Nine Lives of a Black Panther: A Story of Survival


In the early morning hours of December 8, 1969, three hundred officers of the newly created elite paramilitary tactical unit known as SWAT initiated a violent battle with a handful of Los Angeles–based members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP). Five hours and five thousand rounds of ammunition later, three SWAT team members and three Black Panthers lay wounded. From a tactical standpoint, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) considered the encounter a disaster. For the Panthers and the ...

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Nine Lives of a Black Panther: A Story of Survival

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In the early morning hours of December 8, 1969, three hundred officers of the newly created elite paramilitary tactical unit known as SWAT initiated a violent battle with a handful of Los Angeles–based members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP). Five hours and five thousand rounds of ammunition later, three SWAT team members and three Black Panthers lay wounded. From a tactical standpoint, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) considered the encounter a disaster. For the Panthers and the community that supported them, the shootout symbolized a victory. A key contributor to that victory was the nineteen-year-old rank-and-file member of the BPP Wayne Pharr.

            Nine Lives of a Black Panther tells Wayne’s riveting story of the Los Angeles branch of the BPP and gives a blow-by-blow account of how it prepared for and survived the massive military-style attack. Because of his dedication to the black liberation struggle, Wayne was hunted, beaten, and almost killed by the LAPD in four separate events. Here he reveals how the branch survived attacks such as these, and also why BPP cofounder Huey P. Newton expelled the entire Southern California chapter and deemed it “too dangerous to remain a part of the national organization.”

            The Los Angeles branch was the proving ground for some of the most beloved and colorful characters in Panther lore, including Bunchy Carter, Masai Hewitt, Geronimo “ji-Jaga” Pratt, and Elaine Brown. Nine Lives fills in a missing piece of Black Panther history, while making clear why black Los Angeles was home to two of the most devastating riots in the history of urban America. But it also eloquently relates one man’s triumph over police terror, internal warfare, and personal demons. It will doubtless soon take its place among the classics of black militant literature.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Documentaries often portray the 1960s in America as a turbulent time marked by racial progress, but this was not obvious to a number of young blacks who, exposed to dire poverty and constant police harassment, grew to despise Martin Luther King’s advocacy of nonviolence. The result was the Black Power movement whose most pugnacious element was the Black Panthers. Their belligerence and revolutionary rhetoric goaded police and FBI to wildly paranoid measures that, aided by vicious internal conflicts, reduced the Panthers to a historical footnote by the 1970s. Pharr served in the Los Angeles branch during the late 1960s, participating in the notorious 1969 siege and shoot-out that marked the movement’s high point. After serving a jail term, Pharr pulled his life together and became a prosperous realtor. He does not regret his Panther service, concluding with several recent, well-publicized incidents as evidence that the black community still needs organized, armed self-defense. His appealing memoir makes few concessions to modern sensibilities (all police are “pigs”) or feminism (women’s physical attributes are carefully noted), but it’s a Technicolor portrait, warts and all, of a famous offshoot of the black struggle for equality. (July)
From the Publisher

“An important addition to the growing historiography on the Black Panther Party—a searing inside account by a rank-and-file member of one of the most embattled chapters. The book also offers a powerful retrospective journey of Pharr’s days as a Panther and his tumultuous post-Party years.” —Charles E. Jones, editor, The Black Panther Reconsidered The title offers new details on civil rights history and is told in a way that humanizes a group often vilified for its dedication to the struggle. Recommended of all readers interested in contemporary history.” —Library Journal

“An engrossing autobiographical account of a crucial period in the African American freedom struggle, Nine Lives of a Black Panther is an important contribution to our understanding of the rapid rise and tragic decline of the Black Panther Party. Wayne Pharr’s book brought back vivid memories of my own experiences during those tumultuous times.” —Dr. Clayborne Carson, historian and founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University

“Wayne Pharr’s riveting book opens on December 8, 1969, when he and other Panthers defended themselves against a morning attack mounted by the Los Angeles Police Department’s SWAT team on their Central Avenue headquarters. Nine Lives of a Black Panther continues to illuminate the experiences that led him to commit his young life to the black revolutionary struggle, a captivating saga of the Southern California Black Panther Party trials, murders, political rivalries, and splits rarely explained in print.” —Kathleen Cleaver, former communications secretary, Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, and author of Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party

“This is an unrelenting, up-close-and-personal account of a Black Panther leader in Los Angeles. There are no holds barred in this riveting memoir.” —Jeffrey Haas, author of The Assassination of Fred Hampton and cofounder of the People’s Law Office

“With startling revelations, Nine Lives of a Black Panther gives the reader an inside view into the heart and soul of a revolutionary who asserts an uncompromising right to self-defense. This is an essential and unforgettable book.” —Henry “Hank” Jones, Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, San Francisco

“His appealing memoir [is] a technicolor portrait of a famous offshoot of the black struggle for equality.” —Publishers Weekly

"[A] compelling memoir." —Booklist

Nine Lives is an arresting look at the life of a Black Panther committed to survival and the black liberation movement.” —LA Magazine

Kirkus Reviews
A story from inside the Black Panther party and its fight for black equality in the civil rights era.An often uncomfortable but realistic picture of racial tension in the 1960s and ’70s, first time author Pharr’s memoir focuses on his experiences with the Black Panthers. The author was an active member of the party in Los Angeles, moving up the ranks until he found himself opposed to Huey P. Newton’s style of leadership and quietly disengaged himself. While Pharr is most intent on giving an inside view of the militaristic side of the Black Panthers, including lots of detail about a shootout with police at headquarters, he also describes some of the community activism the Panthers engaged in. Free breakfast for children and conflict resolution without police involvement are highlights of that work for the community. More detail about these and other programs would have presented a rounder picture of Black Panther philosophy and provided the book with a wider audience. Due to the spotlight on self-defense, police brutality is central to the story. While ugly, its inclusion will help readers understand the Panthers’ focus on defense and their own violent contributions to the ongoing conflict. Unfortunately, the dialogue is uneven throughout; while many conversations are laid back and full of slang, others are overly formal and even stilted. Liberal use of ’70s slang is likely to make this an inaccessible read for younger generations. While probably realistic to the time it covers, this is a serious problem for a book attempting to educate those who didn’t live through that period. “I believe the Black Panthers and other militant organizations,” writes the author, “did more to ensure our human and civil rights than all the marching and praying of the last 100 years.” That’s debatable, to be sure, but Pharr’s central story is gripping.A life and movement that deserve to be chronicled, but the book would have been improved by more judicious editing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781613749166
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/1/2014
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 683,565
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Wayne Pharr was a leading member of the Los Angeles branch of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. He has traveled throughout the country as a BPP spokesman and now works as a realtor in Los Angeles.

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