In the posters, residents of run-down African-American areas saw themselves as they’d rarely been depicted before. Douglas says: “The drawings I did about self-defence, the caricatures, you had many of the people in the community identify with those.
"In those drawings, they were seeing their uncles, their mums, somebody that they knew. That, in itself, began to take on a life of its own, putting them as heroes within the artwork itself.”
The posters also fostered resentment of the police and the establishment, and Douglas found that he hit a nerve by using deliberately crude drawings of pigs to represent policemen and other authority figures.
“What happened is when I did the pig drawings, people were inspired by those, because they had their frustrations,” he says.
“And that’s how we began to define those politicians and those who were not helping the community, who were in government. So those became the symbols that people identified with in their relationship between the oppressors and the community. And so they took on a life of their own – they really transcended the community in many ways.”
After the Panthers
For over a decade, Douglas was a trusted and senior member of the Black Panthers, responsible for all its graphic output and given considerable artistic freedom.
By the 1970s, the Black Panthers had been accused of several police deaths and had been described by President Hoover as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country”.
Unsurprisingly, the FBI started to pay close attention to Douglas and his comrades. “They went through all our bank accounts – I didn’t have but $64 in it at the time,” he laughs.
By the end of the decade, a combination of police pressure and infighting saw the Black Panthers split apart. For Douglas, it was the end of an era.
He moved to the Black Press, a San Francisco newspaper owned by a civil rights activist. “They dealt with issues, but a lot of the time they wanted illustrations with personalities, like Dr King on his holidays, stuff like that.
"And I did a few things around HIV and AIDS, the issues. It was provocative to them, but not to me at the time,” he laughs. “It wasn’t like how the Black Panther Party was.”