One of our recommended books is Revolution in Our Time by Kekla Magoon


The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People

In this comprehensive, inspiring, and all-too-relevant history of the Black Panther Party, Kekla Magoon introduces readers to the Panthers’ community activism, grounded in the concept of self-defense, which taught Black Americans how to protect and support themselves in a country that treated them like second-class citizens. For too long the Panthers’ story has been a footnote to the civil rights movement rather than what it was: a revolutionary socialist movement that drew thousands of members—mostly women—and became the target of one of the most sustained repression efforts ever made by the U.S. government against its own citizens.

Revolution in Our Time puts the Panthers in the proper context of Black American history,

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In this comprehensive, inspiring, and all-too-relevant history of the Black Panther Party, Kekla Magoon introduces readers to the Panthers’ community activism, grounded in the concept of self-defense, which taught Black Americans how to protect and support themselves in a country that treated them like second-class citizens. For too long the Panthers’ story has been a footnote to the civil rights movement rather than what it was: a revolutionary socialist movement that drew thousands of members—mostly women—and became the target of one of the most sustained repression efforts ever made by the U.S. government against its own citizens.

Revolution in Our Time puts the Panthers in the proper context of Black American history, from the first arrival of enslaved people to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. Kekla Magoon’s eye-opening work invites a new generation of readers grappling with injustices in the United States to learn from the Panthers’ history and courage, inspiring them to take their own place in the ongoing fight for justice.

With passion and precision, Kekla Magoon relays an essential account of the Black Panthers—as militant revolutionaries and as human rights advocates working to defend and protect their community.

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  • Candlewick Press
  • Paperback
  • August 2023
  • 400 Pages
  • 9781536228168

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About Kekla Magoon

Kekla Magoon is the author of Revolution in Our TimeKekla Magoon’s young adult novel The Rock and the River, which won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award, was the first mainstream novel for young people to feature the Black Panther Party. She is the Margaret A. Edwards Award-winning author of more than a dozen books for young readers, including Fire in the Streets and How It Went Down. She is also the coauthor, with Ilyasah Shabazz, of X: A Novel, which was long-listed for the National Book Award and received an NAACP Image Award and a Coretta Scott King Honor. Kekla Magoon grew up in Indiana and now lives in Vermont, where she serves on the faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts.


A National Book Award Finalist
A Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor Book
A Michael L. Printz Honor Book
A Walter Dean Myers Honor Book

“This comprehensive, meticulously researched volume helps readers understand the Panthers within the spectrum of Black resistance. The narrative is cinematic in its descriptions of the personalities and incidents that make up the party’s history while presenting a throughline to the anti-racist activism of today. Highly readable and not-to-be-missed.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Powerful…an incisive, in-depth study of the Black Panther Party.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A comprehensive and all-encompassing account of the group. . . .Invaluable for both individual and classroom reading.” The Horn Book (starred review)

“Exceedingly well researched, illustrated, and sourced. . . This rounded accounting of a pivotal but often-overlooked time in U.S. history should be widely read.” Booklist (starred review)

“A must-read for anyone interested in fighting injustice, this courageous book takes readers beyond what we think we know and provides an objective and insightful view of our nation’s history.” —NPR

“Magoon presents a comprehensive history of the Black Panther Party, from its heyday in the 1960s and ’70s amid intense persecution by federal authorities to its eventual demise in the early 1980s. Magoon concludes this beautifully designed, timely volume by connecting the Panthers’ legacy to the current work of the Black Lives Matter movement.” The Washington Post


Discussion Questions

1. Talk about some of the various movements, past and present, that young people have been at the center of and what they have accomplished. What happens when people speak up about injustice and thousands follow?

2. The following words by Huey P. Newton appear before the table of contents: “The revolution has always been in the hands of the young.” What does the word revolution mean to you? Where do your ideas about this word come from?

3. Magoon writes, “The Panthers fought a revolution in their time, just as we are fighting one in ours” (page ix). What is the revolution being fought in our time?

4. Take a look at the images across the tops of pages viii and ix. What do they help you to notice and wonder about the Black Panther Party? As you read Revolution in Our Time, remain alert to what you notice and wonder. Which ideas are validated and which are disrupted as you learn the truth about the Black Panther Party?

