The house of Billy X Jennings, a former Black Panther whose home is a museum to the history of the party and the movement.  Joshua Johnson
The house of Billy X Jennings, a former Black Panther whose home is a museum to the history of the party and the movement.  (Joshua Johnson )

Preserving the History of the Black Panthers Close to Home

Preserving the History of the Black Panthers Close to Home

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very corner of Billy X Jennings' home is filled with memorabilia. The walls are barely visible behind a sea of posters and banners. Every available surface is carefully decorated with mugs, statues, newspapers and pamphlets -- all of it forming a living shrine to Black Panther history.

Jennings' house, on a tree-lined residential street in Sacramento, has become the de facto museum and archive of the Panthers. He also runs an online archive to preserve the Black Panther Party's legacy and connect alumni.

"I have always been a collector since I was a kid. I collected stamps, coins, comic books," says Jennings, who is a former Panther. But he put those hobbies aside when he became politicized in the crucible of the 1960s.

Thirty years later, he began gathering photos for a Black Panthers reunion. Rifling through the old memorabilia sparked that old passion, but this time with a new  focus -- the completion of what Jennings calls the most extensive archive of Black Panther materials.

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How has he managed to amass such a vast collection?

For one thing, he's been at it for years. And as word of the "museum" spread, more and more people began to donate, Jennings says. He also scours garage sales for every possible piece of paper and paraphernalia.

For Jennings, the collection is a way to remember a movement that gave back to the community through initiatives like the free breakfast program, health clinics, sickle cell anemia testing and aid to senior citizens.

Jennings says his museum is meant to chronicle and preserve an undertold part of the Black Panther story.

"It reminds me of a time when life had a meaningful purpose," he says. "There's nothing like waking up in the morning knowing that what you are doing, what you are fighting for, is a just cause. They haven't invented a drug that makes you feel that way."

Billy X Jennings holding up a picture of him with Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton.
Billy X Jennings holding up a picture of him with Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton. (Joshua Johnson )

Jennings adds that the real memory and meaning of the Panthers live far beyond the walls of his filled-to-the-brim home.

He tells a story about walking down Telegraph Avenue in Oakland recently, wearing his usual Black Panther T-shirt.

"Some brothers were coming down the street, and they say, 'Hey man, was you a Panther?' "

When Jennings told them yes, one of the men reached out and hugged him. Another told him the Panthers were his heroes.

"One brother said, 'Hey, my grandmother told me that when she ran out of food, she would call the Panther office and the Panthers would bring her food to her house,' " Jennings says. "How old is that story? How long has that story been in that family?"

The Panther legacy, he says, lives on and on.

The walls of Billy X Jennings home are covered with Black Panther memorabilia.
The walls of Billy X Jennings' home are covered with Black Panther memorabilia. (Joshua Johnson)