Emory Douglas. The Black Panther newspaper, vol. 3, no. 23. 1969. Two-color ink on newsprint, 17 5/8 × 11 1/2" (44.8 × 29.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Collection of Patrick and Nesta McQuaid and Akili Tommasino, gift of the Committee on Architecture and Design Funds. © 2023 Emory Douglas/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Emory Douglas has a battle cry: “Culture is a weapon.” And this chant reverberates throughout everything he does.

In 1967, Douglas was chosen as the minister of culture and revolutionary artist for the Black Panther Party, a political organization founded by college students Bobby Seale and Huey Newton with the goal of improving conditions for people of color across the United States through “whatever means necessary.” Mobilizing his commercial arts training, Douglas designed the layouts and iconic imagery for the Black Panther newspaper. From 1967 up until the early 1980s, he produced more than 530 newspapers, each bearing his distinctive style of bold lines, graphic silhouettes, block text, and photomontage.

Even after the Black Panther newspaper ceased publication in the early 1980s, Douglas’s art continued to shape and define the visual language of social-justice art. His designs depicting law enforcement officers and politicians as pigs, as well as his illustrations of communities rallied in self-defense, continue to resonate with people around the world. In this month’s Ten Minutes podcast, Douglas shares his path toward arts activism and the power of art to “penetrate the souls of the resistance via the resistors (We The People) against all forms of cruel and unjust authority.”

Emory Douglas. The Black Panther newspaper, vol. 3, no. 25. 1969

Emory Douglas. The Black Panther newspaper, vol. 3, no. 25. 1969

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.

Artist Emory Douglas: We were dealing with the issues of the police abuse at that time. Huey Newton and them came over one time and he had this graphic, because he used to come in and he’d talk about how they stood down the pigs, in the community and on the streets, and he brought this image of this pig on four hoofs. It was like clip art. And he wanted me to put it in the paper, wanted to put the badge number next to it, or on it—each week—to show those police who were bad actors and disrespecting the community.

So I had to clean it up, refine it, and that became the first image of the pig drawing. But it was thereafter that I thought about it, and it came to me, why don’t I stand it up on two hoofs? Keep the snort, keep the tail, all those things, put the flies around it, put the badge on it. And that became the iconic image of the pig that transcended the Black Panther Party, became a movement beyond just the United States, but transcending borders. So it took on a life of its own.

My name is Emory Douglas. I was initially the revolutionary artist of the Black Panther Party, and thereafter became the minister of culture of the Black Panther Party, 1967 until 1980.

Emory Douglas. The Black Panther newspaper, vol. 4, no. 3. 1969

Emory Douglas. The Black Panther newspaper, vol. 4, no. 3. 1969

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.

Emory Douglas. The Black Panther newspaper, vol. 3, no. 18. 1969

Emory Douglas. The Black Panther newspaper, vol. 3, no. 18. 1969

But recalling the sit-ins in late 1959, ’58, ’59, going into the ’60s, where there was a demonstration downtown because of the fact that Black people couldn’t get jobs, couldn’t stay at the hotels. And also beginning to see on the news, the civil rights movement in the South, the water hoses being sprayed on marchers, dogs being sicced on demonstrators. Sometimes you would get the international news and you would see the same thing in apartheid South Africa.

And so I was really beginning to feel and see the injustice that we were subject to. Then, around ’63, ’64, I was going to go to City College, San Francisco. And when I talked to the counselor, they said, well, you should take up commercial art. I did work at small printing presses and companies and community printing operations. A lot of them didn’t have a lot of the high-end equipment but they were able to get the job done with what they had. So that was a very important aspect when I became involved with doing the production work on the Black Panther newspaper.

But now, going back to how I became involved with the Black Panther Party. You had a lot of riots and a lot of rebellions that had took place in this country around 1965, ’66. And so, young Blacks like myself and others were trying to figure out, how can we deal with this very hostile issue? And it was during that time I remember one of them mentioning that they had heard of some brothers who were patrolling the community in Oakland, California.

So going fast-forward, there was a meeting being planned to bring Malcolm X’s widow to the Bay Area to honor her. And one of the brothers who were a part of this group, they needed an artist to do the poster for the event. I said I would do the poster and it was a simple poster—a sketch of Malcolm X.

But it was then that I knew that that’s what I wanted to be a part of. It was after that meeting that I asked Huey Newton and Bobby Seale how could I join.

Huey P. Newton was the cofounder of the Black Panther Party, and he was the minister of defense of the Black Panther Party. Bobby Seale was the other cofounder, and he was the chairman of the Black Panther Party.

Now this is late January of 1967. The organization had started in October of 1966. I called Huey, I would go by his house, then he would introduce me to folks in the community that he knew, then we would go to Bobby Seale’s house.

So this was a lot of what was going on during that initial phase, because it had not even become a national organization at that time. It was still local in the context of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

Emory Douglas. The Black Panther newspaper, vol. 4, no. 10. 1969

Emory Douglas. The Black Panther newspaper, vol. 4, no. 10. 1969

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.”

Emory Douglas. The Black Panther newspaper, vol. 4, no. 4. 1969

Emory Douglas. The Black Panther newspaper, vol. 4, no. 4. 1969

Huey Newton and Bobby Seale had the vision, when they started the paper. They had mentioned that a lot of the Black community wasn’t a reading community, but they learned through observation and participation. So for those who weren’t going to read the long, drawn-out articles that were in the paper and the seniors who weren’t going to read the papers or couldn’t, that they would get the gist of the story by seeing the artwork and reading the captions or the bold headlines that was in the paper. So the art played an integral part into that community that just wasn’t going to read, but would be inspired by the visual images that they seen that were reflective of the politics and the ideological philosophical perspective of the Black Panther Party.

And our paper was not just in the United States. We had a readership of 400,000. And we always had in the center section of it news about Africa, Asia, and Latin America. So the art is a very powerful tool in the context of how we were able to bridge borders.

I always say that the style evolves from the materials that I had to work with. We could only afford one color plus black ink. So therefore 99% of the papers were two-color, and then there were a few that maybe had three or four colors. But then we had to visualize how to use the color in the design elements to have impact.

I was inspired by woodcuts, but it took so long. So I began to mimic woodcuts with using markers, ink, ballpoint pens, and creating that kind of a bold look to the images themselves. We had the typewriter that a lot of the articles. We had to make our own layout sheets and production sheets to cut and paste the texts of the articles. We had scissors and razorblades and sometime X-acto blades. We didn't have any light tables, none of those things.

So we were always resilient in the context of getting the paper out during that time. But we, out of that experience there, we were able to develop our own design and our own concept.

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.

  1. Don’t be fooled by deception.

  2. Don’t be deceitful or corruptible.

  3. Know you get more truth from the artists than from bureaucrats.

  4. Recognize that art is a powerful tool, a language that can be used to enlighten, inform, and guide to action.

  5. Create art that recognizes the oppression of others and considers the basic quality-of-life concerns and basic human-rights issues.

  6. Create art of social concerns that even a child can understand.

  7. The goal should always be to make the message clear.

  8. Make an effort not to create political art dealing with social issues just because it’s a fun, cool thing to do.

  9. Create art that challenges the colonization of the imagination.

  10. Self-evaluate one’s work and be open to constructive evaluation from others. Be open to making adjustments if you choose to do so, and be prepared, if necessary, to defend and explain what you communicate through your art.

  11. Know the rules before you break the rules.

  12. Don’t lose sight of what the goals are.

Emory Douglas. The Black Panther newspaper, vol. 3, no. 29. 1969

Emory Douglas. The Black Panther newspaper, vol. 3, no. 29. 1969

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.