To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Black Power Movement, former Black Panthers gathered in Harlem to talk about their experiences. Kathleen Cleaver, pictured here in a 1968 photo by Stephen Shames, was a noted speaker.



Celebrating 50 Years Of Black Power With Venerated Black Panthers

June 16th marks 50 years of Black Power, a slogan created to celebrate, empower and shape black consciousness amongst Americans. And where else to honor all the amazing efforts of all those years but in the heart of where the largest Black-American art movement in history occurred? Thusly, on Wednesday evening, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem started this year’s Black Power 50 celebration with a conversation from two members of the Black Panther Party: Kathleen Cleaver and Jamal Joseph.

The auditorium was packed with people across generations: more former Black Panthers, mothers who wanted to see the efforts keep moving for their children, and a 10-year-old boy who asked the panelists, “I want to be an activist, but I don’t want to die or go to jail. How do I do that?”

A young man, photographed in 1972 by Stephen Shames, in a Schomburg Center photo collection called 'Free Angela Davis,' referencing Davis' wrongful imprisonment.
A young man, photographed in 1972 by Stephen Shames, in a Schomburg Center photo collection called ‘Free Angela Davis,’ referencing Davis’ wrongful imprisonment.

The two former Panthers also reminisced onstage about their time within the movement, and what it all meant to them.

“If you’re black, you’re wack; if you’re brown stick around; if you’re white, you’re alright,”Joseph recalled about the ideology of children during the ’60s, adding that everyone was trying to integrate by looking white.  This was the exact reason why Stokely Carmichael started the movement: He was tired of black people being ashamed of who they were.

Cleaver, who looked as stunning and elegant as ever (at 70-years-old!) said that the Party, “was a risk and it was really bold. [It] was something that went against the grain of the caution that was imbedded in us.”

As Joseph added, “The strongest women I knew and taught me the most about manhood were the women of the Black Panther Party.” He said that the movement would not have lasted without them.

Female Black Panthers in 1968, photographed by Stephen Shames.
Female Black Panthers in 1968, photographed by Stephen Shames.

He also had an important message for younger generations in the audience. “Retweeting a revolutionary message is not an actual revolutionary action,” said Joseph. Cleaver joined in, adding that activism is a part of a broader response. “You can’t give up. It’s not like you can change America and go to sleep. We have to constantly critique [and] organize,” she advised.

The Schomburg Center is dedicated to keeping black history alive, so this year they have launched a yearlong examination of the Black Power Movement. The center will hold future events, as well as a two-part digital exhibition: Ready for Revolution and Black Power!

Stay tuned to Milk for more on black history.

Images via The Schomburg Center

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