chapter  16
14 Pages

Picking up the Gun

Spectacular Performances of Firearm Ownership in the Long Civil Rights Movement
ByLindsay Adamson Livingston

The Panthers' spectacular performance of gun ownership introduced the group to a national audience. The Panthers' use of guns as threat and symbol of empowerment drew on long legacies of both gun ownership and racial relations within the US, extending from before the American revolution up through the present. While the gun is a material object and can be utilized as such, it also holds and projects a sensual power that is often embodied through performances of gun ownership. The animosity between Black communities and the government that excluded them manifested in riots and other civil disturbances and culminated in the battles between the state and Black activists during the long Civil Rights Era. Historical narratives of the civil rights movement often privilege a division of the era into pre-1965, a period exemplified by non-violent resistance, and post-1965, a time highlighted by the emergence of an armed and vociferous Black insurgency.