BPP in Paris

Dear Kathleen Cleaver,

I contact you regarding the exhibition “Black Panther Party for self-defense !!” that we set up in Paris in our gallery. As you know, we’ve been contacted by several of the photographers who have participated to the built of the bpp archives. As I already told them, we dealt with the foundation Dr huey P. Newton and we are just discovering now the whole hoax. We are going to repair the harm.

I think that, for different reasons, I owe you some explanation as a founding member of the bpp and maybe then you will agree to answer to some of my interrogations.

Firstly, we decided to make this exhibition long before we even had a space. It was something we wanted to show to French people and (until a few days ago), we really thought it was a good idea. We have a brand new audience, younger, totally different and really interested in that subject. It was the first time that a gallery made a retrospective like that and even the press congratulate us for doing it, saying that it was important for the youth at this moment. Anyway, the thing is, if we decided to work with the foundation, it’s not because we considered them like the official and only members. It’s mostly because it appeared to us that it was organized and prepared “technically” to participate to an exhibition (they had the pictures framed, the catalogue printed etc...). We understood at the very beginning of our partnership that there were some disagreements between the different members, but we thought that it could result to all the troubles you’ve all been through (jail, exile etc...). We didn’t have any answers about that from David, and honestly, we didn’t really insist. Stephen Shames told me that nobody agreed to celebrate the Legacy Tour with the foundation. Is that right ? Is the foundation a fraud ?

One of the artists, Mounir Fatmi, is invited to the Biennale of Dakar to show an installation called “Out of history” made with the archives of the FBI, like a piece of African history born out of Africa and brought back to motherland. He also made a documentary based on his conversations with David. We wonder if those testimonies have any value...? I hope you won’t mind answering my questions and I hope that the situation is clearer for you now.

Do not hesitate to contact me if you need more information.

We are sincerely sorry if we hurt you. I hope we will have the opportunity to collaborate one day.

Marie-Céline Somolo

Thank you for your kind letter, Marie-Celine Somolo.

I am certain that you had no idea of what the Huey P. Newton Foundation is, and I was the one who found out about the exhibit and told Stephen Shames that I saw one of his photographs on the website, not really having much information about his past dealings with David Hilliard, which seem to have been quite problematic.

About the Huey P. Newton Foundation. It consists of David Hilliard, Fredericka Newton, who is the widow of Huey Newton, an attorney, and Elaine Brown. That's it. It doesn't represent anyone nor collaborate with anyone in the rest of the Black Panther Party, with a few exceptions, and it behaves as if the "legacy" of the collective work of thousands of people is something that this foundation 'owns.'

I learned about your exhibit from a friend in Paris, who saw the poster outside her apartment, and questioned me about it. What you have in the foundation, as far as I can tell, is a vehicle created as a non - profit organization, that allows David Hilliard and his wife to exploit for their own private gain the history of the Black Panther Party. They have become an embarassment to those who have any political consciousness about the value of that history by doing things like marketing a hot sauce ( "sauce picante") with the name "Burn, Baby, Burn" -- a slogan used during the riots of the 1960s -- and licensing the image of the black panther to a clothing company, for money. One of the most outrageous antics was the attempt to copyright the drawing of the Black Panther which was in the public domain for many years, and in fact borrowed by the early Black Panther Party before David Hilliard was even a member from another organization in Alabama....

Of course, David Hilliard presents himself to the public as the representative of the Black Panthers; but we know that he is doing this for personal private gain. His organization has never supportered or helped any of the imprisoned Panthers, for which he has been publicly denounced.

His organization angered many former members, when they discovered back in 1996, that he had sold the Party's archives (actually, papers in the basement of the deceased Huey P Newton) to Stanford University for a large sum of money (several hundred thousand, I believe) and they only learned about it from the newspapers.

There are many people aware of the way Hilliard is exploiting the image and history of the Black Panthers, but most are not organized to actively stop him, other than the group Its About Time, which plans and hosts the reunions and conferences every five years.

So far, Hilliard and Elaine Brown have not participated, and would no longer be welcome, given their conduct over the past few years.

Of course, these are not matters which would be known to anyone in France, and they are not issues which have yet become public outside of the former Panthers and those close to them.

I hope this clarifies your issues. As far as the work of the African artists, I don't think you should worry about its value. These documents are real, and the artist is making his own iterpretation, and not trying to sell anyone else's material for his private gain!

But enough of these stories. Of course, your idea for the exhibition is a wonderful idea.

Currently, there is an exhibit at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, of which I will send you the announcement. It engaged many different artists and photographers directly, and also had the involvement of the organization Its About Time. (

Katheen Cleaver