by Jayna Dighe
In past history classes, I’ve read impactful stories about Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and John Lewis that have inspired me and caused me to appreciate the extent of what the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement have done for me as a young minority in America. The Black Panther party was always mentioned in my textbooks, but more in passing than in detail. They were described as acting in ways opposite of MLK’s teachings, violent and harsh in comparison to MLK’s nonviolent ways. I always imagined the Black Panthers tearing through the streets of Oakland, burning buildings and starting riots. I never gave second thought to this portrayal until I attended the SFFILM program American Justice on Trial + For Love and Legacy. This program was about Huey P. Newton, one of the leaders and founders of the Blank Panther party who was wrongfully convicted of first degree murder, which completely changed my perspective. After watching these two impactful films, I learned that the Black Panther party was more than just a group of angry people with guns. They were brave and fought hard for their rights just like MLK. They believed in their right to be able to defend themselves, which didn’t necessarily translate to constant violence and shootings. Through Huey’s trial, he exposed the injustice in the American court system. This trial was monumental, because the jury was led by the first black foreman ever to serve on a major murder trial. Huey strove to educate Americans about the history of injustice in the United States and to push for equality in the legal system. I also learned from Huey’s wife, as she recalled Huey’s immense strength in the face of extreme hardships and as she worked to ensure that he was remembered by his community. When I walked out of the theater, the main question that flooded my brain was this: Why didn’t I know about Huey before? Why do most people have a flawed idea of the Black Panther party? Why are MLK and Rosa Parks common names in history books but not Huey P. Newton? Even though the Black Panther party originated far from all the protests going on in Selma and Washington, D.C, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t as important or impactful. The Black Panthers should be remembered for their part of the Civil Rights Movement. I wonder what other historical stories are hidden or misremembered. These documentaries have demonstrated to me that what is written in history books is not necessarily the whole picture. In future classes, I will strive to ask more questions and do my own research about the other sides to historical narratives so that I can gain a better understanding of past events that shape the future of our country and our world.