The best books on the Black Panther Party

4 authors have picked their favorite books about the Black Panther Party and why they recommend each book.

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The Shadow of the Panther

By Hugh Pearson,

Book cover of The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America

The late Pearson took a lot of heat as an African-American author for telling the truth about all sides of the Panther era. But somebody credible needed to do it, and he did it well  —  in a way that can help us approach modern-day political and police accountability protest with eyes wide open.


Who am I?

Paul Bass is the co-author with Douglas W. Rae of Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of A Killer. Paul has been a reporter and editor in New Haven, Conn., for over 40 years. He is the founder and editor of the online New Haven Independent.


I wrote...

Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of a Killer

By Paul Bass, Douglas W. Rae,

Book cover of Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of a Killer

What is my book about?

In a basement of a New Haven housing coop in 1969, the Black Panthers tortured a suspected spy, then took him to a field and shot him dead. It turned out the local party was full of informants  —  but this individual was not among them. The subsequent murder case became a national cause celebre that shut down Yale University, led to mass protests, revealed extensive law enforcement disruption of dissent through COINTELPRO, raised the question of whether a Black revolutionary could receive a fair trial in America, and served as a warning of the dangers of ignoring facts across all sides of the ideological spectrum.

Black Politics / White Power

By Yohuru Williams,

Book cover of Black Politics / White Power: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Black Panthers in New Haven

Williams mined volumes of government documents and the memories of survivors of the era in which the country’s most concentrated experiment in urban renewal came face to face with grassroots demands for deeper change. His book reveals the limits of liberalism, as well as dynamics within different groups pushing for social justice about how to negotiate with (or take on) power.


Who am I?

Paul Bass is the co-author with Douglas W. Rae of Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of A Killer. Paul has been a reporter and editor in New Haven, Conn., for over 40 years. He is the founder and editor of the online New Haven Independent.


I wrote...

Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of a Killer

By Paul Bass, Douglas W. Rae,

Book cover of Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of a Killer

What is my book about?

In a basement of a New Haven housing coop in 1969, the Black Panthers tortured a suspected spy, then took him to a field and shot him dead. It turned out the local party was full of informants  —  but this individual was not among them. The subsequent murder case became a national cause celebre that shut down Yale University, led to mass protests, revealed extensive law enforcement disruption of dissent through COINTELPRO, raised the question of whether a Black revolutionary could receive a fair trial in America, and served as a warning of the dangers of ignoring facts across all sides of the ideological spectrum.

Assata

By Assata Shakur,

Book cover of Assata: An Autobiography

You can’t truly know what activism, social revolution, and political freedom mean until you’ve read this book. Assata Shakur is a Black revolutionary woman who barely escaped U.S. police corruption, systemic racism, and state oppression, in order to find political asylum in Cuba. To know her story is to acknowledge how White supremacy and anti-Black oppression play out in the lives of Black Americans.


Who am I?

As a rebellious woman who is passionate about words and the revolutionary force of books, I know the power of stories. Stories are the seeds that give life to your purpose. Stories give you a reason to fight the good fight, care about something bigger than yourself, and want to be a part of social justice and positive change. The daily grind can kick you down, but a good story can remind you that there's still time to rise up, speak truth to power, help others less fortunate, and commit to what you value most. The books that I’m recommending are meant to be your personal guide to what really matters most in life to you.


I wrote...

Redefining Our Relationships: Guidelines for Responsible Open Relationships

By Wendy-O Matik,

Book cover of Redefining Our Relationships: Guidelines for Responsible Open Relationships

What is my book about?

Don't let the title fool you. this is a serious, thoughtful (and thought-provoking) comprehensive introduction to, and examination of, a much misunderstood and misused practice. But more than that, it is a witty, provocative, damn fine read, with as much to offer to the faithfully monogamous as to those looking for a bit more out of life, love, and relationships. Go on. Dive in. "Wendy-O tackles a touchy subject with clarity and creativity. She is wise beyond her years. This guide teaches you how you can have it all. I gave the jealousy tips to my lover immediately." - Annie Sprinkle

The Relevant Lawyers

By Ann Fagen Ginger,

Book cover of The Relevant Lawyers: Conversations Out of Court on Their Clients, Practice, Politics and Life Style

I recommend Ginger’s book because it inspired so many college students to go into law as well as young lawyers interested in effecting societal change. In one chapter, Ginger interviews Fay Stender, a source I consulted in writing Stender’s biography. Ginger also interviewed Fay’s law partner Charles Garry about his representation with Stender of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton in the case I consider the trial of the century. Fay’s husband Marvin Stender was also interviewed about his progressive law practice. Ginger’s book, and my interviews of Ann Ginger herself, proved essential to my understanding of the circle of Movement lawyers in the Bay Area to which they all heavily contributed during an extraordinary period of activism from the ‘50s through the ‘70s.     


