Black Women Revolutionaries and the Black Liberation Movement (by Phoebe Rosenheim)

Standards (from grades 9-10):

Homework 1

  • Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources (primary and secondary), using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Day 1

  • Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
  • Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
  • Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
  • Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Homework 2

  • Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
  • Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
  • Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
  • Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic and convey a style appropriate to the discipline and context as well as to the expertise of likely readers.
  • Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Day 2

  • Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
  • Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic and convey a style appropriate to the discipline and context as well as to the expertise of likely readers.
  • Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented (e.g., articulating implications or the significance of the topic)
  • Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

 

Overview:

Through analyzing a primary source by Assata Shakur, Black woman revolutionary, and secondary sources about the constructions of Black masculinity, students will interrogate dominant narratives about the Black Power movement and reflect on the importance of Black Feminism within the movement.

 

Framework:

This two-day teaching plan will introduce students to key concepts of gender and race construction, structural violence, resistance, repression, intersectionality, and (Black) feminism, applied to the Black Liberation Movement. The homework assignments will strengthen students’ research, reading comprehension, and writing skills. They will be asked to identify the arguments and main points of secondary sources in order to understand the gender dynamics within the Black Panther party and the gendered propaganda of the FBI through Cointelpro.

In class, students will be encouraged to think critically about the information they receive about social movements and will be asked to integrate the reading of the Black Panthers platform and knowledge of the survival programs into their understanding of the party. In analyzing the work of Assata Shakur, students will work collaboratively to apply contextual information to their understanding of the source. They will draw conclusions from close readings that describe resistance to structural, racial violence. The discussion questions will guide the class to recognize the significance of Black women’s work within a prominent Black Power organization.

 

Essential understanding:

Black women activists’ position and critiques sharpened the tools of Black Liberation.   The ideas that will lead to the essential understanding: When Shakur asserted herself as a revolutionary, she strengthened her movement on two gendered fronts:  she disrupted the masculinism within the organization(s) that weakened the power of the resistance force, and she simultaneously disrupted the main narrative used to justify state violence, the trope of the violent Black man.

 

Essential Questions:

  1. What are the dominant narratives about the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Party?
  2. How did the FBI help create these dominant narratives?
  3. What are some of the underrepresented realities of the Black Panther Party?
  4. How did Black Panther women resist sexism within the party?
  5. What work does it do that Shakur is a woman writing “To My People”? How does it disrupt, or not, the masculinity that is part of the militant ideology and the dominant perception of the Black Liberation Struggle?
  6. What strategies does she use to undermine the dominant perceptions of the BLA as a violent organization?

 

Glossary:

Ideology—the beliefs or principles of a group or institution.

Social Construction—an idea that was created and defined by human society, not biology. For example, racial differences are social constructions; they are real because society discriminates according to its definition of race, not because of biological difference. Although biologists have defined the sexes of male and female, what it means to be a man or woman in the U.S. is based on social definitions of gender and the characteristics the society creates and connects to gender.

Chauvinism—in the context of the readings, it means the belief that men are superior to women.

Patriarchy—the society or social system that in a variety of ways privileges men and maleness and hurts women.

Matriarchy—the opposite of Patriarchy, where women are the dominant gender.

Feminism—the struggle against patriarchy and the belief that men and women are equal.

Womanism—the struggle against the patriarchy and white supremacy, which goes with the understanding that these systems work together to harm women of color.

White supremacy—the society or social system that in a variety of ways privileges white people and white culture and hurts people of Asian, African, American Indian, and Latin American descent.

Colonialism/ Imperialism—the political system in which one country (the empire) controls another (the colony) and exploits the people and natural resources of the colony. White supremacy is often the justification and tool of colonialism, since colonies are historically the countries of origin for people of color.

Third World—in the 1960s and ‘70s, this meant countries that used to be official colonies and are not capitalist or communist.

Pigs—police (in the context of Assata Shakur’s writing and that of many Black Power activists).

Pathology—a disease, or something that is not healthy or normal.

Rhetoric—language.

Monolithic—uniform, something that has a single meaning or characteristic.

Hegemony—total domination.

