Stanford historian featured in new Black Panther documentary


Historian CLAYBORNE CARSON adds his perspective on the Black Panther Party in a new documentary film about the organization.

In The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, Carson, the founding director of Stanford’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, is interviewed about the Panthers.

Founded in 1966, the Black Panther Party is controversial, with some scholars characterizing it as the most influential black movement of its era and others criticizing it for advocating of violence.

In an interview with the Stanford News Service, Carson said, “I think the Black Panther Party was an attempt to address the problems that were not solved by the civil rights reforms of the 1960s. Namely, it sought to respond to issues such as police brutality and, more generally, the powerlessness of black communities with respect to governmental institutions.”

The key societal lesson behind the Black Panthers, Carson said, was that young black people can mobilize themselves and build militant movements on behalf of urban black communities, similar to what the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee did for Southern blacks in the 1960s.

Today, America is still facing the same crisis in police-black community relations, said Carson, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor of History.

“I think one of reasons why the new Black Panther film is reaching a substantial audience is that the police-black community issues they confronted in the 1960s are still problems today. Ironically, when young black people in 1960s were asserting their right to carry weapons for self-defense, white conservatives such as Ronald Reagan were calling for gun control.”

In 1996, the Stanford University Libraries acquired the collection of legal documents, correspondence, photographs and ephemera known as the Black Panther Party archives. The Black Panther Party Research Project is affiliated with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project at Stanford.