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Listen, Whitey! Talking With Author Pat Thomas About the Black Panthers

The writer of a new book on Black Panther culture speaks on researching his project, Occupy, Huey Newton, and more

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You bring up things most people don’t know about like The Partridge Family episode and the Motown label, Black Forum. For you what was the most surprising thing you found doing research?

Their youth was one thing that hit me, but also the fact that most of them came through, at least through the '60s and '70s. I mean, a lot of people died along the way, Huey was killed in ’89, I guess it was, but, I remember talking to David Hilliard who was Chief of Staff of the Panthers, and I said to him, “Dude, by all accounts, you should have been dead by like 1970. Somebody would have shot you, a cop, or you did some prison time and somebody would have attacked you in prison. The fact that you’re still here is amazing.” I mean, their resilience – these people are survivors and they kept on going. It wasn’t part of my book to go through everyone who died and is still in prison. Just the fact that a good chunk of them came through the other side and continued to do interesting things.

Was having a soundtrack your idea or your publisher’s?

That was my idea. The thing about the soundtrack with the exception of just a couple of songs – I mean there’s a section on Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone, Hendrix, there is a chunk to acknowledge the popular artists, but it does tend to focus on the obscure. People are going to read this book and be like, “Damn, I need to hear some of this shit.” I just wanted a cross sampling. Obviously, there could have been three or four CDs, but I thought here’s one nice compact discs where there’s really a lot of different ideologies on that one disc, including some spoken word and some comedy. A good chunk of what’s on that album I discovered doing my book research.

Emily Wilson is a freelance writer and teaches basic skills at City College of San Francisco.