Look for Me in the Whirlwind: From the Panther 21 to 21st-Century Revolutions
Authors: Sekou Odinga, Dhoruba Bin Wahad, Jamal Joseph • Editors: Matt Meyer & déqui kioni-sadiki • Foreword: Imam Jamil Al-Amin • Afterword: Mumia Abu-Jamal
Publisher: PM Press
Size: 9 x 6
Page count: 648 pages
Subjects: Political Activism/African American Studies/Autobiography
In the tumultuous year of 1969, amid music festivals and moon landings, assassinations and million-person antiwar mobilizations, twenty-one members of the militant New York branch of the Black Panther Party (BPP) were rounded up and indicted on multiple charges of violent acts and conspiracies. They were charged with plans to blow up a variety of sites—from a police station in Manhattan to the Queens offices of the Board of Education and the Bronx Botanical Gardens. Though some among the New York Panther 21 (NY 21) had hardly even met one another, the group was gathered together as an obvious attempt by the FBI, in cooperation with city and state authorities, to discredit, disrupt, and destroy the organization which was attracting so many young people across the world. In the ensuing preparation for a trial that would become the longest and most expensive in New York’s history at the time, information came out about the FBI’s illegal Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), as members of the BPP were assassinated, forced into exile, framed, and set against each other.
In the case of the NY 21, splits between the California-based Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, and the New York–based Panthers, who had a more internationalist and clandestine approach, became hostile and murderous. At the same time, solidarity for the 21 extended well beyond predictable Black Liberation circles, including a cocktail party fund-raiser hosted by Leonard Bernstein which was infamously derided in mainstream media reports. Support for the 21 also included publication of the collective autobiography Look for Me in the Whirlwind, which is reprinted for the first time in this volume.
At a moment when the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement recites a daily “We Have a Duty to Win” affirmation penned by exiled revolutionary Assata Shakur, the membership of the NY 21—which includes the mother of Tupac Shakur, two of those charged with assisting in the prison escape of Assata, and one Panther who, at age eighty, remains in prison despite having served more than forty years—is largely forgotten and unknown. Their legacy, however—reflected upon here in this special edition—provides essential truths which have remained largely hidden, even in the myriad books and movies of Black Panther nostalgia and mythology. The voices of the Panthers contained in these pages resonate today because they boldly confront, with creativity and candor, both their own history and our deepest challenges today.
“Listen to these voices of young men and women—from places like New Jersey or Panama, New York or Antigua—who poured their insights, courage, and creative energy into New York City’s fledgling Black Panther Party that generated chapters in all five boroughs. Unlike out west, where police shot and killed Panthers to disrupt the revolutionary group, New York relied more heavily on courts, jails, and prison to sabotage the organization.
These men and women were tried in the case called the “New York 21”—a barrel full of preposterous crimes which the Panthers supposedly conspired to commit—that led to the arrest and imprisonment of all the leaders (except those who reached an escape route before the police caught them at home). The state fully expected that the Panthers would remain behind bars for decades after being convicted, given that a police informant had masqueraded as a Panther until their arrest. However, the powerful example of Afeni Shakur, who defended herself, the fierce dedication of brilliant attorneys, and the organizing talents of Panther supporters on the outside made the trial the longest-running case in New York—with a short one-hour jury deliberation before finding the 21 not guilty on all charges.
This reprint edition allows a new generation to hear these amazing stories, and additionally, to read the authors’ reflections and insights for today.”
—Kathleen Cleaver, Black Panther Party Communications Secretary (1967–1971); Senior Lecturer, Emory University School of Law
“Look for Me in the Whirlwind could not come at a timelier moment in history. As newly-emerging grassroots movements challenge state violence against Black people in the U.S., it is essential that new generations learn anew, and that older ones are reminded, of police and FBI tools of repression deployed to demobilize Black radical activism and its growing influence on the Black working class in the ’60s. These remembrances, by those framed in the NY Panther 21 case, are vital building blocks for reconstructing the history of one of the least understood chapters of the Black Panther Party. They are also indispensable reading for those seeking to understand how individual activists and their movements were able to hold their center in the face of harrowing government repression.”
—Johanna Fernandez, Professor of History, Baruch College Department of Black and Latino Studies, City University of New York; co-curator, ¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York
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Look for Me in the Whirlwind: Special 2-Part Interview on WBAI
Education at the Crossroads (WBAI)
Where We Live (WBAI)
December 14th, 2017
On December 14, 2017, those shows combined forces for a two-hour special dedicated to our recently-published Look for Me in the Whirlwind: From the Panther 21 to 21st Century Revolutions. Co-editors Matt Meyer and Dequi Kioni-sadiki joined host Sally MAe O'Brian and Basir Mchawi, with Tyrene Wright, and SPECIAL GUEST Sekou Odinga, one of the original members of the Panther 21. We read excerpts from the book, explained how the book came to be and how it an be used by today's educators and organizers, and told some stories about struggle, then and now.
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Look for Me in the Whirlwind: From the Panther 21 to 21st-Century Revolutions
By Ron Jacobs
November 13th, 2017
Recently, PM Press took the original text of Look for Me in the Whirlwind and added some more recent articles, poems and reflections written by a few of the original defendants and their supporters. Titled Look for Me in the Whirlwind: From the Panther 21 to 21st-Century Revolutions, this book is both an essential piece of history and a call to reinvigorate the movement for Black liberation and free those still imprisoned as part of the COINTELPRO operation four decades ago. Perhaps the most striking (and distressing) aspect of the additions to the original text is the fact that the struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s are so similar to the struggles of today. Then again, given the history of the United States, maybe it isn’t so striking after all.
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Look for Me in the Whirlwind: From the Panther 21 to 21st-Century Revolutions: A Starred Review
In the era of Black Lives Matter, this chronicle of the Black Panther 21—the group charged in 1969 with the conspiracy to commit violent acts in what became the longest trial in New York history—is more relevant than ever. This book offers accounts from the 21 members put on trial, including Sundiata Acoli, the Black Liberation Army fighter sentenced to life in prison for the death of a New Jersey state trooper; Jamal Joseph, an Academy Award–nominated filmmaker; Afeni Shakur, mother of rapper Tupac Shakur; and Assata Shakur, member of the Panther-associated Black Liberation Army and the first woman on the FBI’s most-wanted list. Members discuss their experiences growing up without fathers or going to school under a racist educational system, with teachers who would regularly demean black students with reading assignments that instilled a sense of inferiority in them. Such anecdotes allow readers to understand the Panthers as individuals and gain perspective on their work in their local communities, which included creating breakfast programs for hungry children and patrolling the streets at night with law books and legally owned firearms. This book demonstrates the scope of the Panthers’ intellectual gifts as well as the compassion and revolutionary spirit at the center of their radical grassroots activism.
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