5. “A picture is worth a thousand words” is a well-known adage that demonstrates the power of images and what they can convey. Look at the images captured of the Black Panther Party from May 2, 1967, at the California state capitol and discuss this paragraph:

“The powerful image of Black men with guns on the steps of the California legislature put the Panthers on the map. For most of white America, that image defined the Black Panther Party. But to freeze the Panthers in this moment is to do them a disservice—it is to overlook the fact that the Panthers went to Sacramento that day not to commit violence but to speak a difficult truth about racism directly to the power structure of the government. They went as law-abiding citizens and yet were treated as an inherent threat because of the color of their skin. Twenty- three Panthers were arrested that day, despite not having broken the law” (page 8).

As you read Revolution in Our Time, what do you notice about the way images of the Black Panthers were weaponized, and by whom, to provide a fractured and often false version of them? What happened when Black people exercised their right to bear arms? Why? Do you think this weaponization of images exists today?

6. Read about the American Patriot Rally protest on April 30, 2020, at the Michigan state capitol and look at images captured of the White armed protestors. What happened when White people exercised their right to bear arms? Why?

7. Magoon uses a powerful metaphor of an earthquake to remind readers that the Black Panthers did not appear overnight. What are some examples of the “deep unrest” (page 9) from which the Black Panther Party emerged? What are some of the societal conditions that Black people were navigating in the United States during this time? What are some of the societal conditions that Black people are navigating today?

8. Too often, books and teaching about the history of the United States downplay and diminish the truth about colonialism, imperialism, the genocide of Native Americans, and chattel slavery. What is the impact of silencing this history? What is the impact of knowing this history?

9. Magoon writes, “Thus, the founders of the new America enshrined in the most integral document of the land the notion that Black people were less valuable—indeed, less human—than white people” (page 17). In what ways was racism “enshrined” in the United States Constitution?

10. In your own words, discuss what resistance means. What are you learning about the various ways Black people responded with resistance to oppression during chattel slavery, the Reconstruction era, and the civil rights movement? In what ways do you notice such resistance to oppression by Black people today?

11. Consider connections between: the Fugitive Slave Act and the institution of policing; slavery and sharecropping; enslavement and segregation; enslavement and imprisonment. What do you notice about the way slavery in the United States has evolved over time into new systems that oppress Black people? What changes might result in society if every prospective police officer was required to learn the history of policing in the United States? What changes might result in society if everyone learned this history? Although the institution of slavery ended, what do you notice about the ways racist ideas of the past are carried into institutions and systems such as policing, education, voting, housing, employment, and laws?

12. Words matter. Discuss the longevity of Black people responding to police brutality by protesting in the United States and the language too often used to describe such protests. “ ‘What’s happening is rebellions, not riots,’ Stokely said. The people needed to be heard, and they had no other way to speak” (page 64). What difference does it make to use words such as protest, rebellion, and uprising rather than riot?

13. Understanding the issue of voter suppression today requires learning about the nation’s history of suppressing Black people from voting. Discuss the tactics of the past used to prevent Black people from voting, such as intimidation, tests, long lines, and loss of jobs. Discuss what you know about the use of these tactics today.

14. Discuss social, economic, and political conditions experienced by Black people in the United States that led to the founding of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization and what would become the Black Panther Party. Why is it important to know about the myriad ways Black people fought for their rights and are still doing so today?

15. What are you learning about young people and activism? In what ways have young people been at the center of revolutions?

16. Review and discuss the Ten-Point Platform of the Black Panther Party (pages 85–87). In what ways does it address systemic racism experienced by Black people in the United States?

17. The Black Panthers operated from a knowledge-is-power ethos. Discuss what the Black Panthers noticed about knowledge of Black history and their actions to educate the Black community.

18. Specific symbols associated with the Black Panther Party have created an image of them and what they represent. Discuss some of these symbols, such as panthers, berets, black clothes, guns, pigs, etc. How were these symbols weaponized in ways that evoked untruths about the Black Panthers? How were these symbols representative of the Black Panthers’ deep and powerful ways of knowing and being in the world?

