Black Panther Party’s Emory Douglas Is From Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids Historical Society, I and others will be sharing Black History facts right here in Grand Rapids all month.

If you missed the last one, you can learn about the Four and the Auburn Hills neighborhood.

This is what today’s Black History Fact about Blackity and Black History is all about Emory D. Douglas, artist, activist, and Minister for Culture of the Black Panther Party.

Grand Rapids Historical Society

Grand Rapids Historical Society

Emory DOUGLAS was born in Grand Rapids on May 24, 1943. His family moved to San Francisco where they still live in 1951. The Bay Area is known as a center for radical politics in 1950s and 1960s. However, it was also deeply divided by segregation. Douglas’ childhood experiences with injustices shaped his political beliefs as an adult.

He was 13 years old when he was sentenced for 15 months in the Youth Training School. Ontario, CaliforniaHe was a print shop assistant at the juvenile correctional institution and learned about commercial printing. His experience in the print shop would be pivotal in Emory’s future.

Douglas visited nearby San Francisco State University several times during the 1960s as a student of commercial and graphic art at City College of San Francisco. There, he saw civil rights leaders Stokely Carmichael (and H. Rap Brown) speak.

He joined the college’s Black Students’ Association and worked closely with Amiri Baraka, a voice in the black arts movement, to design theater sets. He contributed his talents to the Black Arts Movement by creating flyers and other promotional artworks that promoted events in the city. Emory became passionate and decided to devote his efforts to the fight for Black liberation.

Douglas met Bobby Seale (a young activist from Oakland) in January 1967. Bobby Seale had formed the Black Panther Party months prior to Douglas’ meeting. Black self-determination was the Party’s primary motivation, seeking to improve the position of underprivileged people of color in America through “whatever means necessary.”

The organization initially focused on an individual’s right to bear arms for defense against police violence, but its attention eventually turned to social justice issues like free breakfast for school children and fair housing. The Panthers created a newspaper to promote their civil rights agenda, which Seale published in April 1967.

That first issue was simple in layout and design, leading Douglas to offer his expertise in print production, understanding the power that strong visuals could lend to political action as he saw the influence of radical political art like with Cuba’s revolutionary Che Guevara. Douglas quickly rose through the ranks of the organization: he was officially named its Revolutionary Artist and, eventually, Minister of Culture, overseeing all aspects of the Black Panther Party’s visual identity.

Emory was a great resourceful. His signature style was created using simple tools, such as markers, rub off type, and texture material. To keep costs low, each paper was printed in one or two colors—black ink, often with a contrasting bright color. 

His deliberately radical illustrations put a spotlight upon police brutality. They depicted politicians and law enforcement officers as pigs and Black people with arms and defeating oppressors. Some issues included images of Black suffering and criticized the government for not meeting the basic needs of Americans of color.

Douglas also used collage art to highlight urgent issues. He combined photos with text and illustrated to illustrate them. The impact and influence of Douglas’ designs lived at the intersection of art and activism.

Every issue, except for the first, was designed by Emory, which he did from 1967 to the Party’s dissolution in the early 1980s. Emory’s work with the Black Panther Party’s newspaper inspired the world, taking him and his art all over the world. His Black Panther Party work is the most significant political art of the Black liberation movements. Douglas continues his work as an activist and political artist.

Today, his name is being honored in Grand Rapids by The Diatribe, a local arts organization that is currently raising funds to build Emory Arts and Culture Center, located on Division Avenue.

We want to express our gratitude to Emory Doug for his passion and dedication towards Black liberation and social change through his incredible art and activism. We are reminded that we all have the chance to be part of this fight and use our gifts to make a change, to speak up, and to change the world.

Give power to the people.

LOOK: 50 important speeches on civil rights

While many of the speakers were committed to human rights for their entire lives, one attempted to silence an activist who was lobbying for voting rights. Then, he signed off on major civil rights legislation. Many of them fought for freedom and justice for many oppressed groups.

Continue reading to find 50 important speeches on civil rights.