Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Health Activism and the Black Panther Party

By Briana Whiteside

It is not widely focused on, but the Black Panther Party (BPP) advocated "COMPLETELY FREE HEALTH CARE FOR ALL BLACK AND OPPRESSED PEOPLE" (4). The BPP focused on social transformation and one of their platforms was healthcare. They rode through neighborhoods educating people on free health clinics and health services so that people could at least have a chance at survival.

In Body and Soul, Alondra Nelson sheds light on the little known story regarding the BPP and their health activism. Today, health challenges continue to plague African American communities. And given the contemporary significance of national healthcare issues, Nelson’s focus on the practices of the BPP are especially timely.

The battle for adequate healthcare has been a constant struggle for large numbers of African Americans. Learning more about healthcare and the histories of health activism has also been difficult for black people.  As a result, a book like Nelson’s can be quite useful.

At one point, Nelson presents a quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. who noted in 1966 that “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane” (5). Like the BPP, other major civil rights leaders and organizers were placing attention on the important issue of healthcare. For some reason however, their contributions to health activism have often been silenced.

Nelson’s book Body and Soul and our writing about the issues she addresses seek to counter that silencing.

Related: URG: Notebook on Alondra Nelson's Body and Soul

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Black Studies Program.

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