The Panther and The Pig – The Black Panther Party and the Art of Political Communication

Shelly Asquith

In October 2019, Shelly Asquith, a postgraduate student at the University of Leeds, conducted research as a Rose Library fellow, funded by the J. Herman Blake and Emily L. Moore Award for research in the Black Panther Party collections.

I would like to thank the Rose library workers who were so accommodating, professional and generous with their time before, during and after my visit. The facilities are fantastic and set among a beautiful campus and city. I am grateful to have the opportunity to share some of what I found.

The Black Panther Party were indisputably political pioneers, but they were pioneers in a political aesthetic, too. With the intention of countering misinformation while providing political education, the Black Panther Party (BPP)’s own communication tools were vital in sustaining its presence in communities. Flyers, posters and newspapers were more than party PR: designs were not only for presenting revolutionary ideas, but for fostering a revolutionary culture. The process of engaging with, producing and distributing BPP designs became core functions of its cadre.

Art and illustrative design was encouraged and nurtured by the BPP. The Party’s most well-known visual artist is Emory Douglas, who officially held the title of Art Director, Graphic Designer, and Minister of Culture between 1967-1980. In one 1971 edition of the Party’s official newspaper, a notice from Douglas gave thanks to other artists who had contributed to the dissemination of their messages:

“to all revolutionary artists who have given their talents and thoughts to the people through revolutionary art… every artist’s work that has appeared in the Black Panther Newspaper this past year has been a great contribution of visual interpretation of the ideology of the Black Panther Party and of the oppressed people of the world” [1].


The Panther

Without doubt, the most recognisable symbol associated with the Party is the black panther logo. The image originated from the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) in 1965 when a group of activists came together to organise for Black representation in public office. As is historically the case in many countries, political parties had to submit a logo to the ballot paper due to high levels of illiteracy at the time. The LCFO’s main political rival in the 1965 election, the Alabama Democratic Party, had at the time a white rooster for its logo. Easy prey for a panther, you might think. Incidentally, the following year the Democrats removed the slogan ‘White Supremacy’ from the logo [2]. In a speech that year, Stokely Carmichael questioned:
“Now the gentlemen of the press … never called the Lowndes Country Freedom Organization by its name, but rather they call it the Black Panther Party. Our question is, why don’t they call the Alabama Democratic Party the ‘White Cock Party’?” (1965) [3]. ‘The Black Panther Party’ would be a name imposed on them, by the media, based on the logo; but the logo was later adopted by the BPP.

The Pig

Douglas’s proliferation of designs played a significant role in communicating the messages of the Panthers, and his legacy is long-lasting and global. Douglas receives credit for coining the ‘pigs’ slur, a now common colloquialism synonymous with anti-police sentiment. His drawing of a police officer resembling a pig first appeared in a drawing in the Black Panthers’ newspaper in 1967.

One collection held by the Stuart. A. Rose library, not known to have been previously published, features a series of extraordinary Christmas cards designed by Douglas, circa 1970. One design features a reproduction of Douglas’s original pig illustration which, by this point, had become a familiar symbol of law enforcement among supporters. In most of the Christmas card designs, the only recognisable sign of Christmas is the border of holly leaves: the political messaging takes precedent. The ritual of sending Christmas cards to a vast network of friends and family would have lent to such messages spreading unsolicited.

Designing for Black Lives

The Black Panther Party’s programme of support was as wide-ranging as it was radical. Activities touched on almost every aspect of peoples’ lives, and there were a considerable number of services the BPP provided for communities. Designs highlight how systematic oppression of Black people impacts access to education and health services, as well as poverty a{“type”:”block”,”srcClientIds”:[“4b57368f-af76-46e7-a8e5-5ae7fe09095f”],”srcRootClientId”:””}nd police brutality. Social programmes offered by the Panthers, aimed to help address these concerns, were hugely popular, and their promotion much like the programmes themselves: DIY. Materials held by the Stuart A. Rose Library (Figs 4-8) include leaflets advertising access to libraries, training in legal aid and medicine, as well as the famous free breakfast programme. Most feature the Panther logo, and all use stylistic formatting: graphic illustrations, text overlay on photographs, and bold typeface.

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

Figure 8


Designing for unity

Materials also point to the Panthers’ emphasis on class solidarity. Building coalitions with other groups based on commonalities, including workers’ organisations, was a critical activity. Records held by the Stuart. A. Rose library show sign-up sheets from Panther-supported events ask attendees which labor unions they belong to [4]. One edition of the BPP’s Counter-Attack magazine features the slogan ‘don’t mourn – organised’, coined by Joe Hill, labor activist and songwriter:

Figure 9: Counter Attack magazine, 1970

The causes of the Panthers persist today. As millions around the world come together to demand an end to structural racism, united by the Black Lives Matter movement, we witness the longevity of the organisation and its cultural impact. Just as we necessarily reuse the demands of the Panthers, so too are its visual symbols reappropriated on placards and posts online. The aesthetic politic of the Black Panthers lives on in the streets as in the archive.

 [1] Alfala studio, 2020. Emory Douglas: The Iconic Revolutionary Artist For The Black Panther Party. Online source:

[2] Ocala Star-Banner, Jan 23, 1966. p.1

[3] Carmichael, S. 1965. in Say It Plain: A Century of Great African American Speeches. The New Press, 2006. Chapt.10

[4] Black Panther Party collection, 1965-1998, Manuscript Collection No. 998, Box OPI1, Folder1. Anti-Fascist Front. Publication of the National Committees to Combat Fascist in America, 1969, p17

[Figs 1- 4]  Black Panther Party collection, 1965-1998, Manuscript Collection No. 998, Box 1, Folder 27

[Figs 5 – 9] Black Panther Party collection, 1965-1998, Manuscript Collection No. 998,  Box 1, Folder 7

[Fig 10] Black Panther Party collection, 1965-1998, Manuscript Collection No. 998,  Box OP1, Folder 2. “Counter Attack,” New Haven Defence Committee, May 1970, p.13