19.  What does it mean to be self-sufficient? Why was self-sufficiency necessary and central to the Black Panther Party?

20. The Black Panthers’ emphasis and efforts toward self-sufficiency and survival programs were in response to the government’s refusal to meet the needs of Black citizens. Discuss specific programs that were examples of the Black Panthers’ focus on economic power within the Black community (such as policing the police, the breakfast program, educating the community about Black history, and the pocket lawyer) and how they supported Black people around the country.

21. Anger and rage are commonly associated with destruction. In what ways did the Black Panther Party utilize anger as a righteous tool for creating positive social change?

22. The use of rhetoric by the Black Panther Party provided members of the Black community with language to name and lenses to analyze their lived experiences. Such rhetoric was not only for the purposes of Black people, but also to intentionally disturb White people—to make them uncomfortable with the conditions that Black people navigated daily. Review and discuss Black Panther Party rhetoric (pages 115–119). In what ways did this language capture the social, economic, and political landscape for Black Americans?

23. In what ways did United States government agencies such as the FBI work to silence the Black Panthers from speaking out about racism and injustice?

24. Discuss the government’s use of propaganda to portray the Black Panthers as a group of bandits and criminals. What are examples of the ways the Black Panther Party was a highly organized, skilled organization?

25. Intersectionality, a term coined by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, spotlights the ways a person’s social identities combine to create nuanced, different forms of discrimination and oppression. Discuss the ways intersectionality impacted Black women in the Black Panther Party and the civil rights movement. In what ways does intersectionality impact people today?

26. Magoon explains, “The FBI kept this program top secret because their agents frequently broke the law and violated the Panthers’ constitutional rights while conducting this surveillance. U.S. citizens have the right to form political organizations and protest” (page 200). Today, people from across racial groups herald Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a hero. Yet during the 1960s, Dr. King, like the Black Panther Party, was seen as a threat. Discuss the government-sanctioned goals and tactics to destroy Black leaders and the Black Panther Party, specifically the FBI’s counterintelligence program COINTELPRO. What is the role of government in the United States? In what ways was the FBI’s COINTELPRO a contradiction to the nation’s ideals of freedom and justice for all?

27. U.S. law is built upon the proposition that judges, juries, and law enforcement will treat all citizens equally and that facts and evidence are used to make unbiased and impartial decisions about people in a court of law. How are Bobby Seale’s trial and Fred Hampton’s murder examples of flaws in this proposition? Do these examples, as well as others that the Black Panther Party experienced, inform your understanding of the relationship between the police and Black people today?

28. The Black Panther Party was a movement that, like others, is not beyond critique. What were some of the internal factors that caused conflict within the party? What were the external forces that sparked some of the internal conflicts?

29. Magoon writes, “If lasting political change was going to happen in the country, with or without a violent revolution, it was essential to get Black people elected to positions of power” (pages 260–261). What do you notice about the racial makeup of those in positions of power in the nation’s institutions past and present? Consider the United States government, CEOs of major companies that you’re aware of, and other examples in your own life. In what ways does lack of representation create barriers to achieving racial justice?

30. “Unfortunately, ‘racist progress has consistently followed racial progress,’ writes Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, a noted historian who studies race in America” (page 275). Discuss some of the racist policies passed by the United States government from 1980 to now. In what ways did they create barriers for racial progress and further oppress Black people? In what ways are events such as Barack Obama’s historic election, the White supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, further examples of Dr. Kendi’s message?

31. The Black Lives Matter movement, founded by three Black women, is another example of the critical role of women in leading the revolution. It is also an example of the ways young people and their activism continue to be essential in social justice movements. What connections
can you find between the Black Panther Party and the Black Lives Matter movements? What distinctions do you note?

32. A common thread across many social justice movements is collectivism. The Black Panther Party’s unyielding belief in collectivism enabled them to confront systemic barriers that plagued Black people and make astounding accomplishments given the constant attacks and harassment they experienced by the police and the United States government. What does it mean to work in community with one another? What can be learned from a collectivist ideology? In what ways is this at odds with an individualist ideology that is part of the American norm? What do you notice about how individualism contributes to social issues of the past and those today?

