Gift Guide

Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination


Between its founding in 1966 and its formal end in 1980, the Black Panther Party blazed a distinctive trail in American political culture. The Black Panthers are most often remembered for their revolutionary rhetoric and militant action. Here Alondra Nelson deftly recovers an indispensable but lesser-known aspect of the organization?s broader struggle for social justice: health care. The Black Panther Party?s health activism?its network of free health clinics, its campaign to raise awareness about genetic ...

See more details below
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (11) from $9.18   
  • New (9) from $15.20   
  • Used (2) from $9.18   
Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$10.49 price
(Save 44%)$18.95 List Price


Between its founding in 1966 and its formal end in 1980, the Black Panther Party blazed a distinctive trail in American political culture. The Black Panthers are most often remembered for their revolutionary rhetoric and militant action. Here Alondra Nelson deftly recovers an indispensable but lesser-known aspect of the organization’s broader struggle for social justice: health care. The Black Panther Party’s health activism—its network of free health clinics, its campaign to raise awareness about genetic disease, and its challenges to medical discrimination—was an expression of its founding political philosophy and also a recognition that poor blacks were both underserved by mainstream medicine and overexposed to its harms.

Drawing on extensive historical research as well as interviews with former members of the Black Panther Party, Nelson argues that the Party’s focus on health care was both practical and ideological. Building on a long tradition of medical self-sufficiency among African Americans, the Panthers’ People’s Free Medical Clinics administered basic preventive care, tested for lead poisoning and hypertension, and helped with housing, employment, and social services. In 1971, the party launched a campaign to address sickle-cell anemia. In addition to establishing screening programs and educational outreach efforts, it exposed the racial biases of the medical system that had largely ignored sickle-cell anemia, a disease that predominantly affected people of African descent.

The Black Panther Party’s understanding of health as a basic human right and its engagement with the social implications of genetics anticipated current debates about the politics of health and race. That legacy—and that struggle—continues today in the commitment of health activists and the fight for universal health care.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nelson, a professor of sociology at Columbia University, reports exhaustively on the Black Panther Party's role in the radical health movement of the 1970s, positioning the BPP as important players in the long tradition of civil rights health activism. She discusses the social function and day-to-day activities of the free health clinics each BPP chapter was obliged to maintain, as well as the party's campaign to fight sickle-cell anemia, a genetic disease primarily affecting African-Americans (and one that was largely ignored by the medical community). Nelson gives an in-depth explanation of how the BPP's anti–sickle cell fight became a means of highlighting racially biased medical neglect. The most exciting part of the book comes toward the end, where Nelson explains the BPP's (ultimately successful) challenge to the formation of the UCLA Center for the Study and Reduction of Violence, a group whose research programs hypothesized that violence was "the product of the inherent pathology of individuals (black men, in particular) and not a political or social phenomenon." Chillingly, several of the center's researchers were advocates for psychosurgical manipulation of the brain as a means of curtailing violent behavior. Nelson's writing is dry and repetitive, but her work deserves commendation for its thoughtfulness and thoroughness. (Oct.)
Library Journal
The Black Panther Party, while famous for its militant activism on behalf of black Americans, also contributed much to improving their health care. Nelson (sociology, Columbia Univ.) presents a sympathetic, scholarly account of this lesser-known aspect of Panther activism, describing how the organization demanded—and provided—accessible health care for black Americans while challenging abusive, coercive, and discriminatory care. The first two chapters offer context with brief histories of the Black Panther Party and medical discrimination against black Americans. The remaining chapters focus on three areas of Panther activity in health care: founding free medical clinics, raising awareness of and testing for sickle-cell anemia, and lobbying against a proposed research center on the biological origins of violence. Nelson draws on interviews with former Panthers as well as an extensive list of secondary sources, emphasizing the political, social, and theoretical underpinnings of the Panthers' work. VERDICT By focusing on the health-related activities of the Black Panthers, Nelson makes a valuable contribution to the literature, but excessive redundancy may frustrate the reader. Recommended for academic readers in sociology, medical and social history, and African American studies.—Janet A. Crum, City of Hope Lib., Duarte, CA
From the Publisher

In Body and Soul, Alondra Nelson combines careful research, deep political insight, and passionate commitment to tell the little-known story of the Black Panther Party's health activism in the late 1960s. In doing so, and in showing how the problems of poverty, discrimination, and access to medical care remain hauntingly similar more than forty years later, Nelson reminds us that the struggle continues, particularly for African Americans, and that social policies have profound moral implications.

—Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

This book is a revelation. Alondra Nelson uncovers two remarkable histories in Body and Soul. First, she provides the deep context for our current conversation about the health disparities that plague the African-American community and that are, as she puts it, ‘quite literally sickening.’ Second, she adds immeasurably to our knowledge of the Black Panther Party, complicating its commonplace designation as a radical, militant organization to unearth its dedication and hard work in advocating for and providing equal and quality health care for even the most underserved African Americans. Nelson is the first scholar I know of to bring these two histories into dialogue with each other, and she does so with spectacular results. This is a tremendously important book.

—Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard University

The activities of the Black Panther Party have long been reduced to stories of violent police confrontations and empty propaganda. By taking seriously the claims and the practices of the Black Panthers with respect to the health of Black people, Alondra Nelson has provided a critical corrective to earlier studies. More importantly, this is a brilliant analysis of a significant moment in the long tradition of health advocacy on the part of African Americans. Body and Soul is a major achievement.

—Evelynn Hammonds, Harvard University

In her revisionist account, Nelson insightfully guides the reader through the range of campaigns by which the Black Panther Party paved the way to broad efforts to promote biomedical inclusion and democratize access to medical knowledge and practice.

—Steven Epstein, author of Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816676484
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date: 10/20/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Alondra Nelson is associate professor of sociology at Columbia University, where she also holds an appointment in the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. She is coeditor of Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life and Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents


Preface: Politics by Other Means Acknowledgments Abbreviations

Introduction: Serving the People Body and Soul
1. African American Responses to Medical Discrimination before 1966
2. Origins of Black Panther Party Health Activism
3. The People’s Free Medical Clinics
4. Spin Doctors: The Politics of Sickle Cell Anemia
5. As American as Cherry Pie: Contesting the Biologization of Violence Conclusion: Race and Health in the Post Civil Rights Era

Notes Index

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)