READY TO PARTY: MUMIA ABU-JAMAL AND THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY
|by Todd Steven Burroughs, Ph.D.
special to Prof. Kim's News Notes
NOTE: In his new book, "We Want Freedom: A Life In The Black Panther Party" (South End Press), Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Pennsylvania Death Row inmate, remembers his Party days. In this excerpt of "We Want Freedom," Abu-Jamal recalls his life as a founding member of the Party’s Philadelphia branch.
In this excerpt of "We Want Freedom," he shares his memories of the female members of the Party. "To be a Panther," writes Mumia, "meant something extraordinary in 1970, and one felt immediately honored to know, work with, and love these tough, committed women." – Todd Steven Burroughs
MUMIA REMEMBERS THE WOMEN OF THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY (PART I)
By Mumia Abu-Jamal
When I read or hear critics employ their projections against the BPP on charges on sexism I barely conceal a chuckle, for my memories of women in the Party were of able, determined, and powerful revolutionaries who fought with and for their brothers like lionesses.
Women in the Party in which I spent several years of my youth were not dainty, shrinking violets. They were, of course, of various backgrounds and, as is common in Black America, of every which hue.
They were also tough women.
We lived in Spartan, virtually bare "Panther Pads," where we fell onto mattresses at the end of a long day’s work.
Whether I was in Philadelphia (Sister Love), the Bronx (Sister Bernice), or in Berkeley, California (Judi Douglas), I was under the authority of a female Panther who ran a tight and efficient operation.
Although no woman helped found the Philadelphia branch and none held office, the National Office sent a woman with the rank of Deputy Field Marshal, which meant she had immense power in the city.
Her name was Sister Love. She spoke with that common Black California-ese that had deep roots in the U.S. South. She looked into every nook and cranny of the branch and occasionally cracked her whip by ordering the branch leadership to correct some defect or close some loophole in office security.
As an outsider, and as a woman, she evoked mixed emotions in us.
On the one hand, there was clear resentment at her presence and, yes, her power. On the other, there was a profound respect, for, we reasoned, if she was sent by "The Coast," by friends and comrades of our beloved Minister of Defense, Huey P. Newton, then she had to be most extraordinary.
In the Bronx, Sister Bernice ran the office of the East Coast Ministry of Information with all the tenderness of a drill sergeant.
She could be mercurial. At one moment she could be whispering encouragement to you as you worked on a project. But in the next she would bark out, "Drop down and give me twenty!" and stand there, her dark bespectacled face an impassive mask of obsidian, as she counted out the pushups: "1, 2, …..17, 17 1/2 –give me a real pushup, nigga—18, 19, 20."
The office was a beehive of Panther activity, and she, Sister Bernice, was the undisputed queen.
At the Party’s National Headquarters in Northern California, a phalanx of women ran the Party offices, answering phones, paying bills, and generally taking care of business of a large, national organization.
When I arrived, I was stunned by the normality of it. This, the National Office of the notorious Black Panther Party, with its offices, phones, typewriters, and related paraphernalia, could have been the offices of the Chamber of Commerce.
It was a business office, peopled with competent, efficient, and attractive young women. With perhaps one difference: some of these women wore pistols.
There was an additional difference: almost all of the women were light-complected. Then men, by contrast, were generally brown, to dark brown, to jet black, like [my friend and fellow Panther] Mojo.
On the second floor were the offices, layout area, and composition machinery for the Party’s acclaimed journal, The Black Panther.
I was assigned to assist the editor, Judi Douglas, and do anything necessary to help the paper. My boss was a gentle woman, with a soft, Southern accent, who patiently helped the young Panther from Philadelphia write pieces worthy of the paper. She was a selfless and dedicated teacher.
On both coasts, in cities of different rhythms and pace, one found confident, capable, proud, and inspiring women, who commanded respect, camaraderie, intense loyalty, and sisterly love.
Copyright © 2004 by Mumia Abu-Jamal. Excerpted from "We Want Freedom: A Life In The Black Panther Party," published by South End Press. Reprinted with permission from South End Press.
Table of Contents
|photo of Mumia Abu Jamal|
|photo of Steven Todd Burroughs
from Research Channel