Lesson: Emory Douglas: Revolution in Our Time, Part 2

  • Grade Level: High School (9 - 12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Graphic Design, Art, Literature, Global Studies, History
  • "1969-1970," (Fred Hampton)."1969-1970," (Fred Hampton).
  • "June 7, 1969," (Free the NY 21...)."June 7, 1969," (Free the NY 21...).

Introduction:

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. Read Sonia Sanchez’s poem “Memorial.”  Bobby Seale’s protégé, sixteen-year-old L’il Bobby Hutton, joined the Black Panther Party in the role as the party’s Treasurer in 1966. He was murdered two years later. For more information on Bobby Hutton click here.

    • If Sanchez didn’t know Hutton, why did she write a poem about him?
    • Who were some of the other fallen leaders mentioned in the poem?
    • What are the symbols mentioned in the poem? Reference Revolution in our Time from Lesson 3 Part 1.
    • View image You Can Jail a Revolutionary, which depicts Fred Hampton (Deputy Chairman of the Black Panther Party’s Illinois Chapter, who was killed in 1969) and ask:
      • What artistic choices have Douglas used to suggest a memorial to Fred Hampton?
      • What effect do the radiating lines have? They seem to originate somewhere in the distance. 
      • What effect does the white outline around Fred Hampton’s profile have on the image?
      • How does Douglas use text in this image? To what effect?

  2. View Dignity of People Cannot be Imprisoned. Have a student read the text, and ask:

    • Who is speaking and to whom?
    • What is being conveyed by the text?
    • What do we know about the people in this image? What don’t we know? Are the details that Douglas left out important? Why, or why not? 
    • Compare and contrast with the image of Fred Hampton. What are the similarities? Differences?

      How is Douglas honoring the women in this image?

  3. View Free The NY 21.  This image appeared on the cover of the Black Panther newspaper.

    • Ask students: What is a political prisoner?
      What social conditions made people sacrifice freedoms for a cause?
    • Inform students that the rapper Tupac Shakur’s mother Afeni Shakur was one of the NY 21 prisoners; her heroism inspired him to also be a leader of the people. Ask students to discuss how Tupac’s music speaks to social injustice.

  4. Have students listen to Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and “Winter In America."

    • Ask students to discuss how the lyrics mirror the social issues of the Black Panthers and Emory Douglas’s art.
      • What are the issues that surface in the song’s lyrics?
      • Who are some of the public figures and or celebrities recognized in the poem?
      • Have you seen some of these figures in Douglas’s artwork?
      • In the first stanza Gil Scott Heron states you will not be able to “plug in, turn on, and cop out.” What does this mean?
      • In one stanza, he states: “The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.” And in the last he sates: “The revolution will be live.” What statement is Heron making about our ability to act and activism? Who is he calling out? Is it specific to an individual or a collective?

  5. Ask students to read Claude McKay’s poem “If We Must Die” (1919). During this time there was a wave of race riots consisting mainly of white assaults on black neighborhoods in several American cities.

    • Refer to Lesson 1 and the discussion of James Brown. Ask students to connect “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud” to “If We Must Die.” What are the similarities between the two?
    • The words of McKay and James Brown speak of the same social and political issues, forty-five years apart. Ask students how the words from both the poem and the song reflect the philosophy of the Black Liberation and the Black Panther movements? How does Douglas do this visually? Refer to Year of the Panther.