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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

In the Spirit of Black History Month, Students Need to Apply the Lessons of the Black Panther

Aaron Dixon has fought for equality and social justice for a number of years



As we appreciate and celebrate Black History Month in February, there’s one story we should pay close and careful attention to: The Black Panther Party. The legacies of the Panthers and the Black Power Movement still echo nearly fifty years later – the Africana Studies Department and black student organizations are just some of the obvious examples on campus.

When we talk about Black History Month, the real history often gets ignored. Africana Studies wasn’t introduced by “benevolent” administrators. It took tens of thousands of black students sitting in, occupying buildings and shutting down campuses throughout the 1960s and ’70s. Black and African Student Unions weren’t only social centers. They were vehicles for black students to struggle against racism in the academy.

The Black Panther Party was instrumental in helping achieve these reforms. Black and African Student Unions were important organizations for initially activating students. However, the Black Panther Party developed a layer of black revolutionary activists who were vital in leading these student struggles to victory. For example, Panthers and other black revolutionaries led a successful four-month student strike at San Francisco State College that united large numbers of black and white students alike.

Aaron Dixon is one person with a close understanding of this history. Dixon, the founder of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party, has spent years of his life fighting for Black liberation and social justice. In his recent memoir, “My People Are Rising,” Dixon charts his experience building and leading the first Panther chapter outside of Oakland.

Beyond just a hidden history, Aaron Dixon’s story provides a wealth of lessons for people seeking to challenge racism and inequality today. It is as inspiring as it is informative, showing how poor and oppressed people can organize to fight back. UMass Boston students will have a unique opportunity to hear this firsthand account at an upcoming forum on March 7.

As a Black Panther captain from the age of 19, Dixon led his chapter in challenging police brutality, stopping evictions of poor and working-class black people, and operating a number of community aid programs. Through their work, the Black Panthers and Dixon were seen as respected leaders in Seattle’s black community during the late 1960s. Along with Panthers across the country, they served as an inspiration to millions of people seeking an end to war, oppression and inequality.

However, far from just glorifying his experiences, Dixon also takes an honest look at the challenges the Black Panthers faced inside and outside the Party.

The Black Panthers were formed at the height of the Black Power movement, rather than in the years leading up to it. As a result, many were new to revolutionary politics and struggling to apply them in practice for the first time. His honest assessment provides the opportunity to learn and build off these lessons for today’s world.

Today’s society is still plagued by racism. Just as slavery gave way to Jim Crow in the South and racism in the North, overt racism has given way to the color-blind rhetoric that masks continued racial inequality today.

For the Panthers, racism was not limited to people’s ideas but was a structure that held down black and brown people. While politicians today (as they did then) blame the victims of the system, the Black Panthers saw poverty, violence, and racism as a result of capitalism.

Far from just history, the stories of Aaron Dixon and the Black Panther Party are all the more relevant today.