View Kenneth P. Green, Sr.’s photographs at the Oakland Museum of California in the ongoing Black Power exhibition. Uncover the history of the Black Power movements in California with a compelling addition to the Gallery of California History. In response to the widely-popular 2016 exhibition All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50, this new installation will illustrate the creative ways black anti-racist activists in California supported their communities and challenged the U.S. government.
Focusing on the example of the Black Panther Party, Black Power will bring to light the tensions between a culturally and socially progressive California and examples of economic racism and oppression in the state. This moment in California history will be represented through historic photographs, provocative objects, iconic posters, paintings and interactive prompts that encourage visitors to take action out in the world. Learn more about the Bay Area role in this national story, and the impacts this history continues to have today. Black Power is supported in part by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board.
Why the Photographs of Kenneth P. Green Sr. Are “Turning Up!” Empowering Teens Today By Sharing Images of 1960s Oakland.
This month A Safe Place helped organized two “Turn Up” events to spread the word about healthy teen relationships. To help us, Kenneth Green Jr. really turned it up, sharing amazing photographs from 1960s Oakland, taken by his father, the celebrated photo-documentarian, Kenneth P. Green Sr. We spoke to him about his father, the photographs and why he wanted to Turn Up.
In 2007, the Oakland Tribune moved out of the Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland, and in the process, cleared out its storage. Kenneth Green Jr. got a call asking if he wanted to keep any of his father’s “stuff”. His father, Kenneth Green Sr. had been the first African American photographer for the Oakland Tribune and the “stuff” they were talking about were boxes of his photographs, an irreplaceable documentary archive of Oakland in the 1960s-80s.
“My father majored in photography at Laney College from 1965–67. Basically, as a college student, he pretty much documented the life and culture of the Bay Area, including one of the most dramatic social changes happening in Oakland from 1966 to 68, and he was able to take photographs, definitely a documentarian of the movement.”
“Very early on he documented the Black Panther Party before it really had its own logo and name. In the very early stages he had a very intimate relationship with the student body in Oakland which gave him a very intimate position to document the movement as it was happening.”
A Legacy in Photographs. Kenneth Green, Jr. rediscovers his father’s archive, capturing a pivotal era of Oakland and Black Panther Party history.
Interview by Lisa Silberstein, Experience Developer at Oakland Museum of California,
with contributions from Claudia Leung, Digital Communications Specialist
November 17, 2016
Kenneth Green, Sr. was the first African American staff photographer at The Oakland Tribune. He documented cultural and civic life in Oakland from 1968 until his tragic death in 1982 at the age of 40. Green’s photography included images of history-making candidates like Ron Dellums and the beginning of the Black Panther Party.
Green’s son, Kenneth Green, Jr., was born and raised in Oakland, and has spent years slowly uncovering the archive that his father amassed during his time as a photography student at Laney College and on the staff of The Oakland Tribune. As Kenneth Green, Jr. adds more photos to the online archive of his dad’s work, we talked to him about the historic importance of these images, finding his dad through photography, and what it means to have his father’s images shown to the public at the Museum.
Lisa Silberstein: Some of your fathers’ photos that we’re showing in the exhibition All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50 were ones that you found in your grandmother’s house. Can you tell me about that story?
Kenneth Green: Yes. I’ve had boxes of pictures that I’ve carried around, but my grandmother is the matriarch of the family, so she’s always had lots of pictures, wedding dresses, and everything at home. She held everything. It wasn’t until the Tribune was getting ready to move from their storage in downtown Oakland, and they arranged to have whatever photographers were around that wanted the work to come and get it. Ron Riesterer at the time was the photographer for the Oakland Tribune. He said, “Kenny, they’re getting ready to throw this stuff out on the street. They’re putting it in the trash. Do you want your dad’s stuff?” I said, “I’d love to have it.”
That was maybe 15 years ago. Because of it being my father's, I just took all the pictures and I shoved it in a dark room in the garage, and I never touched again, ever. That was grief to me. It wasn’t until one afternoon—I used to fish along the delta, in Oakley and Antioch, and my grandma lives out there now. I would stop by when I finished fishing. She always had an envelope or a box of pictures to give me. “Hey son, I’m just cleaning up. Got something for you.” This one particular day that I went by, she actually gave me some pictures, and when I opened it up, they were Black Panther Party images. I started to cry then, that afternoon, because I understood that it was now time for me to look deeper into my dad’s collection. I couldn’t avoid it anymore.
That evening I went home, started looking at pictures that she’d given me, and decided to go outside, get the flashlight, go into the garage, and pull out all of the boxes from the back wall and bring them in the house. I started dusting them off. The first box I touched was all his Tribune stuff. Once I pulled it out, I knew that I was onto something. I gradually started going through them. It continued to come up, and I started to go into the boxes a little deeper.
I reached out to a good friend of mine Robert Edwards and in turn he helped me meet with Professor Emeritus Russ Ellis. He suggested I contact the African American Studies Department Associate Professor Leigh Raiford. I went to UC Berkeley, and we invited staff members at Cal and UC Santa Cruz over to the campus to give me some direction on what I could possibly do with this work that I found.