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Interrogating the Panthers

Adam L. Brinklow | October 16, 2014 | Story Galleries and Performance

This month, the Berkeley Rep turns a critical eye on the Black Panther and Young Lord (a Puerto Rican civil rights group) movements with the musical Party People, in which millennials question and confront ’60s revolutionaries—exposing the heart of the movement while simultaneously challenging it. Universes, the poetry-theater group and creative force behind the play, spent three years interviewing 50 former revolutionaries for story lines. Here, its most unlikely discoveries.
Oct. 17–Nov. 16

Grandma, the enforcer
The team tracked down a former Young Lords Central Committee member who, in her heyday, was reputed to have had other members beaten and tortured to keep them in check. “At first she seemed like just this old woman, someone’s grandmother,” says Steven Sapp of Universes. “But when we brought that stuff up, a switch went off. She said, ‘What else were we supposed to do?’”

Sleeping with the enemy
“The FBI and the CIA infiltrated these groups pretty deeply,” says Sapp. “The cops were doing whatever needed to be done in order to be accepted as members of the party. We met people who had married cops and didn’t know it. They even had children.”

Growing up Panther
“Some of the kids born into this resented the movement that they knew nothing about,” says Sapp. “It was a secret society. One kid could never say the Pledge of Allegiance in school but wasn’t allowed to say why.”

Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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