A story from inside the Black Panther party and its fight for black equality in the civil rights era.
An often uncomfortable but realistic picture of racial tension in the 1960s and ’70s, first time author Pharr’s memoir focuses on his experiences with the Black Panthers. The author was an active member of the party in Los Angeles, moving up the ranks until he found himself opposed to Huey P. Newton’s style of leadership and quietly disengaged himself. While Pharr is most intent on giving an inside view of the militaristic side of the Black Panthers, including lots of detail about a shootout with police at headquarters, he also describes some of the community activism the Panthers engaged in. Free breakfast for children and conflict resolution without police involvement are highlights of that work for the community. More detail about these and other programs would have presented a rounder picture of Black Panther philosophy and provided the book with a wider audience. Due to the spotlight on self-defense, police brutality is central to the story. While ugly, its inclusion will help readers understand the Panthers’ focus on defense and their own violent contributions to the ongoing conflict. Unfortunately, the dialogue is uneven throughout; while many conversations are laid back and full of slang, others are overly formal and even stilted. Liberal use of ’70s slang is likely to make this an inaccessible read for younger generations. While probably realistic to the time it covers, this is a serious problem for a book attempting to educate those who didn’t live through that period. “I believe the Black Panthers and other militant organizations,” writes the author, “did more to ensure our human and civil rights than all the marching and praying of the last 100 years.” That’s debatable, to be sure, but Pharr’s central story is gripping.
A life and movement that deserve to be chronicled, but the book would have been improved by more judicious editing.