hidden figures: joan tarika lewis, the first woman to join the black panther party

February 20, 2017
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Many people know the Kathleen Cleavers and Angela Davises of the Black Panther Party but the first woman of the iconic group was Joan Tarika Lewis. Known then as Tarika Matilaba, she was the first woman to gain entrace to BPP and demanded to have space for black women in its platform. Born and raised in Oakland, her upbringing was full of injustices, whether it was the post World War II decline, extremely high rates of unemployment, lack of affordable housing, and other socioeconomic issues that primarily impacted Black people and the impoverished. Story has it that she walked into the Black Panther office in Oakland and demanded that she not only be made a member of the party, but also that she be given a gun in that very moment. While in high school at Oakland Tech, she was one of the first students to petition for a Black history club and donned an afro, making her eventual admission into BPP an obvious transition. Her primarily as a Black Panther, she took on many roles, including writing editorials and drawing over 40 political cartoons, many of which made the iconic Black Panther Newspaper. And in the present, she’s making art and changing lives in the Bay area, like she did with BPP. Join us in celebrating Joan “Tarika Matilaba” Lewis: she’s a hidden figure no more!

By T. McLendon, AFROPUNK Contributor