“Good Mothers with Guns:” The Black Panther’s Evolution on Women in the Party (by Lauren Bollinger)

“Good Mothers with Guns:” The Black Panther’s Evolution on Women in the Party


Intended Grade Level: 11-12 Grade.

Reading Standards

  1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole
  2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  3. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
  4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
  5. Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.
  6. Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
  1. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
  2. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Writing Standards

  1. Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
  2. Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the specific task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.
  3. Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


Through the analysis of a primary source by Black Panther member Candi Robinson and secondary sources about the gender dynamics and influences of black feminism/womanism within the Party, students will question popular conceptions of the organization and reflect of the dynamic nature of the Party.


This unit will introduce students to concepts of black nationalism, feminism, and womanism as well as a deeper understanding of the Black Panther Party, one that complicates dominant narratives of the organization. The homework will strengthen students’ reading, writing, and research abilities. They will be asked to identify the arguments and main points of primary and secondary sources in order to understand the gender dynamics and sexism of the Black Panther Party as well as the organization’s public attempts to challenge this problem.

During class, students will be encouraged to think critically about popular conceptions of the Black Panther Party and how these conceptions are influenced by dominant narratives. Through their professor’s lectures, they will begin to contextualize the Party and its platform. In their analysis of an essay by Candi Robinson, students will instead begin to recognize the Black Panther Party as a dynamic organization, one that was constantly evolving during an era of black nationalism, feminism, and womanism.

Essential Understanding

That while sexism was prevalent in the Black Panther Party it was constantly evolving on its stance in response to the growing tide of feminism and womanism.

Essential Questions

  1. Who were the Black Panthers?
  2. What are the popular conceptions of the Black Panther Party and how are these conceptions influenced by dominant narrative of black nationalism?
  3. Does this text challenge or confirm popular conceptions of the Black Panther Party?
  4. How did the Black Panther Party conceive of its female members?
  5. How were the Black Panthers influenced by feminist thought?
  6. How did the Black Panthers respond to feminist thought?


White Supremacy- both an ideology promotes the belief in the innate superiority of white peoples and a system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.

Patriarchy- both an ideology that promotes the belief in the innate superiority of men over women and a system of exploitation and oppression of women by men, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.

Black Nationalism- an ideology which advocates for the unification of black peoples across the world and their self-determination, or independence, from European/white society. Black nationalism arose as a politicized response during the 1960’s to white supremacy.

Feminism- an ideology that advocates for the liberation of women against the patriarchy.

Womanism- an ideology that centers both the struggle against the patriarchy and white supremacy, understanding that these systems work together to disproportionately harm women of color. This ideology was formed largely in response to the racism that was found in mainstream second wave feminism.


When many people think of the Black Panther Party today, the image that comes to mind is male-centered and violent: a powerful man wearing the Panther’s signature black beret, with gun prominently in hand. Several scholars consider this image of hyper-masculinity as the Panthers’ attempt to affirm their manhood in a society that was intent on dehumanizing them. And yet, this hyper-masculine environment fostered much sexism within the party, with several chapters experiencing problems with gender division and sexual harassment and assault. By the late 1960’s, however, the Black Panther Party began to rearticulate this image. As shown in their weekly newspaper, The Black Panther, the organization began to adopt more anti-sexist principles, frequently asserting that female party members were equal to their male counterparts and focusing more on women’s issues such as forced sterilization or single parenthood. While many may view these efforts as evidence that the Party had reformed its sexist ways, the truth is far more complicated. As seen in Candi Robinson’s August 1969 article “Message to Revolutionary Women,” the Party, while appearing to espouse wholly progressive principles, in fact promoted both a unique blend of misogyny and feminism. In its appeal to black women to join the Black Freedom Struggle, the Party both challenged and perpetuated traditional interpretations of black womanhood. And yet this can be as an attempt by the party to evolve during an era marked by black nationalism, feminism, and womanism.


Joseph Samuel’s “Whose Revolution is This? Gender’s Divisive Role in the Black Panther Party.”  http://worldcatlibraries.org/registry/gateway?sid=CLJC:openurlref&title=Georgetown+Journal+of+Gender+and+the+Law&issn=1525-6146&aulast=Josephs&au=Samuel+Josephs&volume=9&issue=2&year=2008&atitle=WHOSE+REVOLUTION+IS+THIS%3f+GENDER%27S+DIVISIVE+ROLE+IN+THE+BLACK+PANTHER+PARTY&spage=403

Linda Lumsden’s “Good Mothers with Guns: Framing Black Womanhood in the Black Panther Party: http://jmq.sagepub.com/content/86/4/900.abstract

Candi Robinson’s “Message to Revolutionary Women”: http://www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/etext/bpp/bpp090869_23.htm


Day 1

Students will be asked to do a freewrite for 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class about what they know about the Black Panther Party, drawing upon their past education of the organization in history classes or popular depictions in media. Afterwards, they will come up to the whiteboard and write words and/or draw pictures that they believe represent the Black Panther Party.

After this activity, the professor will lecture about the Black Panthers and black nationalism, emphasizing the belief in militant self-defense as well as the reasons why they held this belief. Additionally, the professor will discuss the sexism within the party (as shown by the existence of sexual harassment by male Panther members) but be clear to contextualize the hypermasculinity as a response to racial oppression. Overall, the professor will attempt to historically situate the Black Panther Party.

Homework 1

Students will read excerpts from Samuel Josephs’ “Whose Revolution is This? Gender’s Divisive Role in the Black Panther Party.” as well as Linda Lumsen’s “Good Mothers with Guns: Framing Black Womanhood in the Black Panther Party” and write 1-2 paragraphs about the following questions:

  1. How did the Black Panther view and treat its female members?
  2. How did the Black Panther evolve on this stance?

Day 2

Students will break off into groups and read Candi Robinson’s “Message to Revolutionary Women” and attempt to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the overall argument of the essay?
  2. How does Robinson make this argument?
  3. How are women depicted in this essay? Does this depiction conform or deviate from traditional expectations of women in the party?
  4. How might the essay’s means of dissemination as a Party newspaper article affect its argument and the ways in which Robinson makes this argument?

The professor will then facilitate a conversation about these questions, highlighting the unique ways that the essay both deviates and conforms to popular notions of black womanhood.

The professor will then historically situate the piece, giving a lecture on the rise of feminism and womanism and how this affected the black nationalist groups such as the Black Panther Party.

Homework 2

Students will be asked to find media (such as newspaper articles/cartoons or official Party photos) that depicts Black Panther women and will be asked to write a short 1-2 response about how the media depicts these women.

Additional Sources

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

Matthews, Tracye. “”No One Ever Asks What A Man’s Place in the Revolution Is.. : Gender Construction in the Black Panther Party 1966 -1971′.” In Voices of the African Diaspora 3, 265-295.

Spencer, Robyn C. “Engendering the Black Freedom Struggle” Revolutionary Black Womanhood and the Black Panther Party in the Bay Area, California” In Journal of Women’s History 20, no. 1, 90-113.

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