African American Museum & Library at Oakland Digitizes Black Panther Party Films

Posted by Sean Heyliger on Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

In April 2018 the African American Museum & Library at Oakland was awarded a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Recordings at Risk grant to digitize and provide access online to 98 films documenting the Black Panther Party and student and union protest movements of the late 1960s-1970s from the Henry J. Williams Jr. Film Collection. The films included footage shot by the documentary film collective Newsreel, an organization founded in New York City in 1968 by a group of radical filmmakers with collectives in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. California Newsreel produced three documentary films on the Black Panther Party, Off the Pig (1968), MayDay (1969), and Repression. The digitized films include outtakes and b-roll footage filmed at a Black Panther Party Free Huey (Newton) rally on May 1, 1969 at the Phillip Burton Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown San Francisco, California. The films include Black Panther Party members Kathleen Cleaver and Bobby Seale, Vietnam War activist and co-founder of the Youth International Party or Yippies, Stew Albert, Black newspaper publisher and politician, Carlton Goodlett, and Huey Newton’s lawyer, Charles Gary, all speaking at the MayDay rally against police aggression and to free imprisoned Panther Huey P. Newton.

The digital collection also includes a significant collection of footage documenting the labor and social protest movements in California and Texas in the 1960s-1970s. The films include documentary footage of the largest Latino Vietnam War protest rally held in East Los Angeles on August 29, 1970 and organized by the National Chicano Moratorium Committee. The protest included as many as 30,000 participants who marched down Whitter Boulevard to Ruben F. Salazar Park. Other highlights in the collection are documentary films on union strikes led by the United Automobile Workers (U.A.W.) and Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (O.C.A.W.) in Los Angeles and Martinez, California and the Farah Manufacturing Company strike in El Paso and San Antonio, Texas in 1972-1974, one of the first major labor strikes led by Hispanic women in the United States.

Several films document the issue of police violence in the African American and Hispanic community. There is footage of an Oakland High School student protest against the killing of 14 year old Melvin Black who was shot and killed by police in 1979 and is the case that civil rights attorney John Burris credits with launching his career. Additionally there are four films documenting the murder and uproar following the police murder of Joe Torres Campos, a 23 year old Hispanic Vietnam Veteran who was beaten and killed by several off-duty Houston police officers. The case led to the Moody Park Riot, a battle between protesters and the police on Cinco de Mayo in 1978 when Houston police officers attempted to make an arrest in the park. The digital collection includes film footage of a protest march and a rally in support of the Moody Park Three, three community activists who led the protest against police violence that were arrested for inciting a riot.

All of the digitized films are available online in the African American Museum & Library at Oakland’s Internet Archive page or in the finding aid for the Henry J. Williams Jr. Film Collection in the Online Archive of California. For further information, please call (510) 637-0200.