Few photographers had the insider access Oakland native Jeffrey Henson Scales did around the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s.
Capturing intimate portraits and protest images of the organization and its leaders in a time of societal upheaval, Scales’s archive lay dormant and forgotten for 40 years. Then in 2018, when his mother died and the contents of the family home were sorted, the negatives were discovered.
Fast forward to today’s national racial justice dialogues, the death of several Black men at the hands of police and vigilantes, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. “A new urgency to these images and the original Civil Rights Movement takes root in the context of today’s ongoing struggle for racial justice,” Scales said about the trove of historical material. “These images serve as a time capsule of sorts, not only of my adolescence and political awakening but also for the country whose ongoing struggle with racial inequality, police brutality, and resistance is as urgent and timely as ever.”
Jeffrey Henson Scales grew up in Berkeley and, as a son of activists, became known in and around Panther circles in the 1960s. His documentary photographs have been exhibited at museums throughout the United States and Europe and have appeared in numerous photography magazines, books, and anthologies.
His photographs are in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The City Museum of New York, The George Eastman House, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Weisman Museum of Art, Minneapolis, Newfields at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and The Baltimore Museum of Art.
A one-person major exhibition, Pictures from America, sponsored by The Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York, traveled throughout the United States from 1996 to 2001.
Henson Scales is also an award-winning New York Times editor who curates the paper’s photography column, “Exposures,” is co-editor of the annual Year in Pictures special section and is a professor of photojournalism at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Dr. Deborah Willis is an artist, author, and curator. Her art and pioneering research have focused on cultural histories envisioning the black body, women, and gender.
She is a celebrated photographer, acclaimed historian of photography, MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellow, and University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
Willis received the NAACP Image Award in 2014 for her co-authored book Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery (with Barbara Krauthamer) and in 2015 for the documentary Through a Lens Darkly, inspired by her book Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present.
Waldo E. Martin Jr. is a professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley. His principal areas of research and writing are African American intellectual and cultural history. He is the author of Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, co-authored with Joshua Bloom (2013), A Change is Gonna Come: Black Movement, Culture, and the Transformation of America 1945-1975 (forthcoming) and The Mind of Frederick Douglass (1985). He co-edited, with Patricia Sullivan, The Encyclopedia of Civil Rights in the United States (1999).
Join the book release In A Time of Panthers: Early Photographs Hardcover – September 20, 2022, Wednesday, September 28th, 2022, 6 PM EST, Claire Oliver Gallery, 2288 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., Harlem, New York
Photo credit: 1) Clockwise from top left, Black Panther Party supporters outside the Alameda County Courthouse, Oakland Calif.; Kathleen Cleaver, National Communications Secretary of the Panthers, at a May Day rally to free Huey Newton in San Francisco, 1969; Black Panther security at DeFremery Park in Oakland. 2) Clockwise from left, Bobby Seale at a rally in 1969; Stokely Carmichael, aka Kwame Ture, waiting outside the Alameda County Courthouse; Huey Newton held a press conference at the office of his lawyer, Charles Garry, on August 5,1970, the day he was released from jail. 3) Members of the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panthers on guard duty during a rally at DeFremery Park in 1968. Second from right is John Huggins, the chapter’s leader. He was killed, along with Bunchy Carter, a fellow Panther, at the University of California, Los Angeles, campus in January 1969. They were shot during an altercation with members of US, a black nationalist organization, that reportedly was incited by undercover government agents. 4) Left, a tear gas canister landing on the balcony of the Student Union building at the University of California, Berkeley, May 19, 1969, National Guard troops on the campus. All Photographs © 2022, Jeffrey Henson Scales