights?

  4. Introduce students to Malcolm X, an inspiration for the Black Panther Party. Have students view the video on Malcolm X speech “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Watch here or read here. While asking the following questions, view Douglas’s Malcolm X.
    • Who was he?
    • What was his platform?
    • What form of activism did he support?
    • Introduce students to the Black Liberation Movement. How did Malcolm X motivate this movement?
    • What does by any means necessary mean? How has Douglas interpreted this message in Any Means Necessary?
    • What were the social and political conditions in the country that galvanized the black community to say they have waited long enough?
    • How was Black Nationalism a self-help philosophy?
    • What did Malcolm X mean by “The Ballot or the Bullet”?
    • Why did Malcolm X ridicule the 1963 March on Washington?
    • Why did Malcolm X say that he was not an American but a victim of Americanism?
    • How did the country fail the 22 million blacks in 1964?

  5. View We are from 25 to 30 Million Strong and have students read the following quote from Malcolm’s “The Ballot or the Bullet”:  “I’m not going to sit at your table and watch you eat, with nothing on my plate, and call myself a diner. Sitting at the table doesn't make you a diner, unless you eat some of what's on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American.... No I’m not an American; I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy.... I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of a victim. I don't see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.”  Ask students:
    • What are the issues that Malcolm X is raising?
    • “Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on the plate” is a metaphor. What do you think Malcolm X is referencing?
    • What is he suggesting about the American democracy, when he states “No I’m not an American. I’m a victim of Americanism… victim of democracy”?
    • Have students describe the disguised hypocrisy that Malcolm X speaks of. What aspects of Malcolm X’s position do you think was inspiring to the Black Panther Party? How has Douglas show the Party’s debt to Malcolm X in this image? What the benefits of juxtaposing text with images? What audiences did and do these images reach?
    • What did these heroic people (Malcolm X, Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) have in common?

  6. Have students listen to the patriotic song “America the Beautiful” (1910), poem by Katharine Lee Bates, and music by Samuel A. Ward. Hand out the lyrics and ask students:
    • What is the source of the text? When was it written?
    • Did these words resonate as truth during the time of the race riots in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements? In what ways?

  7. Have students recite “The Pledge of Allegiance.” Francis Bellamy wrote this oath of loyalty to the United States in 1892. He was a Baptist minister and Christian Socialist. Bellamy considered adding the word “equality” to his pledge, but knew that some people were opposed to equality for women and African Americans, so kept it out.
    • How does this information add to your understanding of how the founding fathers viewed “liberty and justice for all”?
    • Is there truth in the statement for all or did they mean for all people that looked and acted like them?
    • Were there liberties for blacks, women, and other minority groups? What does this tell you about their citizenship?