Ten Minutes with Emory Douglas: On Arts Activism
Hear from the revolutionary artist about his iconic designs for the Black Panther newspaper.
Aug 18, 2023
To hear more about the Black Panther newspaper and how art can inspire social change, click on the SoundCloud audio below.
See below for a transcript of the SoundCloud audio.
I was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1943, came to San Francisco in 1951 because I had asthma as a child and my doctor thought the weather would be better here, and my mother had a sister living here in San Francisco.
In about 1955, around that time, I went to my first trip to the South, with my auntie, to Tulsa, Oklahoma. And I recall when we got to Oklahoma City, my auntie took my hand and we’re going into the bus station to wait for the next bus transfer to go to Tulsa. And I remember when we went into the bus station, she said, “Now we have to use this bathroom here. You can’t use that bathroom out there.” It had the sign saying, “Negros Only.” That became my first direct understanding, I guess, as a youngster, of the racial injustice that existed.
So I remember one Saturday, which...I lived about a 45-minute walk there and back from my house to the Black House. I went there and I seen Bobby Seale working on this legal-size sheet of paper, which he said was the first issue of the Black Panther Party newspaper. He had done it with markers for the heading and it was about a young brother who had been murdered in Richmond, California, called Denzil Dowell.
And I seen them working on it and I told them, well, I still had a lot of materials and stuff from City College, materials from doing production work, rub-off type, you know, the prefabricated texture materials, markers, all those things. And I said, “Well, I can go home and get some materials, some stuff to help you do—improve what you’re doing.” And he said, “Okay.”
And by the time I came back, Bobby said, well, we finished with this one, but then they said, “You’ve been hanging around, you seem to be committed, and we’re going to start the paper and we want you to be the ‘Revolutionary Artist,’ and eventually you’ll become the Minister of Culture.”
Art is a language. It’s a visual language. It’s a way to communicate. You’re impacted by art all day long. Wherever you look, you’re going to see some form of art as you go about your daily business. So it’s a very powerful way of communicating.
When I traveled a lot, there were a lot of young artists and folks who would come to the talks. Some of them were trying to figure out how they could integrate into the creative processes that they were involved in some social-justice context. So I try to give them a few pointers, guiding points. And that’s how I did the manifesto.
Emory Douglas is the former minister of culture and revolutionary artist for the Black Panther Party. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he designed all but one of the Party’s newspapers. Each issue is marked by the artist’s bold, figurative illustrations outlined in thick black line and contrasted with bright colors, block text, and photomontage. Through his work with the Black Panther Party, Douglas helped define the aesthetics of protest at the height of the Civil Rights era, cementing his status among the 20th century’s most influential radical political artists.
This episode was produced and edited by Arlette Hernandez, with mixing and sound design by Brandi Howell and music by Chad Crouch.
MoMA Audio is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
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