The Rise and Fall of the Black Panthers

Northampton, Mass.

In 1974, I waited an entire week to report my mother, Betty Van Patter, missing to the Berkeley Police Department in order to protect Elaine Brown’s campaign for the Oakland City Council from police harassment. Even after her body was found in the San Francisco Bay, it still took ten years and the dogged work of investigative journalists to convince me to face reality. Most people don’t understand why the politics of my mother’s murder by the Black Panther Party were as devastating to me as the loss of her as my mother.

People could consider this to be crazy, callous or the result of cult thinking, but I have simply always taken political will quite seriously. The state of cognitive dissonance I found myself in resulted from recognizing the Panthers as both icons of resistance and murderers of innocents at the same time. As I read all the memoirs, articles and the rewriting of history by the academics, I remain forlorn waiting for the “real story” to emerge. Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin’s Black Against Empire had a chance, but it failed. At least we now have Steve Wasserman’s brilliant review “Rage and Ruin” [June 24/July 1] as a step forward in the conversation about the party’s history. 

One assertion by the book’s authors that particularly irks me is their dismissal of the late Hugh Pearson’s Shadow of a Panther as nothing more than a consultation with David Horowitz. Pearson’s intent was to present Huey Newton as the hero he believed him to be, only to discover Newton’s many crimes and cruelties to other Panthers and innocent bystanders. Pearson had the courage to write about what he learned within the context of the controversy as far as it had developed by the mid-1990s. Bloom and Martin completely missed the point.


Hattiesburg, Miss.

I am truly amazed by the quality of Steve Wasserman’s review of the new history of the Black Panthers and his thoroughly balanced and informed assessment of its accuracy. Wasserman’s descriptive detail opens a much clearer window, and offers readers a seminar on Black Power in the ’60s. In addition, his personal experience with many of the key people involved makes for exciting reading.


Yes, Let’s Diversify Journalism

New York City

With Farai Chideya’s “Let’s Diversify Journalism” [June 3], The Nation joined a growing chorus of media insiders denouncing the industry standard of unwaged intern labor, which in effect excludes people of color and the working class. We, the Nation Institute’s Spring 2013 interns, presented our concerns to the magazine’s editors and fundraisers about the Nation interns’ marginal pay. The Nation and the Institute verbally committed to work with us to change the terms of the internship.

Our five months as fact-checkers were an invaluable learning experience, nurturing us intellectually, professionally and socially. Yet to participate in the program, an intern must work full time for a $150 weekly stipend, an impossible prospect for many who are underrepresented in today’s media. As Chideya explains, the unwaged intern pipeline populates the industry with a homogeneous staff that “often produces a damaging false consensus” by excluding people of color and the working class.

We hear of journalism’s impending death all too often, but the eulogies are premature. Journalism isn’t dying; it is changing dramatically. This period of transformation is an opportunity for media outlets to bring new voices to the forefront of knowledge production. Paying interns a living wage would remedy a workplace injustice and renew the vitality and relevance of the press. Likewise, recruiting more interns from public universities and community colleges would enable organic intellectuals from the working class to redefine our nation’s public conversation.

To realize a just media economy in which interns earn a living wage and the marginalized can flourish, we need tenacious and imaginative media leaders. If anyone in journalism has what it takes, it is our colleagues at this magazine. The industry standard must be redefined. We ask The Nation and the Nation Institute to take the lead.


The Nation Institute Replies

New York City

We appreciate this thoughtful letter and take the concerns it raises seriously. The internship program is a source of great pride for the Nation Institute. Every few months it gives a group of talented young people the opportunity to participate in weekly editorial meetings; learn fact-checking, research and digital media skills; interact at seminars with visiting journalists, thinkers and activists; and, often, to find their own voices as writers for the magazine and the website. The Institute recognizes the financial pressures faced by interns living in New York City and has determined to increase their stipend beginning with the fall 2013 class. We will also continue to provide financial aid in the form of travel and housing grants to interns to help make their participation possible. This will put additional pressure on our fundraising for the program, so we urge readers to donate directly to the Victor S. Navasky Internship Program, c/o The Nation Institute, 116 E. 16th Street, 8th floor, New York, NY 10003.

TAYA KITMAN, director, The Nation Institute

Is That a Nation in Your Pocket, or…

Saint Cloud, Fla.

I don’t much care for Billy Graham or his Bible-thumping evangelistic ways, and I never imagined myself feeling compelled to defend him. But Edward Sorel’s stupid criticism of him based on an old photograph, along with the ridiculous comment about his hand in his pocket, has made me wonder what kind of childish, moronic staff is working at The Nation [“New York, New York, It’s a Hell of a Town,” June 24/July 1]. Are all the adults away on vacation? Keep it up if you wish to lose all credibility with normal working people. 


Sorel Replies

New York City

None of the Nation staff members I have met could ever be characterized as moronic or childish. But, happily, the standards for outside contributors are less restrictive. 



Michael Sorkin’s “Hitler’s Classical Architect” [June 10/17] incorrectly identified architect Erik Gunnar Asplund as Carl Asplund. 

Marina Amaral and Natalia Viana’s ”Brazil vs. the World Cup” [July 22/29] incorrectly gave Brazil’s annual education budget as $17 billion. It is $37 billion. Accordingly, the overall investment for the 2014 World Cup ($14-plus billion) is more than one-third of the annual education budget, not a little less than half. 

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