By Laura Casey
Contra Costa Times, 08/01/2009
A quiet portrait of Bobby Seale inside the Black Panther Party office. Copyright 2009, Howard L. Bingham. Courtesy of www.ammobooks.com
IT WAS the summer of 1968. Oakland was the epicenter of the Black Panther Party movement, and its members were fighting for the release of party co-founder Huey P. Newton, jailed after being accused of shooting an Oakland police officer to death.
Now-defunct Life magazine wanted a story on the Black Panthers and asked photographer Howard L. Bingham to shoot scenes around Oakland and Los Angeles while reporter Gilbert Moore took notes.
Bingham took nearly 10,000 pictures — from stunning portraits of Panther leaders to Panther gatherings outside the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland — while Moore filled three dozen notebooks over several months following the revolutionary group.
His photos, and Moore's story, were never published by Life.
This month, California-based AMMO Books is releasing Bingham's unpublished work in a stunning new coffee table book, Howard L. Bingham's Black Panthers 1968 ($44.95). The book displays not only Bingham's photos but essays from Moore, biographies on Panther members and guest essays from curators of museums that focus on black issues.
"I think the book now really shows a history of the Panthers and what was going on at the time," Bingham says. "And the same thing the Panthers wanted is being fought for now by other organizations. Maybe they aren't as dramatic as the Panthers were, but they're around." ...
Writer Moore says Life magazine never published his story, despite several drafts, because of its conservative bent.
"They could do nothing less than print a story chastising the Black Panthers for hating policemen so much and for hating the glorious American system and wanting to overthrow the government," he says. Moore's experience with the Panthers, and how it affected him as a black American, was eventually published as the definitive novel A Special Rage in 1971 and republished in 1993 as simply Rage. ...