Sunday, March 21, 2010

Portland's Black Panther Party & local media response

On Thursday, March 18, the Northwest History Network (NHN) sponsored a presentation by Martha Gies and Jules Boykoff on the topic of media representation of Portland's Black Panther Party from ca. 1969 to 1978. Former Portland BPP members Percy Hampton and Kent Ford were also featured at this event, and provided stories from their own experiences to augment Martha & Jules' analysis.

A representative from KBOO was there and recorded the event. He told me that the radio station may broadcast the event in its entirety, or they may use clips of the recording to create a news story; as of today, I checked their website and didn't find archived broadcast of the event or an announcement of such a broadcast in the near future. I did, however, find an archived show from Feb. 28, 2008, here featuring "former members of the Portland Chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense: Oscar Johnson, Percy Hampton, Gary Clay, and Kent Ford."

As a member of the NHN board,  I was pleased to have worked with Martha, Jules, Percy, Kent, and the other board members to help bring this event to the public. We had a great turnout at the Architectural Heritage Center -- we had seating and standing room for about 75 people, and, unfortunately, had to turn away about 30 people at the door. Turning people away was unfortunate, but in planning for and publicizing this event, we weren't sure how may people might be attending. Based on this turnout, however, it seems to me that Martha and Jules could deliver this talk again and fill another venue!

Martha and Jules have an upcoming article on this same topic that is in-process with the Oregon Historical Quarterly. The tentative date of publication is with the Fall issue. I encourage those interested in the topic of local history, the BPP, social justice, and/or media representation more generally, to read this upcoming article.

I appreciated the combination of perspectives from the four participants. Martha brought a passion for the topic and community connections; both Martha and Jules shared a strong ability to craft a coherent and compelling narrative from the historical events; and Jules contributed clear analytical lens through which to view the power dynamics that are largely implicit in media representations of social justice issues. The ways in which the media frames and selectively ignores, minimizes, or expands certain stories influences heavily how the broader community will learn about and make sense of issues, and this is no less true in 1970s Portland than it is in early 2010.

Percy and Kent provided the lived experience and personal narratives that fueled Martha's narrative and grounded Jules' analysis. This is the second event I've been to in the past few weeks where personal testimony has enabled me to experience first-hand the passion of people involved in relatively recent historical events, and bring this critical dimension to an intellectual understanding of these events.

After the presentation, the four presenters fielded questions and reflections from the audience for nearly an hour.

In conclusion, I urge you to make plans to purchase the issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly that will contain Martha & Jules' article. In the meanwhile, and as a starter, Martha has written two articles on Portland's BPP, for one in Reed Magazine, the first of which is here, and the other for Portland Monthly, here.*

* Thanks to Martha for the corrections in this sentence, March 21, 2010.


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