- Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr.
Most researchers of Black Panther Party history have chosen to focus much of their attention on Panther activity in the Bay Area. If other branches and chapters are discussed along the way, they are done so in brief, oftentimes in a manner that is disjointed with little connection to the overall history of the organization. In fact, most often when researchers, in their study of the BPP, venture outside the friendly confines of California, it is evident that they have stepped outside of their comfort zone, as there is not only a glaring unfamiliarity with the subject matter, but also with that particular city’s machinations. This is the case with Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr.’s 2013 book Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, a title undoubtedly sampled, at least in part, from Penny Von Eschen’s Race Against Empire, written nearly 20 years ago. For example, about Baltimore, Bloom and Martin have written that Baltimore SWAT teams raided 17 homes, offices, and bars in Charm City, presumably as part of a nationwide dragnet against the Panthers in the spring of 1970. The problem here is that SWAT had yet to make its debut in Maryland; it did not emerge within the Baltimore Police Department until the mid-1970s, long after the Baltimore offices of the BPP were closed forever. Then when writing about the December 8, 1969 raid of the Panther dwelling at 41st and Central in Los Angeles, Bloom and Martin pen that “police requested use of a grenade launcher from the army and were granted permission from the Pentagon” (p. 223). This is partly correct. Yes a request was made of the Department of Defense by Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty at the urging of Acting Chief Daryl Gates to borrow a grenade launcher from the Marine Corps, not the Army.1 Fortunately for the Panthers, Renee “Peaches” Moore came out waving a white flag, ending what surely would have resulted in the demise of everyone inside the building had the grenade launcher been put to [End Page 177] the test. Several of the Panthers who engaged in a fire-fight with members of the LAPD that morning are still alive and have been receptive to some scholars who have sought greater clarity about that fateful morning, yet it doesn’t appear that the authors consulted any of them.
Also, the authors could have added greatly to the description of the shoot-out at 41st and Central had they delved into Gates’s thought process that morning and why he believed a weapon such as a grenade launcher was necessary. According to Gates, the police had a search warrant for 4115 S. Central and arrest warrants for two of the occupants. In Gates’s autobiography, Chief: My Life in the LAPD, he readily admits that the LAPD “viewed the Panthers as a criminal gang,” yet he portends that the police department was committed to establishing a better relationship with the Black community (p. 119). Another blunder within this same section involves Geronimo Pratt and his significant other. The authors write, “At Pratt’s home, the police knocked down the door, shot up the house, and arrested everyone inside, including Pratt; his wife, Sandra . . .” (p. 222). Sandra Lee, aka “ Big Red,” and Geronimo Pratt were never married.
Be that as it may, the book is divided into five parts. Part I, titled “Organizing Rage,” consists of two chapters, “Huey and Bobby” and “Policing the Police,” much of which is already known by students of Black Panther Party history. Part II makes up four chapters, “The Correct Handling of a Revolution,” “Free Huey,” “Martyrs,” and “National Uprising.” There are nuggets of information in each of them, although much of what is presented is old hat. It is not altogether clear what the authors...