Stephen Shames's Photos Document the Lives and Activism of Black Panther Party WomenBreaking News
tags: photography, African American history, 1970s, 1960s, black power, womens history, Black Panther Party, radical history
When he was only 20 years old, photographer Stephen Shames began documenting the Black Panther Party. At the time, he was a college student at UC Berkeley. Despite this, or maybe because of it, he was able to gain the trust of people in the Black Panthers, and they allowed him into their lives to make photos.
Because of the trust that Shames established, he was able to make intimate photographs that are really quite different than a lot of media coverage of the Panthers. In his new book, “Comrade Sisters: Women of the Black Panther Party” (ACC Art Books, 2022), co-authored in close collaboration with Ericka Huggins, Shames takes us away from a dominant view of the Black Panthers by focusing on the women, not the men, who were involved at that time.
Most of us know about the Black Panther Party through movies. Some of us (I am too young to fall in this category) were alive when they were a far more visible entity. Most of the media I have consumed about them centers on portrayals of the men like Fred Hampton and Bobby Seale. Just last year the movie “Judas and the Black Messiah” hit theaters, for example.
Interestingly enough, as the book’s publisher says, some six out of 10 people in the Black Panthers were women. This is what Shames’s new book is all about. It peels back the curtain on their lives and contributions to the movement.
While the women of the Black Panther Party were definitely working alongside their male counterparts agitating and protesting, they also were instrumental, according to the publisher’s description of the book, in, “building communities and enacting social justice, providing food, housing, education, health care, and more.”
This is precisely what Shames’s photos show. You see women providing free food, health care education and more. As the publisher’s description of the book continues:
“Some know the Party’s history as a movement for the social, political, economic and spiritual upliftment of Black and indigenous people of colour — but to this day, few know the story of the backbone of the Party: the women.”