The Book of the Week is “Panther Baby” by Jamal Joseph, published in 2012. This ebook is the autobiography of a former member of the Black Panthers.
Raised by his grandmother in Harlem, Joseph was of Spanish-speaking and African-American origin. In the late 1960’s, as a church-going, teenage honor student, he joined an African-American community group that steered young men toward educational, career-oriented pursuits. “Pledgees were not allowed to go to parties, have girlfriends, smoke or drink.”
Nevertheless, shortly after joining the “Feathermen,” Joseph was drawn to the Black Panthers, a group with chapters in major cities around the United States, that fought for social justice for African Americans. Continuous battles with law enforcement meant that the group’s main activity was fundraising for the purpose of legal defense for oppressed Black Panthers.
The author contends that the U.S. government launched various campaigns implemented via the FBI and CIA to spy on, spread bad publicity about, and persecute the group’s members. The government used any excuse to arrest and torture them, and deny them due process with the goal of destroying the organization.
In Manhattan, in addition to teaching and making speeches, Joseph sold newspapers to raise money to fund a breakfast program for underprivileged children and clothing distribution in poor communities. He wrote that a major aspect of the Panther ideology involved arming members with guns to fight not white people, but the racist institutions of oppression.
One night, Joseph was arrested after attending a political rally. He and twenty other Panthers were charged with various serious crimes, and thrown in jail. Read the book to learn about the political and social changes that shaped the Black Panthers and the author in the next few decades.