“Women were critical to the survival of the organization,” Spencer says. “They were the movers, the shakers, the theorists, the thinkers, the organizers — they were keeping the party going.” As many men from the party were killed, jailed, exiled or forced to go underground, women took on more leadership positions and helped oversee the continuation of the Panthers’ social programs — and the party itself.
That’s why, as scholar and professor Curtis J. Austin writes in his book Up Against the Wall: Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party, Black Panther women were the “keepers of the dream.”
But because of the “misogynistic, sexist” society then and now, that part of the Black Panther Party story has long been overlooked, Spencer says. “Also, oftentimes because women were ‘underground’ doing the everyday work, they didn’t have the chance to write down their story like some men,” she adds.
Which means that to get to those stories 50-plus years later, you simply have to dig deeper. When Boiko, the filmmaker, asked the UW why the History and Memory Project didn’t feature any female Black Panthers, they told her they had tried but couldn’t find the women, or couldn’t persuade them to go on the record, she says.