Home News and Features Kekla Magoon at the Statehouse: Kids, History, Making a Difference

Kekla Magoon at the Statehouse: Kids, History, Making a Difference

Award-winning author Kekla Magoon presents “Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People” at the Feb. 7 Farmers Night at the Vermont Statehouse. Photo by John Lazenby.
Speaking in the Vermont Statehouse on Farmers Night, award-winning author Kekla Magoon expressed optimism about what young people will do, stressed the importance of correcting how history is told, and emphasized that individuals can make a difference.

“Kids — that’s where I get my inspiration, my joy, my hope,” Magoon told the audience in the House Chamber earlier this month. “It gives me hope that they’re paying attention, they aren’t afraid to cross official lines, and they’re going to find their own voices, and they’re going to figure out how to transform the world.”

The Feb. 7 program, sponsored by Vermont Humanities, began with Magoon’s presentation about her book, “Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People,” a National Book Award finalist. Shelly C. Lowe, chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), interviewed Magoon after her talk and fielded audience questions.

Both Magoon, who is biracial and grew up in Indiana, and Lowe, a citizen of the Navajo Nation who grew up in Arizona, said the history they were taught in school was inaccurate and incomplete, and Magoon used the story of the Black Panther Party as a prime example of how stories related to Black people are often distorted.

Although the Panthers were active and very visible from the 1960s into the 1980s and did a wide variety of community work across the country — such as free school breakfast programs, free health clinics, and education — for “a year or so” they carried guns to “protect citizens in neighborhoods,” and that’s the image that stuck: Black men with guns. 

Magoon said the organization was mostly composed of high school and college-aged students, with women at one point making up 65% of the membership.

Quoting from the 1966 Black Panther Party platform, she read, “We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace.” Other parts of the platform called for ending “police brutality and murder of Black people,” fair treatment of Blacks in the criminal justice system, full employment, and an education system that teaches “true history and our role in present-day society.”

Kekla Magoon, left, and National Endowment for the Humanities chair Shelly C. Lowe chat during a Q&A session after Magoon’s presentation on Feb. 7. Photo by Tom McKone.
During the question-and-answer session, when Lowe asked Magoon what she wanted readers and audience members to take away from her book and presentation, she suggested everyone can have a role in bringing about change.

“I hope they come away with an understanding of the history and how it connects to the current day,” she said. “I hope they feel a sense of inspiration to use their particular voice and their particular skills, to make a difference on an issue that feels important to them.”

“If it’s social justice — like me — that’s great, but there are lots of other issues to advocate for,” she continued. “My hope is people will see all these different Panthers who did all of this work … That movement was made up of individuals who did small things or big things or a series of things that made this change. So, I hope that people read the book, feeling, oh, I could be part of something like that; I could do something that makes a difference.”

Lowe and Anthony Mitchell, senior deputy NEH chair, visited Vermont recently, the first by NEH leadership in more than a decade. While here they met with representatives of nonprofit, arts, and cultural organizations across the state, including Montpelier Alive, Barre Up, the Vermont Arts Council, and the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. Site visits included Bread and Puppet Museum, Shelburne Museum, the Old Stone House, and the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum.

Vermont Humanities said its hope was “to raise awareness of the role of NEH in supporting public humanities work in our state through the councils, with a particular emphasis on demonstrating how racial, social, and gender justice and the practice of democracy can be advanced through our work.”

In his opening remarks, Vermont Humanities Executive Director Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup took the opportunity to personally thank Lowe for the $200,000 in emergency disaster funding she approved in September 2023 for Vermont nonprofit organizations affected by the July floods. He said that Vermont Humanities raised another $200,000 to supplement that grant.

More Information About Kekla Magoon

In February 2022, The Bridge ran a feature story about Magoon (Kekla Magoon: Social Change is Incremental and We Can All Be Part of It) and a review of “Revolution in Our Time” (Kekla Magoon Aims to Set the Record Straight About the Black Panthers).