33. As a result of reading Revolution in Our Time, what have you learned, unlearned, and relearned about race and racism in the United States? What actionable steps will you take to further the revolution in our time?



Early in the morning on May 2, 1967, a group of thirty Black people piled into cars in Oakland, California, and struck out on the highway, headed for the state capitol in Sacramento. The group was made up of twenty-four men and six women. Among them were members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, other community residents, and the family members of Denzil Dowell, a young Black man who had been shot and killed by police officers about a month earlier. The trunks of the cars were filled with pistols, shotguns, and semiautomatic weapons.

Everyone was nervous. But the eighty-mile drive from Oakland to Sacramento gave them plenty of time to think and to remember why they were going to the capitol: because they did not want what happened to Denzil Dowell to happen to anyone else. Denzil was a Black teen accused of robbing a local liquor store. Police officers shot him multiple times, although he was unarmed and possibly in the act of surrendering. Then they left him to die without even calling an ambulance.

It wasn’t the first time that area police had shot a Black suspect in questionable circumstances. Police officers rarely gave Black citizens the benefit of the doubt. Far beyond Oakland, throughout the nation, Black Americans struggled with similar issues. An entire movement for civil rights was underway, one goal of which was to protect Black people from race-based violence. Young people led peaceful public protests aimed at calling attention to racism, changing unjust laws, and demanding equal treatment. Unfortunately, those changes hadn’t come in time to save Denzil Dowell. So for the past few months, the Panthers had been leading armed community patrols that monitored police officers at work, in hopes of preventing more senseless violence.

Now they were headed to the state legislature to protest a bill called the Mulford Act, which would make it illegal for citizens to carry guns in public. This piece of legislation had been introduced specifically to prevent the Panthers from carrying the weapons they used to protect citizens from such police brutality. As American citizens, they knew they had a right to protest a law they disagreed with, so they were headed to Sacramento to publicly share their views in front of elected officials.

When they arrived at the state capitol, the Panthers parked their cars right in front
of the building. They got out, retrieved their guns, and began loading them with live ammunition. The guns hadn’t been loaded during the long drive because it was illegal to carry loaded weapons (except pistols) in a car. The Panthers had carefully studied California gun laws, and they followed them to the letter. It was still legal to carry unconcealed weapons in public places, and the Panthers planned to do so as part of their protest against the Mulford Act.

At that moment, California governor Ronald Reagan was standing out in front of the capitol, speaking to a group of students and members of the press. The Black Panthers gathering their weapons nearby frightened him. He abruptly ended his talk and left the scene.

The journalists turned around to see what had startled the governor and saw a fresh story coming at them. They turned their microphones and cameras toward the Panthers, capturing their approach on the capitol.

The chairman of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale, led the way up the courthouse steps. He had a .45-caliber pistol holstered at his hip. Right behind him, toting a twelve- gauge shotgun, was sixteen-year-old Lil’ Bobby Hutton, the youngest Panther.

The Panthers knew they might be arrested, even though they were not breaking the law. They knew that police or security guards in the capitol might even shoot at them. They were prepared to shoot back if they had to. They were willing to go to jail if they had to. But no matter what happened, they intended to deliver their message.

The Panthers approached the front doors and came face-to-face with a security guard standing at the entrance. The guard may have been uncomfortable at the sight of the Panthers, but he knew the law, too. “Well, you aren’t violating anything with your gun, so if you want to, you can go inside,” he said.

The Panthers entered the capitol rotunda, a high-ceilinged, clean, and shiny space. People turned to stare at them. In their black leather jackets and berets, with guns boldly displayed, the Panthers seemed shockingly out of place in the halls of government. Most of the group had never set foot in a legislative building before. Bobby Seale looked around, trying to figure out which way led to the visitors’ gallery, where citizens could go to watch the state assembly proceedings. “Anybody here know where you go in and observe the Assembly making these laws?” he called out.

“Upstairs on the next floor,” someone answered. So the Panthers went upstairs, looking for the visitors’ room. The reporters surrounded them the whole way, shouting questions and jockeying to get in the best camera position to document the Panthers walking through the capitol.

