What most Americans remember of the Black Panther Party are the stars of the group: Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver. But of the thousands of Black Panthers, two thirds were women, working behind the scenes, running the social programs of the party. Author Judy Juanita was one of those women. She joined the Black Panther Party in its early days in the mid-1960s, and tells us what drew her to the group.
In the ’60s, people were looking at end-of-the-world scenarios with the atomic bomb and the Cold War. “Tricky Dick” Nixon got elected during this period, and the Vietnam War was ongoing. Women who were graduating college, Hillary Clinton’s generation, were saying, “I’m not going to have any children because I don’t want to bring a child into this world.” That was the most popular type of valedictorian speech at the women’s colleges at the time.
People had a very anti-government sentiment—we weren’t expecting the government to respond. No, all of those changes happened gradually over the next couple of decades. They didn’t happen right away. Instead of being frustrated, people had an attitude of resistance. The government was the antagonist. The American counterculture, we were the protagonists.
That’s really what the ’60s were about: We were good students. We said, “Wait a minute, something’s not right here. We’re not getting the complete story.” The desire to get the complete story came from the Civil Rights Movement and then the Vietnam War. Blacks wanted to investigate, “What’s happening with our civil rights?” And the white kids were coming out of the “Mad Men” era and saying, “Something’s not right here. We’ve been carrying on war like this continuously, using the great phrase ‘Manifest Destiny,’ and we’ve been slaughtering people since forever.” After World War I and World War II, we could question, “Wait a minute, what was so great about the war? What about the people who died?”
Get a short course on the Black Panther Party from insider Judy Juanita, in an interview at Collectors Weekly.