BHM Heroes: Emory Douglas

During the month of February, BRTW ensemble members are selecting personal Black heroes to highlight everyday. These heroes may have spoken the magic words that first made them see their Black beauty, the people who inspired them to become artists, or even the person who taught them how to make proper mixed greens.

The first time I saw Emory Douglas’s (1943-) art I was visiting the Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Spain’s premiere modern art museum. They had an exhibit on political art and displayed several of Douglas’ prints. I remember staring at them in awe, particularly the piece below:

emory douglas

[Image: Black woman with earrings, afro, spear and firearm standing before a pink and white striped background. Caption reads: Afro-American solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world]

Despite his obvious skill and talent for creating evocative images, however, Douglas only came to art as a juvenile. During his teenage years the San Francisco raised Douglas was incarcerated at the Youth Training School in Ontario, California. There he began working in the prison’s printing shop, which sparked in him a passion for graphic art. Later Emory Douglas studied graphic design at San Francisco City College. He also came into contact with black revolutionaries such as playwright Amiri Baraka and Black Panther Party founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale.

In 1967 Douglas became began printing images for the party’s newspaper, becoming its Minister of Culture. He was famed not only for his bold, inspiring paintings and collages and popularizing the association of police officers with pigs, but for using the everyday men, women, and children in his neighborhood as inspiration. According to Douglas:

“They used to buy the paper to look at the art. They could tell through the artwork which direction the Black Panther Party was going at that particular time.”

After the fall of the Black Panther Party due to FBI sabotage Emory Douglas went on to work for the San Francisco Sun Reporter, continuing his streak of insightful images. Douglas is now officially retired, but that doesn’t prevent him from making the occasional political art. If you’d like to learn more about Emory Douglas and the Black Panthers please check out his website, as well as this video by Dress Code

-Mieko Gavia
Producing Ensemble Member