Overshadowed: Although Generally Not Included in Newspaper Accounts or History Books, a Number of Asian Americans Were Heavily Involved in the Black Panthers

By Lum, Lydia | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, February 8, 2007 | Go to article overview

Overshadowed: Although Generally Not Included in Newspaper Accounts or History Books, a Number of Asian Americans Were Heavily Involved in the Black Panthers


Lum, Lydia, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Ask the average person what comes to mind at the mention of the Black Panther Party. Odds are the answer involves armed African-Americans winding up in shootouts with police. Those images have overshadowed the Panthers' free breakfast programs, medical clinics and other efforts to improve poor Black neighborhoods in the late 1960s.

Also overshadowed is the fact that a handful of Asian Americans were heavily involved in the Panthers. One of them, Richard Aoki, was a friend of BPP founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and influenced their ideology and the contents of the famous Ten Point Platform. Aoki was among the first dozen BPP members, rising to field marshal status. During the same period, at least two Asian Americans in Seattle became Panthers as well.

Yet the stories of the "Asian Panthers" aren't well known even among scholars who study the Black power movement. Although BPP members were overwhelmingly Black, a handful were of Asian or Hispanic descent, says Dr. Diane Fujino, an associate professor of Asian American studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara who's working on Aoki's biography. The non-Black members were few, and generally widely dispersed geographically, she says. And because Aoki kept his Panther membership hidden for more than two decades to protect his safety, some of the details of his involvement are murky. Fujino says she hasn't found any mention of Aoki in BPP documents or in newspaper stories from the party's early years, although Seale has confirmed Aoki's membership. Some of the general confusion over Aoki even resulted in a grin-toting character in the 1995 film "Panther" being portrayed as Chinese, even though Aoki's ancestry is Japanese.

Fujino says her students are intrigued by Aoki, a man who counters the quiet and submissive "model minority" image. "Richard is a role model to them, especially the Asian Americans" she says. "Not only are they fascinated with his muscular masculinity and his street lingo, they're angry that no one has taught them their history as Asian Americans, or that they've been taught a skewed history that doesn't include the radical resistance."

For his part, Aoki finds it "a little amazing" that Fujino's students, who are young enough to be his grandchildren, consider him inspiring. "Everything I did was out of the simple quest for freedom, justice and equality," he says. After joining the Panthers, he became one of the most prominent Asian American activists in the Third World movement, which fought to get an ethnic studies program established at UC-Berkeley. Aoki later became a coordinator of ethnic studies there, then spent another 25 years as a teacher, counselor and administrator at Peralta Community College District in Oakland.

EARLY ACTIVISM

Aoki was too young to grasp this country's racist climate when the government summarily rounded up all people of Japanese descent, including his family, in 1942 and forced them into internment camps amid the post-Pearl Harbor hysteria of World War II. Aoki began kindergarten during the internment. When he excitedly told his father he had been chosen to play President George Washington in the school pageant, the elder Aoki forbid it, raging that a Japanese would never be "father of this country," Aoki recalled in the 2000 book Legacy to Liberation, which profiles Asian American revolutionaries. After the internment camps dosed in 1945, Aoki's family moved to an Oakland ghetto. At the time, ghettos and barrios were among the few affordable places where Japanese could find acceptance. Although it took the young Aoki many months to adjust, he says his immersion in Black culture taught him more about segregation and racism, such as how the local police generally treated Blacks.

According to Fujino, Aoki was home schooled. After an eight-year enlistment in the U.S. Army Reserves, he returned to Oakland and worked a variety of blue-collar jobs. It was during that time that Aoki became friends with labor activists and socialists, who introduced him to the writings of Eugene Debs and John Steinbeck. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Overshadowed: Although Generally Not Included in Newspaper Accounts or History Books, a Number of Asian Americans Were Heavily Involved in the Black Panthers
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.