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Student-led mural will celebrate legacy of Seattle Black Panthers

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Franklin High School students worked with original party members to create the mural

Art of Resistance and Resilience members pose in front of their mural.
Susan Fried/Courtesy of Art of Resistance and Resilience

Art of Resistance and Resilience, a club at Franklin High School focused on social and environmental justice, has been working on a major project all year: a mural celebrating the history and legacy of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party (SCBPP) to commemorate its 50th anniversary. The mural, which will eventually be installed along a fence lining Franklin’s athletic field at Rainier Avenue and MLK Boulevard, was created after months of historical research and collaboration SCBPP founders and former members.

The Black Panther Party was originally founded in 1966, with city chapters following soon after—including the Seattle chapter in April 1968.

Franklin High School has its own role in the history of the Black Panther Party in Seattle. In March 1968—just before the Seattle chapter was founded—soon-to-be early members Larry Gossett and Aaron Dixon, along with other Black Student Union (BSU) members, led more than 100 students in a sit-in at the school over the suspension of two black students, calling for more black history courses and the right to wear Afros. Gossett and Dixon, along with Dixon’s brother Elmer, were all arrested in connection with BSU activities.

“The detainment of the Dixons and Larry Gossett is yet a further example of how and why Black Power, and eventually the Black Panther Party, could take root in Seattle,” wrote Kurt Schaefer, a researcher with the University of Washington’s Civil Rights and Labor History Project, in a history of the Party. “It was a frustration that would compel the Dixons to move beyond the possibilities of the Black Student Union.”

The mural process started with a community forum hosted at Franklin, gathering input from community members to get an full, honest idea of the narrative. After creating the initial design, students ran it past SCBPP to make sure it felt accurate to the history of the party. After getting the stamp of approval, 26 Franklin students, working with adult artist mentors, created the mural in a series of painting parties.

Franklin High School students working on the mural.
Lauren Holloway/Courtesy of Art of Resistance and Resilience

The final design shows some faces of the party in Seattle, and depicts some of the party’s major initiatives—like the People’s Free Food Program and the party’s newspaper—and acts of resistance. Along the bottom, the mural lists 10 party goals: “Freedom to determine the destiny of our black and oppressed communities; full employment; end to the robbery by the capitalist of our black and oppressed communities; decent housing; education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society; free healthcare; immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people and other people of color; end to all wars of aggression; freedom for black, poor, oppressed people held in prisons and jails; land, clothing, bread, housing, education, justice, peace, and community control of modern tech.”

The mural also acknowledges the Central District, originally the heart of Seattle’s Black community and the neighborhood where the Seattle chapter of the party grew. The neighborhood is now centered in a lot of conversations about gentrification and displacement in the city. The community went from 73 percent black in the 1970s—a product of a legacy of redlining that forced black residents into specific neighborhoods—to less than 20 percent today.

The final mural design: “Power to the People Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.”
Courtesy of the Art of Resistance and Resilience

The mural will be unveiled at a community art show on Friday, November 9 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Mt. Baker Artspace, featuring live poetry and spoken word by Franklin students and alumni, storytelling by Roger Fernandes of the Lower Elwha S’Klallam, a film documenting the mural project by Franklin students, and a photo essay on the history of the party by people of color-led collective Unapologetic Artists and Creatives.

The mural project is one of several in the area to commemorate the 50th anniversary, including Seattle Black Panther Party History and Memory Project, an oral history and archival collection by the University of Washington, and a collaborative 50th anniversary conference earlier this year.