Looking back wistfully at the Black Panthers

Tim Wride, curator of photography at the Norton, explains that eventually their photographs caught the eye of Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver. Jones and Baruch “allowed the Cleavers to use all the images for the Black Panther publication, and so they become the de facto imagers of the Panthers.” Baruch passed away in 1997 and Jones in 2009. About 60 of their works were gifted to the Norton by the Pirkle Jones Foundation.

Wride, who has written a book on Pirkle Jones titled Pirkle Jones: California Photographs, 1935-1982, hopes that those who attend the exhibit will not only enjoy these aesthetically impressive works of art but also attempt to catch a glimpse at what the historic Black Power Movement was about through these photographs.

“It was such a tumultuous time,” says Wride. “I mean, I talk to kids now and they think of the Panthers, and all they think of is the militant Panthers, when in fact the Panthers were incredibly socially engaged in creating community — and that’s kind of what Pirkle and Ruth-Marion were doing.”

As is evident from news headlines — unarmed black men being shot, a white gunman killing blacks in a Charleston church, “transracial” Rachel Dolezal — America is still clearly coming to terms with its multicultural populace. Although no photo exhibit can alleviate these grand problems, it might give us better perspective.

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