Who am I?

I am a retired lawyer and judge with a long-held concern about access to justice, especially as we face the need for stepped-up activism to protect minority rights today. I first became fascinated by Fay Stender’s pioneering career as a board member of California Women Lawyers, which she helped found in 1974. I related to her passion for justice, which led me to research and write her biography and two books on “the trial of the century” of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton. That trial took place in my home city of Oakland over half a century ago, yet its focus on systemic racism remains just as important now.


I wrote...

Call Me Phaedra: The Life and Times of Movement Lawyer Fay Stender

By Lise Pearlman,

Book cover of Call Me Phaedra: The Life and Times of Movement Lawyer Fay Stender

What is my book about?

Call Me Phaedra provides an inside view of activism during the McCarthy Era, the Civil Rights Movement, Free Speech Era, the rise of black power, and the Women’s Rights Movement. It chronicles the extraordinary life and career of Fay Stender as a rare female criminal defense lawyer who championed black revolutionary clients and became a ground-breaking prisoners’ rights advocate. Her work both won her international acclaim as a top Movement lawyer and propelled her to a tragic end.

Stender’s saga will fascinate readers of all ages interested in the history of American activism and, particularly, women who challenged white-male monopoly power. Those working to change American society for the better today can draw valuable lessons from this award-winning biography and history book – the only published biography of Fay Stender.

One Crazy Summer

By Rita Williams-Garcia,

Book cover of One Crazy Summer

My favorite MG historical novels all seem to have certain things in common. A setting that offers a poignant slice of history. Challenging family dynamics. Protagonists called to be stronger than they ever imagined. One Crazy Summer checks every box and adds a bonus of bittersweet humor and an empathy-rich plot. My heart ached for all of the characters: the little sisters, the Black Panthers, Big Mama and the father, the mother who chose art over mothering, and Delphine, stuck in the middle of them all. A book like this, one that’s able to offer a deeply-immersive experience of slipping your own skin and for a while, wearing someone else’s, feels like a rare, enlightening, incredible gift.


Who am I?

Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is truer.” Frederic Raphael. When I was a child, a relative often told stories of a cowboy gear clad cousin who visited our New York family from Texas and claimed he’d once served in Pancho Villa’s army. These tales were the spark that eventually led to Viva, Rose! and my interest in storytelling as well. There’s something about the combination of lived experience and fiction that I find irresistibly engaging and exciting. I’ve worked as a journalist, ghostwriter, and editor, but my happiest happy place is writing and reading stories birthed from a molten core of real life.


I wrote...

Viva, Rose!

By Susan Krawitz,

Book cover of Viva, Rose!

What is my book about?

When Rose’s brother left their El Paso family, he told them he was heading east, to Brooklyn. But he lied, Rose discovers, when she spots a newspaper photo showing Abe standing with the notorious Pancho Villa and his army!

He must return before their parents find out, but her attempt at contact backfires, and she’s kidnapped by Villa's revolutionaries. In the group of ragtag freedom fighters in Villa’s desert hideaway, she meets an impassioned reporter, sharp-shooting sisters with a secret past, and Dorotea, Villa's tyrannical young charge. As Rose waits for Abe to rescue her, she learns to lie, hide, and ride like a bandit. And when that rescue doesn't come, she’s forced to discover the true meaning of freedom, and what she's willing to risk to get hers back. 

The Assassination of Fred Hampton

By Jeffrey Haas,

Book cover of The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther

The era of COINTELPRO and Black Power is filled with stories that can become muddier to tease out as more gets revealed. Not Fred Hampton’s story  —  this was clear-cut, brutal FBI and Chicago police overreach to silence dissent. Haas’s book offers a firsthand account by an attorney who helped dig out the facts, and preserved the poignancy of what it felt like to experience the events.


Who am I?

Paul Bass is the co-author with Douglas W. Rae of Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of A Killer. Paul has been a reporter and editor in New Haven, Conn., for over 40 years. He is the founder and editor of the online New Haven Independent.


I wrote...

Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of a Killer

By Paul Bass, Douglas W. Rae,

Book cover of Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of a Killer

What is my book about?