 

Introduction:

Racism is a problem within the systems in our society, the laws, institutions like schools and churches, and everyday realities. Communities of color in the U.S. have fought racism continuously since the founding of the nation in a variety of different ways. In the 1960s and 1970s, many people of color were frustrated with the tactics used by the Civil Rights movement because reforming the laws did not change the deep roots of white supremacy, which means the way systems give unearned advantages to white people and white culture and hurts people of color. In response to this context, Black people organized the he Black Liberation Movement, which was a series of organizations and actions to combat white supremacy using a variety of more militant strategies, a few of which I have described below.

A prominent organization in the movement was the Black Panther Party. It began in 1966 by organizing Black people in Oakland, California, to defend themselves against the police violence that specifically targeted them. They armed Black people to protect their communities from frequent attacks and advocated for a revolution to change the unfairness of the society. As the movement grew, the Party created survival programs to combat a different kind of violence against communities of color, the way the society deprived children of healthy meals and the entire community of health services. The Black Panthers created a Free Breakfast program for children and free medical testing for tuberculosis, among other services. The Black Liberation Army was a branch of the Black Panther Party and a collective that formed in response to the intense government repression of the 1960s. It was underground and had a more militant approach.

The Black Panthers developed a consciousness of the global reach of racial and class inequalitites. Many social movements brought attention to the injustice of the Vietnam War. Protests brought attention to the fact that the U.S. and many countries in Europe have long histories of going to war against countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America in order to enslave the people and exploit the natural resources, otherwise known as colonialism. They believed that the Vietnam War was the latest version of colonialism.

The  U.S. government and most of the white people in the U.S. believed that it was part of the larger war between Capitalism and Communism. Capitalism is the kind of society in the U.S. that has laws and ways to enforce the idea of private property. Communism is essentially an alternative political and economic system designed to equally distribute resources. The U.S. government called capitalist countries the First World and communist countries the Second World. They were afraid that countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America that had just fought for independence from colonialism would become communist. They called these countries the Third World. Social justice movements in the 1960s and ‘70s recognized that across Black, Asian, American Indian, and Latino communities, they suffered racial violence from the U.S. that was related, and also related to the racial violence of colonialism.  This mentality is called a Third World consciousness, and it led the movements to form coalitions with each other and against the Vietnam War.

Assata Shakur was an important activist of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army.She began her political activism while studying secretarial skills at Manhattan College in the mid 1960s. She participated in the student organizing and joined the Black Panther Party. Shakur co-coordinated BPP’s Free Breakfast program and medical projects. Federal and police repression and violence against the Black Panthers drove her and many other activists underground, where joined the Black Liberation Army.

The government created many false charges against Shakur that were dismissed until 1977, when she was convicted of being an accomplice in the murder of a New Jersey state trooper. The jury was all white, and they ignored the testimonies of expert witnesses that explained how she was shot while inside a car and could not have been part of the killing. Shakur escaped prison in 1979 and received political asylum from Cuba despite a bounty of one million dollars on her head; she lives there today. In 1973, Shakur wrote “To My People” from prison. It was published in The Black Scholar, a prominent Black journal. Her writings are extremely influential and form an important part of the writings that came from the many radical political prisoners of the 1960s and ‘70s.  

 

Materials:

Brian Glick, “WAR AT HOME: Covert Action Against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do About It” http://whale.to/b/glick_b.html

The Black Panther Party Platform, 1966 http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/111bppp.html

Tracye Matthews, “’No One Ever Asks What a Man’s Role in the Revolution Is’: Gender Politics and Leadership in the Black Panther Party, 1966–71” http://libcom.org/library/no-one-ever-asks-what-mans-role-revolution-gender-sexual-politics-black-panther-party-19                                                                (Attachment to the PDF is towards the bottom of the page)

Assata Shakur, “To My People” http://www.assatashakur.org/The_Black_Scholar_1973.pdf

 

Activities:  

Homework assignment 1 (to prepare for Day 1)

Ask students to first record what they know about the Black Panthers, and then supplement this by looking up the Black Panthers. Wikipedia does not count for this research, but any pop culture representations work, like movies or songs, or scholarly work about the Black Panthers. The students should come to class ready to share what they found.

