The Portland Black Panthers

Empowering Albina and Remaking a City

Lucas N. N. Burke and Judson L. Jeffries

  • Published: 2016. Paperback July 2017
  • Subject Listing: African American Studies; History / Western History; Pacific Northwest / History
  • Bibliographic information: 312 pp., 4 maps, 21 bandw illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: V Ethel Willis White Books
  • Contents

Portland, Oregon, though widely regarded as a liberal bastion, also has struggled historically with ethnic diversity; indeed, the 2010 census found it to be "America's whitest major city." In early recognition of such disparate realities, a group of African American activists in the 1960s formed a local branch of the Black Panther Party in the city's Albina District to rally their community and be heard by city leaders. And as Lucas Burke and Judson Jeffries reveal, the Portland branch was quite different from the more famous-and infamous-Oakland headquarters. Instead of parading through the streets wearing black berets and ammunition belts, Portland's Panthers were more concerned with opening a health clinic and starting free breakfast programs for neighborhood kids. Though the group had been squeezed out of local politics by the early 1980s, its legacy lives on through the various activist groups in Portland that are still fighting many of the same battles.

Combining histories of the city and its African American community with interviews with former Portland Panthers and other key players, this long-overdue account adds complexity to our understanding of the protracted civil rights movement throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Lucas N. N. Burke is a doctoral student in history at the University of Oregon. Judson L. Jeffries is professor of African American and African studies at the Ohio State University. He is the author of Huey P. Newton: The Radical Theorist and editor of On the Ground: The Black Panther Party in Communities across America.

"This book is a breath of fresh air in Oregon history and also a major contribution to black history and black radicalism, drawing our gaze away from charismatic national leaders to the unheralded foot soldiers who confronted great obstacles and formed creative alliances to serve Portland's most vulnerable residents."
-David Peterson del Mar, author of Oregon's Promise: An Interpretive History

"Like a Google Earth zoom-in, Lucas Burke and Judson Jeffries make us first see the wide historical context of the struggle to reshape social, political, cultural, racial, and even spatial relations in one American city and then experience the personal, breathing realities of that struggle. What gives the book its profound power and lasting relevance is its marvelous research, most especially its troves of interviews across a wide range of participants in the struggle. Readers will gain a valuable new understanding of what the Black Panther Party meant to a city far away from the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City, and activists will get priceless lessons in the dos and don'ts of local organizing."
-H. Bruce Franklin, author of Vietnam and America

"The Portland Black Panthers is a significant, indeed important, book eminently deserving a place in modern civil rights bibliography. First, it adds a chapter to what we know of the national (urban) impact of the Panthers; second, it locates black militancy in white Arcadia, as it were, and exposes the ubiquity of race-driven policies miles away from the benighted South or the septic ghettos of the big industrial centers of the North; third, it describes the agency possessed by a Panther cadre adroit at confrontation and prudent in compromise (part of Albina survived); and finally, this book may make us reflect on the reasons for so many Ferguson alternatives to Albina."
-David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963

"With meticulous research, Burke and Jeffries restore voice and agency to activists and community leaders whose importance has faded from the popular narrative of oh-so-cool Portland. They remind us that the city has shared the troubled history of other American communities and highlight the initiative of individuals who battled its ingrained and sometimes unconscious racial inequities. The decade from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s was one of fundamental transformation in Portland, and the Black Panthers and their allies are an essential part of that story."
-Carl Abbott, author of The Metropolitan Frontier: Cities in the Modern American West

"In this new work from one of the sharpest and most prolific scholars of 'the Long Civil Rights Movement' around, Judson L. Jeffries teams up with a young scholar in Lucas N. N. Burke and together they provide us with the kind of formidable assessment of the Black Panther Party that is seldom seen. The Portland Black Panthers fulfills two critical needs: it extends the reach of our knowledge of black communities in the U.S., taking us far west as Toni Morrison does with Home, to give us a wider lens for viewing the black experience. And, wonderfully, this also provides an additional piece that fills in almost mosaic-like the full picture of the extent and function of the Black Panther Party as a political movement."
-Carole Boyce Davies, author of Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones

"Lucas Burke and Judson Jeffries have crafted a captivating study of a local and largely unknown chapter of the Black Panther Party. By skillfully interpreting the inner workings of Portland's branch, with a sympathetic yet questioning stance, they do the important work of moving us beyond the spectacular to show how the practices of the everyday matter."
-Diane C. Fujino, author of Samurai among the Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life


"A substantial and important book that succeeds admirably in deepening our understanding not only of the ongoing struggles of Portland's black community, but also the impact of the Black Panther Party on the city's political and physical landscape. This work should gain a wide readership among those with an interest in the Black Panther Party, the modern African American freedom struggle, and the post-World War Two urban West and the contests over space and place that shaped it. . . . Required reading for anyone who has every called Portland home."
-Nancy K. Bristow, Western Historical Quarterly

"The Portland Black Panthers chronicles the largely peaceful efforts of Portland's black community to be heard during a turbulent time in Oregon history."
-East Oregonian