Following signs for the Assembly Chambers, Bobby Seale walked through a door on the second floor—and found himself standing not in the visitors’ gallery, but right on the Assembly floor! Members of the press—on purpose or not—had misdirected the Panthers, and they had ended up somewhere regular citizens weren’t supposed to be.

Frightened legislators began shouting for the Panthers to leave the room. Security guards approached the Panthers in the doorway. One reached out and took Lil’ Bobby Hutton’s shotgun away from him. Lil’ Bobby cried out in protest, “Am I under arrest? What the hell you got my gun for? If I’m not under arrest you give me my gun back!” He knew he wasn’t breaking the law by carrying the weapon and was within his rights to ask for it back.

The security guards escorted the Panthers out of the Assembly Chambers. They went willingly. The Panthers had not come to the state capitol to shoot anyone. They had come to read a statement, which Bobby Seale presented on the capitol steps, amid the chaos created by frightened politicians and journalists:

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense calls upon the American people in general and the Black people in particular to take careful note of the racist California Legislature which is now considering legislation aimed at keeping the Black People disarmed and power- less at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror, brutality, murder and repression of Black People.

He launched into reading Executive Mandate #1, a brief summary of the Panthers’ beliefs and goals, which included demands for equal treatment:

Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetrated against Black people. . . . The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense believes that the time has come for Black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late. . . . A people who have suffered so much for so long at the hands of a racist society must draw the line somewhere. We believe that the Black communities of America must rise up as one man to halt the progression of a trend that leads inevitably to their total destruction.

The event made news far beyond Sacramento. It had been an honest mistake, barging directly into the legislative session, but it worked out just fine for the Panthers. After all, they had wanted to be noticed and to have their message heard. Networks all over the country aired Bobby Seale’s statement. But the greater impact came from the sight of those rows of Black people with guns, dressed like a small army behind him as he spoke such fiery words. People around the country wondered, Who are these Panthers?


A note from Kekla Magoon


The first seeds of this book were planted nearly ten years ago. I’d published two novels about teens in the Black Panther Party—The Rock and the River and Fire in the Streets—and I had begun the research process for X: A Novel, the young adult project about Malcolm X’s teen years that I would soon begin cowriting with Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm’s daughter. Being out on the conference circuit was amazing, meeting teachers and librarians and visiting schools and communities to speak about my books. Everywhere I went, it seemed, folks who were reading, sharing, or teaching the books wanted to know what nonfiction resources I would recommend for young readers to learn more about the Black Panthers. This question hit me hard with two divergent feelings: first, I was thrilled that people were so engaged by my narratives that they wanted more, but second, I had no idea what to say in response.

A lot had been written about the Panthers for the adult market, but much of the material skewed academic and informational. In my research, I’d pored over thick tomes of peer- review essays, a lot of primary source material, books full of small print that operated on the assumption of a reader’s basic understanding of American history and the evolution and systemic nature of racism, some dynamic but slanted memoirs, and perhaps the occasional striking photo essay that came with little written content or context. Few of these volumes felt fully accessible to me as a college graduate and history major, so how could they possibly feel accessible to a teen reader? I found myself at a loss for Panther-specific texts to recommend to the readers of my fiction. There was only one choice. The powers that be in the universe of story had spoken. If it didn’t exist, I had to write it.

Thus began a years-long journey of research, growth, and learning. The research under my belt from writing the novels was a great start, but I had to know more and go deeper if I was going to tell the Panthers’ story right. Starting in the spring of 2012, I traveled as frequently as I could to learn more. I visited Oakland, the Panthers’ birthplace, and walked the streets and dove into the archives. I drove through the South, visiting civil rights movement landmarks that I’d only ever read about in history books. Anytime I traveled for book events throughout the country over the years, I popped into libraries, museums, historical societies, archives, any place I thought might give me a greater glimpse into the heart of this narrative. I met former Panthers, many of whom have found ways to continue the work they began in the movement. Their stories are powerful, sometimes shocking, always compelling, and ever relevant to the work that still needs to be done in our nation—work being done by a new generation of young people reaching across lines of race and identity to bring all of us finally and powerfully into a more just and equitable future. My hope is that this story of past generations of activists will inspire, empower, and remind these young activists to move forward with the confidence that they are carrying on a powerful tradition.