After this research, the students will read from Brian Glick’s War at Home, the sections “COINTELPRO: Covert Action Against the Domestic Dissidents of the 1960s” through “COINTELPRO: Covert Action Against the Domestic Dissidents of the 1970s.” Give the students a printed glossary to refer to for this reading and for the next two days.

Day 1

Ask students to share with the class what they found during the research part of the homework and if it was similar to what they thought previously about the Panthers.

Explain the concept of dominant narratives, as applied to the pop culture and even academic understanding of the Black Panthers. Tell the students that they will be looking at a different narrative of the same organization.

Give a lecture on the content from the Introduction section of this module, and using the resources in Additional Sources section, describe the Black Liberation Movement, the Black Panther Party, and revisit Cointelpro. Make sure to include at least a brief description of the survival programs.

At the end of the lecture, call attention to the way that Cointelpro propaganda specifically promoted the idea that Black men, and the Black men in Black Power organizations, were a violent threat to the U.S. Explain that the racist idea (also known as a trope) that Black men are inherently more violent dates back to slavery and is still part of pop culture today.

Ask students to get into groups of 3 or 4. Have them discuss the questions:

  1. Where else have you seen this trope that falsely connects Black men and violence? Movies, etc.
  2. Does it change your understanding about the U.S. or Democracy after learning about Cointelpro?

Pass out the Black Panthers “10 Point Party Platform” and have the students read it.

In their groups, tell them to connect the points to the context they just learned about in the lecture, and identify any points that reveal an aspect of the Party that is not included or is different from the dominant narratives about the Panthers.

Homework Assignment 2 (to prepare for Day 2)

Ask students to read Tracye Matthews, “No One Ever Asks What a Man’s Role in the Revolution Is” and write 1-2 paragraphs on each of the following questions:

  1. What is the main argument of this source?
  2. Describe 2 examples of Black Panther women resisting sexism within the party.
  3. How did the Black Panther Party define an important player in the movement in the beginning of the Party? (Include a description of the redemption of black manhood that Matthews writes about in the section “Competing Gender Ideologies”)

Day 2

Ask students to take out a sheet of paper and reflect on the following, but explain that they will not have to turn it in, “Think about a time when you were working within a group (at school, work, home) and your role was considered by the group to be more important than one or many other group members. Were any of your identities (race, gender, class, age, sexual orientation) relevant to why you had this kind of role?

Tell them to pick a partner. They can choose to share with the partner what they wrote or discuss how this reflection prompt connects to the readings.

Give a short lecture on background information pertaining to Assata Shakur, using the information in the Introduction section of this teaching module and “Framing the Panther,” listed in the Additional Sources section.

Pass out Assata Shakur’s “To My People” and give the students time to read it.
In groups of 3 or 4, students should work together to discuss the following questions:

  1. What strategies does she use to undermine the dominant perceptions of the BLA as a violent organization?
  2. Find 2 examples that she uses to show that the U.S. is violent towards Black communities (or any other groups). Discuss the examples with your group and relate them to the goals of the BPP outlined in the 10 point Platform that we read yesterday.
  3. How does Shakur indirectly refer to gender?

Bring the students back to the big group and ask a student to read aloud the third and fourth paragraph on the first page that begins, “I am a black revolutionary” and ends with “they issued orders to shoot on sight and to shoot to kill.”

Facilitate a discussion about the following questions:

  1. What is the relationship between these paragraphs and the article you read for homework last night?
  2. Why might it have been important to Shakur to remind readers that she is targeted by the FBI?
  3. Why is it important within Black communities at the time to recognize that women are also revolutionaries? How does it strengthen the movement?
  4. Thinking about yesterday’s discussion about dominant narratives, how does it change the dominant narratives about the Black Panther Party that there were women revolutionaries? Why is important to undermine these dominant narratives?

 

Additional Sources:

Joy James, “Framing the Panther: Assata Shakur and Black Female Agency,” in Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle, (New York: New York University Press, 2009) 138-160.

Stephen Ward, “The Third World Women’s Alliance: Black Feminist Radicalism and Black Power Politics,” in The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era, ed. Peniel E. Joseph (New York: Routledge, 2006), 119-144.

Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Black against empire: the history and politics of the Black Panther Party, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).

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