With Photographs and Oral Histories, Comrade Sisters Shines Light on Women in the Black Panther Party

Book review by Fanny Julissa García

comrade sisters cover

I had never stopped to think about the definition of the word “comrade” until I looked through the pages of the book Comrade Sisters: Women in the Black Panther Party, published by ACC Art Books in 2022. 

Paired with the word “sister,” it takes on a unique meaning. “A familiar spirit…a friend in struggle…the family you choose,” wrote Ericka Huggins in the book’s introduction. Huggins is the co-author along with Stephen Shames, who contributed the photographs in this beautifully illustrated example of love, struggle, and resistance. 

The book serves as a written and visual record of the contributions of women in the Black Panther Party. In the foreword, Angela Davis tells readers that 66% of the membership of the party were women. This, she says, counteracts with the common patriarchal framework that has come to define the activities of the party.

What few people know and what the book reminds us of is that it was women who designed and managed most of the more than sixty Community Survival Programs with the goal of meeting the basic human needs of people, including “land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace.” 

The book debunks the idea that resistance is filled with rage and nothing else. When in fact, love plays a crucial role. Rage exists because love is present. One cannot be angry at injustice without caring deeply for the people hurt by unjust systems and abuse of power. “We were young and full of love for all people” says Huggins about the motivation behind the work of the Black Panther Party.

The book is a love letter to the women whose stories have been largely overlooked in the documentation of the work and resistance of the Black Panther Party. The photographs show smiling faces full of love and tenderness, while the oral histories remind us of the commitment and intentionality behind the work. 

For example, in remembrance of one woman’s contributions, her son says: 

When my mother heard about the BPP’s food program for children, she said that it would be a labor of love for an organization to commit to feeding children every single day. Skeptical, she went to see for herself, and saw BPP members feeding children. Thinking it wasn’t a daily thing, she returned a few days later and then, she joined. She saw that BPP members were absolutely committed, and she joined them to help make the BPP’s vision for Black children’s wellbeing a reality.

Comrade Sisters will serve as an excellent educational resource in the classroom and has an accompanying resource and study guide for educators written by oral historian Angela LeBlanc Ernest.

Fanny Julissa Garcia is an oral historian and narrative change strategist. This summer, she worked as a consultant for Voice of Witness (VOW) on the Storyteller Initiative, a new program that will provide funding and professional support to independent, institutionally unaffiliated oral history practitioners who have experiences with systemic marginalization. She serves as the Project Director for Separated: Stories of Injustice and Solidarity.

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