A series of evocative underground newspapers from the ‘60s and ‘70s were artistically arranged in the Design Gallery of SF State’s Fine Arts Building room, a collection shared by Black Panther Party historian and archivist Billy X Jennings. The exhibit highlighted the graphic design of the newspapers, which used revolutionary and provocative images that challenged social norms.
“Revolution Times,” curated by students and design faculty Stacy Asher and Aaron Sutherlen from the University of Nebraska, had its opening reception and accompanying gallery talk on Thursday, two weeks after the gallery officially opened to the public. Jennings, who had been a part of the Black Panthers Party in the late ‘60s, provided first-hand experience on his collection to an intimate audience.
“I started going to political education classes, then I joined the Black Panther Party. In the party you can’t just join — you can’t just walk off the street and say you’re a panther — you have to go through a six or eight week training,” Jennings said. “Part of that training is to attend political education training classes and to read the Black Panther Party Newspaper thoroughly before you sell it. At that time the Black Panther Party Newspaper was our biggest vehicle for reaching people and educating people.”
Along with the Black Panther Party Newspaper, other underground newspapers like the Berkeley Barb and the Berkeley Tribe are part of the collection displayed in the gallery. Many of the newspapers were printed and distributed in the Bay Area and provide a narrative of the fight for social justice that took place in that era.
One volume of the paper on display in the exhibit focused on the 1968 College of Ethnic Studies strike that took place at SF State and prompted students in other universities to demand an ethnic studies program.
“When they had the Ethnic Studies strike here and they won, it created a situation where UC Berkeley wanted Ethnic Studies there as well and what happened was they started to strike as the Third World Liberation Group and we had all these groups working together to get Ethnic Studies,” Jennings said.
Other topics discussed in the newspapers concerned police brutality, solidarity between people of color and the civil rights and antiwar movements prevalent at the time.
“I really liked the simplicity of it all. It feels like there isn’t much but there’s plenty. I could spend all day there reading the walls and trying to learn,” said gallery attendee Alex Ajayi. “It’s pretty cool to learn about so much history that happened close to yourself.”
Although much of what is on display at the exhibit are the graphics of the newspapers, part of the effort behind it has been the digitization and preservation of the content in the collection. Many of the newspapers can be read on the Revolution Times website.
“This work represents a remarkable history. The artifacts themselves are interesting and beautiful but what they represent is passion and energy and handwork. All towards social justice,” said Gallery Director Joshua Singer. “I think that’s why this show is really so special for San Francisco State because of our commitment to equity and social justice and our own history back to the strikes of ’68.”
“Revolution Times” will be on display through Dec. 1.