The University welcomed Yohuru Williams, Ph.D., a graduate of The University, to campus Tuesday.
Williams returned to The University to present an engaging discussion for this year’s Black History Month edition of Culture & Conversation titled “The Defense of Self-Defense: The Black Panther Party in History and Memory.” The Office of Multicultural Affairs sponsored the event, and its attendees were many of The University’s own students as well as a few of the town’s knowledge-seeking residents. Williams is currently leading a life in a profession that he has passion for. He is a professor of history at Fairfield University, has articles that can be seen in The Black Scholar, Pennsylvania History, and the American Bar Association’s Insights on Law and Society, actively blogs for The Huffington Post and contributes regularly to the LA Progressive. His expertise was evident in Tuesday night’s discussion.
The majority of the discussion was centered on some events that triggered the rise of the Black Panther party and the reasons why Panther members advocated so strongly for blacks to defend themselves with weapons. One core belief of the Black Panther party that Williams focused on is that black lives matter. This notion is what recent racial disturbances, like the shooting of Michael Brown and the death of Eric Garner, have in common with the Black Panther party. Although the actions of the party have been deemed negative and unnecessarily violent, its main agenda was to protect blacks from violence.
Williams argues that throughout history, the only times Americans paid attention to civil rights-related deaths was when the victims were white. Panther members promoted armed self-defense because many blacks felt they could not trust their local police officers to protect black rights. Williams stated that, in a way, blacks felt they had to “police the police.” Some blacks were also under the impression that they could not trust the existing media to report and document news truthfully, so they took matters into their own hands. The Black Panther party started a newspaper of responsible reporting in hopes of keeping the deaths of blacks from being swept under the rug.
“‘Black lives matter’, at its core, is about dignity and freedom,” Williams said.
Williams engaged his audience with his display and particular knowledge of black history. He continues to work on his book, “In the Shadow of the Whipping Post: Lynching, Capital Punishment and Jim Crow Justice in Delaware 1865-1965” under a contract with Cambridge University Press.
Feb. 20, 2015