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WIU Professor Releases New Book on Black Power Movement

February 26, 2019

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MACOMB, IL –- Jo-Ann Morgan, a professor of African American Studies and art history at Western Illinois University, has released a new book.

"The Black Arts Movement and the Black Panther Party in American Visual Culture" was published earlier Feb. 21 by Routledge as part of the Research in Art and Race series.

"'The Black Arts Movement and the Black Panther Party' took shape in African American Studies classrooms," said Morgan. "Because my first area of expertise is art history, I build lectures around images. As I presented the Black Power era to undergraduates, two things were quickly apparent. First, the images were compelling. Whereas photographs from the preceding Civil Rights Movement were mainly news reporting, in the late 1960s Black Power activists were themselves shaping a narrative. As an example, in a well-known poster of Black Panther Party leader Huey P. Newton, his black leather jacket, piercing gaze, weapons and artifacts and even the import-store wicker chair upon which he seems enthroned projects a deadly serious commitment to social and political change. A second revelation was how much the Black Power era still resonates with young people."

Morgan's book looks at the range of visual expressions from the Black Power Movement across American art and popular culture from 1965-72. The book begins with case studies of artist groups, including Spiral, OBAC and AfriCOBRA, who began questioning Western aesthetic traditions and created work that honored leaders, affirmed African American culture and embraced an African lineage.

An Oakland Museum exhibition of 1968, called "New Perspectives in Black Art," is highlighted in Morgan's book as a way to consider if Black Panther Party activities in the neighborhood might have impacted local artists' work. The second a half of the book concentrates on the relationship between selected Black Panther Party members and visual culture, focusing on how they were covered by the mainstream press, and how they self-represented to promote Party doctrine and agendas.

Morgan's previous book, "Uncle Tom's Cabin as Visual Culture," received the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship in 2008.

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