Wednesday, October 27, 2010

'Howard L. Bingham's Black Panthers 1968'

Remember how you felt watching Spike Lee’s adaptation of ‘Malcolm X’? Remember the uncanny metamorphosis of Denzel? Remember the end? The eulogy? When I was reading and looking through this book of our history I got that same feeling in my gut. No matter how brilliant the acting and production of ‘Malcolm X’ was, it paled in comparison to the man himself. Malcolm’s pictures and the unmistakable voice of the legendary (YES, legendary) Ossie Davis was the catalyst pride that swelled in each of our breast. For those of us too young to have missed the 60’s and 70’s and might have forgotten the stories of our mothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and pastors; this collection is priceless.

No matter your stance on the Panthers, you had better concede one thing; they changed history for Black people AND for America. Trust me; I’ve heard all of the “bad” stories about the Panthers. Mainly from people who don’t have the first damn clue. I’ve also heard the good. Mainly from the people who were beaten by said clues. The Panthers were soldiers. Plain and simple. To call them anything less would be an insult, an injustice, and utterly contemptuous. They lived and fought in a violently severe time in America’s history, and that history must not be forgotten or watered down. The souls that had dogs sicced on them, fire hoses that tore away at their skin, and someone else’s saliva bathing their face deserve better. They demand it.

Mr. Howard L. Bingham’s pictorial anthology on the Black Panthers is one of those books that need to be on every Black person’s coffee table and in every Black person’s library. Am I militant? Hell no. I just know my history and I’m proud of my history. Those who lived through this time will recognize these pictures, the era, and reminisce. Memories good and bad will surface. For those (like me) who grew up listening to these stories, this book is an invaluable piece of much needed history.

Now… about the pictures. Powerful. Historic. Moving. Potent. Unique. Beautiful. Dominating. The radiant pictures of Kathleen Cleaver were enough to do it for me. Next to the raised black-gloved fist, is there anything so visual stunningly powerful? So stunningly beautiful? So stunningly dangerous? Had I not known better I would have thought that SHE was the reason it was called the ‘Panther’ party. Black. Strong. Intellectually savage. The incredibly cynical looks Bobby Seale gives the world captured on film makes you smile with a seething understanding of his thoughts. Throughout this book the power that is emanated through the lens of Mr. Bingham is glorious and vivid. Know that cliché; “a picture is worth a thousand words”? These are worth a thousand and one. By a factor of ten.

The short essays written by Howard Bingham, Gilbert Moore, Tessa Hicks, Mar Hollingsworth, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, and Bernard Kinsey are the Clubman to the perfect haircut. They said just enough without saying too much, and that is a talent in and of itself. While I can easily follow their work now because of the internet, oh how I wish I could have read/heard their words first hand. For some this will be a history book. For others; a diary. For me, it was a pleasure.

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