USA. California. Oakland. July 17, 1968. Around 400 members of the Black Panthers march outside of the Alameda County Courthouse during Huey Newton’s trial for the murder of an Oakland police officer.
Other radical groups that advocated revolutionary change included Tom Hayden’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Weather Underground, and The Youth International Party (Yippies). Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale was arrested along with Yippie cofounders Hoffman and Rubin for inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The trial’s subjects later became known as “the Chicago Seven.”
Photograph: Keith Dennison/Oakland Museum of California
Aurora Levins Morales (born February 24, 1954) is a Puerto Rican Jewish writer and poet. She is significant within Latina feminism and Third World feminism as well as other social justice movements.
Levins Morales was born February 24, 1954 in Indiera Baja, Maricao, Puerto Rico. Her mother, Rosario Morales, was a Harlem-born Puerto Rican writer. Her father is an ecologist who is of Ukrainian Jewish heritage, born in Brooklyn. She has two brothers, Ricardo and Alejandro.
Levins Morales became a public writer in the 1970s as a result of the many social justice movements of that time that addressed the importance of giving a voice to the oppressed. At fifteen, she was the youngest member of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union and co-produced a feminist radio show, took part in sit-ins and demonstrations against the Vietnam War, guerrilla theater, women's consciousness raising groups and door to door organizing for daycare and equal pay.
She attended Franconia College in Franconia, New Hampshire. Levins Morales also studied at Mills College in Oakland, California, and holds a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies and History from the online Union Institute & University.
In 1976, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she worked at the KPFA Third World News Bureau, reporting on events in South Africa, the Philippines, Chile, Nicaragua and what was still Rhodesia, and on environmental racism, housing struggles, and the movement to get the US Navy to stop bombing Vieques, Puerto Rico.
Levins Morales became part of a radical US women of color writers movement that sought to integrate the struggles against sexism and racism. She began doing coffeehouse readings with other women, organizing poetry series, producing radio programs, publishing in literary journals and anthologies, and eventually becoming one of the contributors to This Bridge Called My Back, where she focuses on depicting the race, class, and gender issues that together shape Puerto Rican women’s identities and historical experiences. Some of her major themes are feminism; multiple identity (Puerto Rican, Jewish, North American), immigrant experience, Jewish radicalism and history, Puerto Rican history, and the importance of collective memory, of history and art, in resisting oppression and creating social change.
In 1986, Morales and her mother and wrote Getting Home Alive, a collection of poetry and prose about their lives as US Puerto Rican women. In part as a result of response to this book, Levins Morales decided to go to graduate school to become a historian. While her dissertation focused on retelling the history of the Atlantic world with Puerto Rican women’s lives at the center, she also did extensive research on the history of Puerto Ricans in California, collecting several dozen oral histories, and preserving early documents of the San Francisco Puerto Rican community. From 1999 to 2002 she worked at the Oakland Museum of California as lead historian for the Latino Community History Project, working with high school students to collect oral histories and photographs, and create artwork and curriculum materials based on them.
In her collection of essays Medicine Stories: History, Culture, and the Politics of Integrity (1998) Levins Morales questions traditional accounts of American history and their consistent exclusion of people of color. She argues that traditional historical narratives have had devastating effects on those it has silenced, and oppressed. In an attempt to “heal” this historical trauma of oppression, she designs a “medicinal” history that gives centrality to the marginalized, particularly Puerto Rican women. Levins Morales strives to make visible those who have been absent from history books while also emphasizing resistance efforts.
In her book, Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriqueñas (1998), her goal is “to unearth the names of women deemed unimportant by the writers of official histories”(Levins Morales, p. xvii). Short pieces interspersed throughout the narratives describe medicinal herbs and foods that symbolize the healing properties of the narratives that follow those sections. In this manner she treats historical erasure as a disease that a curandera historian can heal through “home-grown” herbal history. The histories she portrays in the text demonstrate the strength and resistance of Puerto Rican women and their ancestors.
Levins Morales is one of the 18 Latina feminist women who participated in the gatherings of the Latina Feminist Group, which culminated with the publication of Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios in 2001.
In 2011, following the death of her mother and co-author Rosario Morales, Levins Morales moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to live with her father.
In 2013, she self-published Kindling: Writings On the Body through her own Palabera Press.
Former Black Panther Party members clockwise from top left, Elaine Brown, Malik Edwards, Bobby McCall, Steve McCutchen, Melvin Dickson, Timothy Thompson, Bill Jennings, and Saturu “James Mott” Ned. The Black Panther Party is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary in October of 2016 with a commemoration exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California. I shot some quick portraits of some of the members of the party as they attended a press conference held at the museum to announce the anniversary.