Oakland’s new Black Panther Party Museum memorializes Dr. Huey P. Newton, and the Panthers more broadly


The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded in 1966 by Dr. Huey P. Newton and (now Chicago Congressman) Bobby Seale in Oakland, California. After, the Party established solidarity networks around the world against white supremacy while proffering mutual aid in Black communities like the Free Breakfast Program, and organizing anti-war movements.

Now, almost fifty years later, a new museum has opened that tells the Black Panther Party’s story, not far from where it all started.

At 1427 Broadway, the storefront elevation of a 3,000-square-foot space is lacquered with a large mural that displays the Black Panther Party’s iconic logo by Emory Douglas. The inside contains ephemera that once belonged to Dr. Newton, who served as the Party’s Minister of Defense before he was murdered in 1989.

Exterior view of the Black Panther Party Museum (Google Maps)

The Black Panther Party Museum features exhibitions about the Party’s community work curated by Frederika Newton, Dr. Newton’s wife and president of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation; and Dr. Xavier Buck, the foundation’s executive director. Auburn Leigh was the main designer who collaborated on the Black Panther Party Museum. Together with Newton, and Dr. Buck, Leigh designed the exhibits, the brand kit, and the gift shop. 

 

Each One Teach One is a retrospective currently on view centering the Oakland Community School, curated by Torman Jahi, an elementary school teacher in the Oakland School District who also helps run the Bay Area Hip Hop Archives. At the Oakland Community School, Black Panther Ericka Huggins revolutionized early childhood education for Black students with new pedagogical approaches, like free food programs. Luminaries like Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Donald Glover, James Baldwin, and Willie Mays all visited the school when it opened at 6118 East 14th Street in 1973. Revolutionary Grain is the other exhibition on view. It features original photography by Donald Cunningham, chief photographer for the Black Panther, the Party’s official newspaper.

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Each One Teach One tells the story of the Oakland Community School. (Susanna Lamaina)

The museum, Dr. Xavier Buck said, is about reclaiming narrative. “When the media reported on the Panthers, they mostly focused on the police raids, the guns,” Dr. Buck told AN. “J. Edgar Hoover went as far in ‘69 as saying, ‘the Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country.’ With that narrative, fostered by COINTELPRO, law enforcement got the greenlight to raid Panther Party headquarters around the country and assassinate Black leaders,” he continued.

“So the media wasn’t talking about the work they were doing with the Free Breakfast Program, or the free medical clinics, bussing people to prisons so they could visit family members, walking seniors from the community to the ATM so they wouldn’t get robbed,” Dr. Buck added. “This museum is about communicating the incredible work the Panthers did.”

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The Black Panther Party’s Free Food Program was one of myriad mutual aid projects by the political group. (Black Panther Party, American, 1966 – 1982/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0)

The Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation was started in 1995. It was cofounded by Frederika Newton and David Hilliard, a close friend of Dr. Newton who was also the Black Panther Party’s former chief-of-staff. The foundation was built to organize and preserve Dr. Newton’s archival collection, and reclaim the narrative surrounding the legendary political activist. “The media had slandered his name, and the Party’s name for so long,” Dr. Buck said. “The foundation was built to tell Dr. Newton’s true story.”

Today, part of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation’s goal is constructing the Black Panther Party’s legacy into Oakland’s built environment.

In recent years, the foundation has had a street in Oakland renamed after Dr. Newton, built a bronze bust of Dr. Newton in West Oakland, created a mini-museum honoring the women of the Black Panther Party, and has given walking tours of prominent historic buildings where the Panthers once lived and worked. It began leasing space at 1427 Broadway in December 2022, which opened to the public this past January. The group also has future plans to work with California Congresswoman Barbara Lee on a Black Panther Party National Park

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Frederika Newton, the wife of Dr. Huey Newton, helped cofound the museum. (Susanna Lamaina)

“In the Bay Area, after the tech-boom, we live and breathe capitalism every single day, right? When you see all the skyscrapers in downtown Oakland, and you see the freeways that go right through Black communities, and you see the BART train that goes right through the heart of a once thriving Black community, people are taught that living like this is normal,” Dr. Buck said. “We’ve spent the past century growing up with Confederate monuments in some parts of the country and Christopher Columbus statues in others,” he continued. “What we are looking to provide is an alternative. I want to see Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Fred Hampton Jr., Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali in public spaces instead.”

In Chicago, similar programs are underway to memorialize the Panthers. The Church of the Epiphany, reclaimed by the Black Panther Party in the 1970s as the “People’s Church” for the Illinois chapter’s organization hub, was recently listed in a National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Document. Other historic sites in Chicago have been less fortunate.  

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The photography of Donald Cunningham is on view. (Susanna Lamaina)
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The Black Panther Party’s 10 Point Program (Susanna Lamaina)

“In Oakland, we’re lucky to still have a lot of the original buildings and spaces the Panthers operated within,” Dr. Buck said. “In Chicago, most of those places don’t exist anymore. Many of them were torn down through gentrification, or law enforcement took them down right after the party chapter closed. The old Panther headquarters in Chicago is now a Walgreens parking lot.”

As such, the Black Panther Party Museum in downtown Oakland is as much about preserving legacy while channeling the Panther’s vision toward a better, alternative world in the present. The need for this project, Dr. Buck said, has only become more pronounced given the rampant gentrification underway in Oakland, and the Bay Area more broadly. 

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Dr. Xavier Buck and Auburn Leigh (Susanna Lamaina)

The Black Panther Party Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Each One Teach One and Revolutionary Grain are year-long exhibits, open through January 2025.





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