Alondra Nelson in her book ‘Body and Soul’ has brought out an issue that was not well known concerning the struggle for social justice (health care) by the Black Panther Party. She argues that the Black Panther Party focus on health care was realistic and ideological, and their reasoning of health as a basic human right and its involvement with social implications of genetics premised the latest debates about the politics of race and health.

The Black Panther Party was founded in 1966 and ended in 1980, and during this period it blazed a classifiable trial in American political culture (University of Minnesota, 2011). Members of this party are mostly remembered for their revolutionary militant and rhetoric action. Nelson exposes the founding political philosophy of the Black Panther Party which was expressed through the party’s health activism that involved challenging medical discrimination, campaigning to raise awareness concerning genetic disease, and its network for free health clinics. The party had recognized that poor blacks were both undeserved by mainstream medicine and exposed excessively to its harm. 

As per Nelson argument, the Black Panther Party concentration on health care was truly realistic and ideological as portrayed by their actions. Their free medical clinics provided basic preventive care, tested for hypertension and lead poisoning and assisted in employment, housing and social services (University of Minnesota, 2011). In 1971, the party continued with its practical approach to health care by launching a campaign to handle sickle-cell anemia. In addition to establishing education outreach efforts and screening programs, the party managed to expose racial biases of the medical system that had refused to acknowledge sickle-cell anemia, a disease that frequently affected Afro-American (Nelson, 2011).

Nelson has combined passionate commitment, deep political insight, and careful research to narrate the lesser-known account of the Black Panther Party’s health activism from 1966 to 1970s (Moonstone Art Center, 2012). In bringing out these issues, she has shown that problems of access to medical care, discrimination, and poverty have remained persistently similar more than 40 years later. Nelson prompts us that the struggle, specifically for Afro-Americans continues and that social policies have significant moral implications.  

The ‘Body and Soul’ book is an enlightening disclosure. Nelson has uncovered two remarkable histories in this book. On one side, she uncovers the deep context of the latest debate concerning the health disparities that beset the African Americans. On the other side, she uncovers the good side of the Black Panther Party. Most people used to view the Black Panther Party as a radical, militant organization, whereas Nelson has shown how the party advocated for and provided equal and quality health care for even the most undeserved African-American. Nelson is the first scholar known to bring the two histories into dialogue with each other making her book tremendously important.       

Many individuals had reduced the activities of the Black Panther Party to stories of empty propaganda and violent confrontations. However, Nelson has seriously taken the practices and the claims of the Black Panthers with respect to health to provide a critical corrective to studies made earlier. Most importantly, she provides a brilliant analysis of health advocacy on the part of African Americans. Nelson said that she wanted to “stop the culture war stuff” about the Blank Panthers, in which the opposing sides contend that they were either crusaders or murderers. Therefore, her book can be considered as a major achievement as it analyzes a significant moment in the long tradition of health advocacy.

Nelson provides plain-spoken and honest history of the Black Panthers Party’s response to non-existent or the state of low quality health care in African American communities in the chapter titled “The People’s Free Medical Clinics.” This chapter begins with a painful example of a poor child’s death as a result of improper medical diagnosis. The story carries on detailing the living conditions for poor communities, and their unprofessional, disrespectful frequent experiences with medical staff. As a result of this situation came "a rallying cry for support for the Party's own healthcare facilities - "our people are dying of medical miscare--we must all work to make the People's Free Health Clinics a reality"." (Nelson, 2011, p. 76)

The book is detailed and engaging. The book provides a valuable history that I believe should be made part of the school curriculum in the United States. It contains detailed information useful to anybody faced with the same discriminatory practices. It is the first book of its kind with a length treatment of Black Panther Party’s medical initiatives. Nelson argument that the Black Panther Party’s medical programs to be recognized as  continuance of preceding initiatives of the medical civil rights movement and that discourses related to them act as predecessors of the latest debates concerning health care as a human right not a privilege is persuasive.

Towards the end of the book, it is very exciting, where Nelson is explaining the Black Panther Party challenge to the establishment of the UCLA Center for the Study and Reduction of Violence (Nelson, 2011). This group research programs hypothesized that violence was the product of the inherent pathology of people and not a social or political phenomenon. Nelson’s work is worth commendation for its thoroughness and thoughtfulness. The book has provided a vivid look at the relationship between race, politics, and health through a deep perceptive of the Black Panther Party’s health activisms of the 1960s-1970s (Moonstone Art Center, 2012). I highly recommend this book to all history students so that they can understand the positive work which was performed by the Black Panther Party during the Civil Rights period in America.

Order now

Related essays