Up Against the Wall


Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party
Curtis J. Austin
With a Forward by Elbert “Big Man” Howard
456 pages, 6 x 9
978-1-55728-875-2 (paper)


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Curtis J. Austin’s Up Against the Wall chronicles how violence brought about the founding of the Black Panther Party in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, dominated its policies, and finally destroyed the party as one member after another—Eldridge Cleaver, Fred Hampton, Alex Rackley—left the party, was killed, or was imprisoned. Austin shows how the party’s early emphasis in the 1960s on self-defense, though sorely needed in black communities at the time, left it open to mischaracterization, infiltration, and devastation by local, state, and federal police forces and government agencies. Austin carefully highlights the internal tension between advocates of a more radical position than the Panthers took, who insisted on military confrontation with the state, and those such as Newton and David Hilliard, who believed in community organizing and alliance building as first priorities.

Austin interviewed a number of party members who had heretofore remained silent. With the help of these stories, Austin is able to put the violent history of the party in perspective and show that the “survival” programs, such as the Free Breakfast for Children program and Free Health Clinics, helped the black communities they served to recognize their own bases of power and ability to save themselves.

Curtis J. Austin is an associate professor of history and codirector of the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Elbert “Big Man” Howard was a founding member of the Black Panther Party and the editor of the party’s newspaper.

“[Austin’s] energetically researched, deeply passionate book will be indispensable for students and scholars of the era.”
—Choice (Outstanding Academic Book)

“Up Against the Wall is one of the first scholarly monographs to take a thematic and national approach to the history of the BPP …. promises to have a lasting place in the burgeoning literature on the Black Panther Party.”
Journal of American History (December 2007)

“We desperately need good historical scholarship about the Black Panther Party, and this strong history is a good place to start. Austin’s focus on violence is a shrewd decision.”
—Tim Tyson, author of Blood Done Sign My Name and Radio Free Dixie

“This book powerfully demonstrates the centrality of violence in the historical trajectory and our historical memory of the Party . . . a serious, sober, and probing contribution to the ongoing project of historicizing and understanding the Party and its importance.”
—Waldo Martin, author of Civil Rights in the United States: An Encyclopedia and The Mind of Frederick Douglas

Books for the Classroom
Adopted at: Minnesota State University, Mankato
Course: HIST 481W, U.S. Civl Rights in the Twentieth Century
Course Description: Examines the Civil Rights Movement, broadly defined, from 1945 to the present, focusing on the period from 1945 to 1970. Explores the way in which African Americans and their white supporters mobilized for equality in the face of massive white resistance and seeming federal indifference.
Professor: Angela Jill Cooley
Term: Spring 2017