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“It kind of blows my mind that it’s been 55 years,” says artist Dana King

King is referring to the Black Panther Party’s 55th Year Celebration, with events taking place in Oakland throughout October. 

In addition to the unveiling of King’s sculpture of one of the BPP’s founders, Dr. Huey P. Newton, events include an art exhibition featuring the work of Black Panther Party artists, a social gathering, a photography exhibition, guest speakers such as Charlotte O’Neal and BPP-related film screenings.

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The scheduled events coincide with Black Panther Party History Month in October.

“This [anniversary] is the very first acknowledgement in the city of Oakland — visually, artistically. But the Black Panther Party began in Oakland. So here we are 55 years after its beginning. They’re being honored in the city in which they probably had the most significant impact,” King conveys in an interview.

Huey Newton co-founded the Black Panther Party with Bobby Seale in Oakland in 1966. They sought to aid and create opportunities for those who were oppressed. BPP created the first free breakfast program for children — a program that schools continue to use to provide free meals for students in need — and focused on offering people services such as legal aid, housing, education and health care. Their Ten-Point Program served as the guiding principles behind their efforts to support the Black community. 

Sculptor Dana King says that a variety of people stopped by her Oakland-based studio and spoke with her as she worked on the bronze bust of Dr. Huey P. Newton. Visitors included Fred Hampton Jr. (political activist and Black Panther Party’s Fred Hampton’s son), Newton’s former barber Diamond Ken and Fredrika Newton, former BPP member and co-founder of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, who shared stories about her late-husband with King. “All of that together helped to fashion Huey in my mind, to help me sculpt him,” King explains. “I’d read a lot of what he had written and about the Panthers — I’d done my homework. But that was different. These were personal stories.” (Photo courtesy A.K. Sandhu)

Fittingly, the locations of some of the anniversary events tie in with the Black Panther Party’s background. The It’s All Good Bakery, on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, was BPP’s original office; a celebratory reopening featuring a plaque presentation will take place on Oct. 22. The “55th Year Celebration” social event scheduled for Oct. 23 will be held in West Oakland’s Bobby Hutton Park (also known as DeFremery Park). “Lil’ Bobby” Hutton was the Black Panther Party’s first recruit and served as the treasurer, and the park was named in his honor. And King’s bust of Newton will be unveiled at the corner of Dr. Huey P. Newton Way (formerly Ninth Street) and Mandela Parkway on Oct. 24.

King describes her Newton sculpture (and all of her work) as significant because of occupying physical space and representing people, stories and cultures. Of the Newton bust, King explains, “This is the first physical manifestation of what occurred [in Oakland] 55 years ago. So taking up space is really important. … The power of that space is that we are in it, and by ‘we’ I mean stories of African descendants.” 

Plus, made of bronze, the Newton sculpture has a long-lasting quality, meaning that future generations will be able to see it — and learn about what and whom it represents — decades and even centuries later. 

Much like the Black Panther Party itself, its importance has no expiration date.

Says artist Dana King of the significance of the October 2021 Black Panther Party Celebration: “This is 55 years — more than half a century ago. And the issues that they worked to solve 55 years ago are still issues that need to be solved today. There’s still a lot of work to be done. … The Panthers have definitely provided a blueprint for how to do it.” (Photo courtesy It’s About Time / BPP Alumni Committee; art by William Cordova)

Black Panther Party History Month events

The following events are taking place in Oakland for the Black Panther Party’s “It’s About Time: 55th Year Celebration”:

  • Oct. 1-31: “Art Exhibition Featuring Black Panther Party Artists Emory Douglas, Gayle Dickson, Malik Edwards and REFA1” at the Joyce Gordon Art Gallery
  • 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21: “Meet Charlotte O’Neal” with film screenings at the New Parkway Theater (Ticket required)
  • Noon-3 p.m. Oct. 22: Reopening and celebration of the It’s All Good Bakery
  • 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 23: “55th Year Celebration” at Bobby Hutton Park/DeFremery Park
  • 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 23: “55th Year BPP Photo Exhibit” at West Oakland Library
  • 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 24 “Unveiling of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Memorial Bust” in West Oakland at Dr. Huey P. Newton Way (formerly Ninth Street) and Mandela Parkway

For more information about these events, go to bpp55thyearcelebration.com.