MEMBERS OF THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY will be honored at the San Francisco Art Institute’s commencement on May 18. Emory Douglas, artist and minister of culture for the Black Panther Party, is receiving an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, which is described as the highest honor bestowed by the institution. Fellow Panther Party members Ericka Huggins and Barbara Easley-Cox are also being recognized and will receive Douglas G. MacAgy Distinguished Achievement Awards. All three will deliver remarks at the ceremony.


Clockwise from left, Emory Douglas, Ericka Huggins, and Barbara Easley-Cox. | Photos via SFAI


Douglas served as artistic director of The Black Panther newspaper from 1967 until 1979, when it ceased publication. His graphic political images became synonymous with the organization’s identity. In the decades since, his work has been critically recognized and exhibited widely. Currently on view at The Broad in Los Angeles, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” features an expansive display dedicated to Douglas’s work.

A poet, educator, and human rights activist, Huggins was a member of the Black Panther Party in Los Angeles and started a chapter of the group in New Haven, Conn. Easley-Cox is a civil rights activist, teacher, and literacy advocate who joined the Black Panther Party in 1967. She led the San Francisco chapter of the Panthers with her husband and later worked with the organization in New York and Philadelphia.

Earlier this year, SFAI co-presented “Vanguard Revisited: Poetic Politics & Black Futures” with the University of California, Santa Cruz. The show featured photographs documenting the early years of the Black Panther Party in Northern California by Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones. The images were first exhibited at the de Young Museum in 1968. Baruch and Jones studied at SFAI under Ansel Adams who founded the school’s first fine art photography department.

Following the exhibition, special acknowledgement of Douglas, Huggins, and Easley-Cox at the commencement is a continuation of the school’s exploration of the history of the Panthers and celebration of the organization’s community activism.

FOUNDED IN 1871, SFAI is among the nation’s oldest schools of higher education in contemporary art and has an incredible history. In 1931, Diego Rivera created a mural titled “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City” in the school’s art gallery. After establishing the photography department, Adams hired Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, and Minor White, among others.

Faculty members also included an impressive slate of painters—David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and Richard Diebenkorn of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, as well as Clyfford Still, a key figure in Abstract Expressionism. Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhardt taught during the summer. Angela Davis joined the faculty in 1976.

SFAI has previously recognized the achievements of Kehinde Wiley (2018), an alum, Theaster Gates (2015), and Jack Whitten (2014) during commencement exercises, presenting the artists with the school’s Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, the same recognition Douglas is receiving.

This year, SFAI is lifting up art for change and the legacy of the Black Panther Party. “It will be with a sense of profound honor that we celebrate our 2019 graduates with these exemplary leaders of social change and community empowerment,” SFAI President Gordon Knox said in a statement. “Emory Douglas, Ericka Huggins and Barbara Easley-Cox are inspiring models for our brilliant graduating class!” CT


IMAGE: Above right, Featured in the exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” EMORY DOUGLAS, “We Shall Survive Without a Doubt” (1971). | Art Resource, NY/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


FIND MORE about thousands of photographs by Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones now archived at UC Santa Cruz here and here


“Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas” features more than 200 color full-color illustrations, a foreword by Bobby Seale and essay contributions from Kathleen Cleaver and Amiri Baraka, among others. The book also includes an interview with Emory Douglas conducted by documentary filmmaker St. Clair Bourne (1943-2007). Published in 2016, “Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers” features words by Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, and photographs by Stephen Shames. The photographer met Seale as a student at the University of California, Berkeley and photographed the political revolutionary from 1967 to 1973. Power to the People includes insights from many other Panther Party members, including Ericka Huggins, Barbara Easley-Cox, and Emory Douglas. The contributions amount to an oral history of the organization and its programs, politics, and challenges.


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