In a basement of a New Haven housing coop in 1969, the Black Panthers tortured a suspected spy, then took him to a field and shot him dead. It turned out the local party was full of informants  —  but this individual was not among them. The subsequent murder case became a national cause celebre that shut down Yale University, led to mass protests, revealed extensive law enforcement disruption of dissent through COINTELPRO, raised the question of whether a Black revolutionary could receive a fair trial in America, and served as a warning of the dangers of ignoring facts across all sides of the ideological spectrum.

Streetfighter in the Courtroom

By Charles R. Garry,

Book cover of Streetfighter in the Courtroom: The People's Advocate

Charles Garry was a legendary Bay Area criminal defense lawyer from the 1940s through the 1980s, most famous for his aggressive courtroom tactics and for never losing a client to the death penalty. I was fascinated by Garry’s early cases that resulted in establishing a “diminished capacity” defense to murder in California. Garry’s reputation prompted the leadership of the Black Panther Party to reject calls for a black lawyer and instead turn to this white Lefty to represent their co-founder Huey Newton faced with execution for killing a white policeman. Streetfighter in the Courtroom proved a great source for me as I wrote two books on the Newton trial and the biography of Garry’s pioneering female co-counsel in the Newton trial, Fay Stender. 


Who am I?

I am a retired lawyer and judge with a long-held concern about access to justice, especially as we face the need for stepped-up activism to protect minority rights today. I first became fascinated by Fay Stender’s pioneering career as a board member of California Women Lawyers, which she helped found in 1974. I related to her passion for justice, which led me to research and write her biography and two books on “the trial of the century” of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton. That trial took place in my home city of Oakland over half a century ago, yet its focus on systemic racism remains just as important now.


I wrote...

Call Me Phaedra: The Life and Times of Movement Lawyer Fay Stender

By Lise Pearlman,

Book cover of Call Me Phaedra: The Life and Times of Movement Lawyer Fay Stender

What is my book about?

Call Me Phaedra provides an inside view of activism during the McCarthy Era, the Civil Rights Movement, Free Speech Era, the rise of black power, and the Women’s Rights Movement. It chronicles the extraordinary life and career of Fay Stender as a rare female criminal defense lawyer who championed black revolutionary clients and became a ground-breaking prisoners’ rights advocate. Her work both won her international acclaim as a top Movement lawyer and propelled her to a tragic end.

Stender’s saga will fascinate readers of all ages interested in the history of American activism and, particularly, women who challenged white-male monopoly power. Those working to change American society for the better today can draw valuable lessons from this award-winning biography and history book – the only published biography of Fay Stender.

Solitary

By Albert Woodfox,

Book cover of Solitary

Any understanding of mass incarceration must be grounded in the experience of people who have been incarcerated. Alfred Woodfox’s autobiography of spending more than four decades in prison, the bulk of it in solitary confinement, is both a rich political analysis by a revolutionary who emerged from the Black Panther Party and a deeply troubling account of the tortured existence of hundreds of thousands of people locked away in US prisons for acts that they either did not carry out or for which ridiculously punitive laws and policies in addressing apparent harms done have been applied. No book about prison life will convince a reader more of the inhumanity of mass incarceration nor of the ability of a revolutionary human spirit to conquer whatever comes their way. 


Who am I?

I've been a social justice activist all my life. In my younger years, I turned to violence to bring about liberation. That landed me a federal arrest warrant which I avoided for 27 years by living as a fugitive. I spent most of that time in southern Africa, joining freedom movements against apartheid and colonialism. Arrested and extradited to the U.S. in 2002 I spent 6 1/2 years in California prisons while observing the impact of mass incarceration. I vowed to direct my energy to end mass incarceration through grassroots organizing. Since then I've been a writer, researcher, and activist in my local community of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois as well as being partner and father to my two sons.


I wrote...

Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People's Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time

By James Kilgore,

Book cover of Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People's Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time

What is my book about?

Drawing on a growing body of literature and activism, Understanding Mass Incarceration describes competing theories of criminal justice—from rehabilitation to retribution, from restorative justice to justice reinvestment. In a lively, accessible style, author James Kilgore, who spent six years in prison himself, illuminates the difference between prisons and jails, probation and parole, laying out key concepts and policies such as the War on Drugs, broken windows policing, three-strikes sentencing, the school-to-prison pipeline, recidivism, and prison privatization. Informed by the crucial lenses of race and gender, he addresses issues typically omitted from the discussion: the rapidly increasing incarceration of women, Latinx folk, and transgender people; the growing imprisonment of immigrants; and the devastating impact of mass incarceration on communities.

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