The Side of the Black Panthers That's Been Virtually Ignored: Their Fight for Healthcare Justice
Alondra Nelson, a professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia University, is the author of a new book titled Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination. By documenting the multifaceted health activism of the Black Panther Party (BPP)
and critically assessing BPP's strategy and tactics in a respectful and appreciative manner, Body and Soul presents an analysis that is rare and badly needed in US colleges and universities today. In this interview, Nelson discusses how the Panthers' legacy can both inspire and provide important strategic lessons for today's new generation of political activists.
In her book, Nelson writes that "the party's focus on healthcare was both practical and ideological." On a practical level, BPP provided free community healthcare services, including preventative education. Simultaneously, BPP railed against the medical-industrial complex, declaring that healthcare was "a right and not a privilege."
Ronald "Doc" Satchel, the minister of health for the Chicago BPP, wrote in the BPP newspaper that "the medical profession within this capitalist society…is composed generally of people working for their own benefit and advancement rather than the humane aspects of medical care." A newsletter published by the Southern California chapter argued that "poor people in general and black people in particular are not given the best care available. Our people are treated like animals, experimented on and made to wait long hours in waiting rooms."