Fanning the Flames of Racial Discord:
The National Press and the Black Panther Party
Jane Rhodes is Dean for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and
chair of the American studies department at Macalester College.
She is the author of Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and
Protest in the Nineteenth Century. She lives in St. Paul,
Race and the 1960s’
•Mainstream media was unprepared to report on the Black Panther Party as a
•In the 1950s and 1960s the national press paid little attention to the daily lives
and concerns of Black America.
•Of the four media outlets analyzed in the study, it was revealed that the New
York Times stood alone in their ignoring racial stereotypes towards blacks in their
reporting of blacks.
•Why was that?
The Black Panther
Intercommunal News Service
Why: By the time that the Black Panther Intercommunal Newswire was
founded, the organization was being framed by the mainstream media
in 3 different ways, to be discussed later.
What: The newspaper performed multiple functions – serving as both
an internal organ and as the party’s public vehicle.
Who: David Hilliard and Emory Douglas did most of the writing and
Framing the Panthers
3 major techniques
according to Rhodes
Often times, the Black
Panther Party used
rhetorical tools to get
their point across. An
example of this is the
rifle in the iconic photo
of Huey P. Newton to be
were often masked by
how the mainstream
media portrayed them.
Capitalizing off of fear
as the central and most
widely used technique
of framing – as
illustrated in this video.
I. New York Times
A. Took the Blank Panther party to run into troubles with law enforcement
to become recognized
B. The first headline read “Armed Negroes Enter California Assembly in
Gun Bill Protest.”
C. Two themes: Panthers’ fear inspiring militancy and the media
D. “It was one of the most unusual incidents in California legislative
history, involving grimfaced, silent young men armed with guns
roaming the Capital surrounded by reporters, television, cameramen,
and stunned policemen and watched by incredulous groups of visiting
schoolchildren” (Rhodes, p. 7).
E. Words used to describe their actions: armed, roamed, barged, and
II. The Associated Press (AP)
A. Article stated, “During the whole incident there was no real
violence and no shooting occurred” (Rhodes, p.7).
B. A different lead could have used the words: marched,
C. The real story: black men with weapons and therefore
the idea of violence
D. The Blank Panthers “fashioned themselves as a
paradox-on the one hand
claiming a constitutional right to bear arms, on the hand
abandoning the tactics if non violence and
reconciliation” (Rhodes, p7).
•As the Panthers lefts the state capital white’s in the
crowded stated “Niggers with guns, niggers with guns.”
•Demonstrated racialized anxiety when a photo selected
by Times showed the Panthers wearing black berets and
holding rifles at attention in a walkway of the capitol – This
image was a visual introduction to the Blank Panther
•Image was certain to cause fear and concern
•Story was shaped and reported
•New York Times – said this story had minimal national
importance and had minimal firsthand access
•Northern California newspapers – shaped the national
discourse of the event
•C. The San Francisco Examiner – headline “Panthers Invade
Capitol” with a photo and front page story
•“These new media subjects shared some of the characters of
student antiwar protestors and black civil rights activists.
•Fear Frame – the symbolic use of guns
•Black Panthers anticipated this visual representation of
defiance would attract new members
•Bobby Seale stated they “fully intended to use the mass
media as a means of conveying the message to the
American people and to the black people in particular”
I.Governor Reagan arranged a review of security at the capitol
in the stir of the panthers protest
II.The recapped story stated the Panthers as “an armed band
of Negroes who intruded or stalked or burst into the Assembly,
carrying loaded shotguns, rifles, and pistols.” (Rhodes, p.7).
III.The Panthers were scheduled to show in Court to face
charges of felony conspiracy.
Was it correct for J. Edgar Hoover
accuse them of communism?
•Set tone for how they be treated and viewed in media
•Extreme group in every print
•Influenced other media outlets
•Keys on certain aspects of groups extreme
•FBI head Hoover suggested they were conspiring with
Played on American fears
Celeb the BPP in
How many days later, were
National Press after the Protest?
· Summer 1967 the New York Times deviated from the trend with a lengthy
feature titled “ the call of the Black Panthers” that titled helped launch the group’s
cult of celebrity
The article published in the midst of the nation’s worst urban rioting, it was an
obvious effort to respond to the expressions of anger, and despair erupting in the
After the Panthers began getting national coverage, their
speeches and public appearances were highly covered.
It was written by Sol Stern an editor at
Stern’s article offered a generally
sympathetic analysis of the Panthers
politics, while using personalities particularly
Newton and Seale as recognizable symbols.
The first page of the article was illustrated
with Panther’s own iconography, for
example: a photograph of Huey Newton
seated in a fan chair holding a rifle in one
hand and a spear in the other hand, and
Bobby Seal in the Panther’s Uniform of beret
and black Jacket.
The time helped make the Newton photo an
internationally recognized image.
Five days later the time reported that a California judged had sentenced some of
the Sacramento protesters to up to three months in jail
The Panthers were only mentioned on the New York time for three months, while
stories about urban riots, violence over the voting rights from the south, and
confrontations between black Americans and the National Guard dominated race
A year later, the Times reported that a young Oakland police
officer named John Frey was killed in a shoot-out with Huey
When Newton was arrested and charged with the murder, the
national press began to cover the Panthers with vigor, and Newton
became a household name.