JHU, Morgan State students collaborate on Black Panther exhibit

Black Panther exhibition at the Peale
Black Panther exhibition at the Peale
Hopkins, Morgan State students collaborate on Black Panther exhibit at The Peale

Their free exhibit, "Revolution in Our Lifetime: The Black Panther Party and Political Organizing in Baltimore, 1968-1974," is open through May 26

Visit the Peale museum in downtown Baltimore, and you’ll find the first floor teeming with newsprint, bold illustrations, and photographs of Black men, women, and children. These artifacts make up the complex exhibit Revolution in Our Lifetime: The Black Panther Party and Political Organizing in Baltimore, 1968-1974 . Free and open through May 26 with plans to be extend it into the summer, the exhibit tells a deeper story about the local Black Panther Party’s work, impact, and political organization. The show was curated by students from Johns Hopkins University and Morgan State University, with Krieger School faculty members Stuart Schrader , associate research professor in the Center for Africana Studies, and Victoria Harms , senior lecturer in the Department of History.

"Our team, though all’in different ways and at different times, relied on sources not often broadcast in traditional narratives about the Panthers or even Baltimore," says one of the student curators, Emma Petite, A&S ’23. "The value of our exhibit is that it gives attendees a chance to encounter new sources, take in their value, and walk away with their minds open to new sources of information."

Interlocking research

"Revolution in Our Lifetime" is an exhibit in four parts, each one curated by a single student researcher. That team includes Petite, Hopkins junior Gerardo Fontes, Morgan State graduate student Kai Clemons, and Morgan State junior Kristian Whitehead. Their yearlong research projects received guidance from Harms, Schrader, and Heather Furnas, librarian for History, Africana Studies, and History of Science & Technology at JHU’s Sheridan Libraries. Clemons and Whitehead are also fellows at the Krieger School’s Inheritance Baltimore

Each student curator explored archived materials such as newspapers and personal letters related to aspects of the Baltimore Black Panther Party’s work. The exhibit is built around those artifacts, highlighting the chapter’s support for local youth, prisoners’ rights, international collaboration, and local organization.

The Sheridan Libraries’ The Black Panther newspaper collection, acquired in 2022, was a key resource for the students.

"I really felt like a kid in a candy store. There was just so much rich information on youth," says Clemons, who researches the cultivation and sustainability of Black identity among Black youth. Her section of the exhibit focuses on how the chapter worked with children-whom it considered vital comrades in the fight for revolution-and the local political repercussions of that stance.

A different perspective

Petite also expanded her previous research using the Panther newspapers. "What kept sticking out to me was how many letters there were from jails and prisons," she says. It connected with her sophomore-year project on prison conditions during COVID, sourced from the American Prison Writing Archive , which is housed at Johns Hopkins. The articles and letters she selected for this exhibit provide perspectives from Baltimore jails in the 1960s that counter dominant thinking about prison uprisings and incarcerated people’s rights.

Fontes’ research shows the Baltimore chapter’s local connections through its relationship with Johns Hopkins chaplain emeritus Chester Wickwire. Fontes was already working on a project on Wickwire’s civil rights work, but was surprised to learn the depth of his partnership with the Panthers. Wickwire invited Black Panthers to speak at the then-YMCA in Levering Hall, protested alongside them, and even negotiated with Baltimore Gas and Electric after the FBI had secretly facilitated an electricity shut-off at the Panthers’ headquarters.

"The Panthers were not an isolated group in the city that was perceived as too radical or violent," Fontes says. "They had relationships, connections, and networks with activism across the city."

Whitehead’s research further illustrates these networks with exhibit materials about the Black Panthers’ interest in Maoist teachings and trips to China to learn from foreign revolutionaries. She also compiled local newsreel clips about Baltimore in 1968 and 1970, the Panthers, and their repression, which visitors can view in the exhibition.

While the students chose and led their own research projects, Schrader says it was rewarding to help them use primary resources to tell a history of Baltimore that has been largely misunderstood or erased. The goal from the outset of the project was to find a way to elevate the voices of Baltimoreans who fought for Black liberation in a crucial period of the city’s history.

"Although the history of the Black Panther Party in Baltimore is a difficult one, with many tragic aspects, there is a great deal to celebrate," Schrader says. "The students found ways to move beyond sensationalism and existing condemnations to reveal other aspects of the history."

The students hope this exhibit encourages people to get involved in political organizing in the present. "The most important thing you can do is join a revolutionary organization," says Whitehead. "It would behoove anyone interested in advancing working class, internationalist politics such as the Panthers adhered to, to join collectives no matter where you are."

Revolution in Our Lifetime is free and open at The Peale museum through May 26. The exhibit is supported by Inheritance Baltimore: Humanities and Arts Education for Black Liberation; the Chloe Center for the Critical Study of Racism, Immigration, and Colonialism; and the Center for Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University. It draws on the holdings of the Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries, University of Baltimore Special Collections and Archives, University of Maryland Baltimore County Special Collections, Goucher College Special Collections & Archives, the Maryland Center for History and Culture, and others. The show was installed by the Peale’s Accomplished Arts Apprentices-Baltimore youth who are paid to learn exhibit installation and historic renovation skills.