Born out of the tumult of the 1960s, the Black Panther Party is usually portrayed as a militant organization with radical political views.
But there’s another side to the story of the Black Panthers, one that involved feeding breakfast to poor children, operating an ambulance service for people in neglected areas, screening people for sickle-cell anemia and infusing a spirit of black pride within their communities.
That version of the Black Panther story will be recognized today when city officials unveil a historic marker for the Winston-Salem chapter of the Black Panther Party at the northeast corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Fifth Street, near the group’s former headquarters.
The Winston-Salem chapter, organized in 1969, was the first to be formed in the Southeast.
Nelson Malloy, an early member of the party who later became member of the Winston-Salem City Council, said he never imaged the Panthers would be recognized in such an official capacity.
“But we are, in fact, part of the city’s history,” he said.
Mark Maxwell is the chairman of the city’s 12-member Historic Resources Commission that selects historic markers.
Most members of the commission were familiar with the violent past of the national Panther Party, Maxwell said.
But once they learned of the local Panthers’ positive impact on the community, their views shifted, she said.
“We felt we had an organization that had a story,” Maxwell said.
City Council Member Derwin Montgomery suggested the marker, and a city intern helped organize the application, said Leslie Pegram, the historic resource officer for the Historic Resource Commission.
The commission usually has funding to mark two historic sites each year, she said. The Katie B. Reynolds Memorial Hospital, a segregated hospital that served the black community, received a marker earlier this year.