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Regional Interests

‘This Is American History’: Oakland Mini Museum on the Black Panther Party Opens on Juneteenth

In celebration of Juneteenth this year, The West Oakland Mural Project opened a small museum to highlight Black Panther Party history.

“It’s going to stay here for as long as I am able to sustain it,” said Jilchristina Vest, the visionary and owner of the house and museum, on what she’s calling a “mini museum.”

KQED’s Kate Wolffe spoke with Vest about what she hopes to share with the community, the significance of the location and what it means to open this weekend.

Abené (left) and Julian Rucker look at displays in the Black Panther Mini Museum in Oakland on June 19, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What can people find inside the mini museum?

Jilchristina Vest: The mini museum is a combination of several 8-foot banners that have a lot of beautiful photographs and a lot of really amazing information on them. There’s a lot of news articles — and information to take away, things you’ve never seen. A lot of it has been educational material that Ericka Huggins has used in classrooms, as well as museum exhibits and pop ups.

The items in the museum belong to Lisbet Tellefsen, who has curated other exhibits. These items have never been displayed all at the same time.

You really get to dive deep and learn about the Panthers taking elders to the grocery store, and making sure that people had their sugar checked and their blood pressure checked. It’s very in-depth and it’s very concentrated on 60 survival programs — giving people what they need.

What I have experienced so far, of people leaving the museum, is people walk away lighter and happier, joyful, taller and feeling proud and grateful to have this information in their brain.

Can you describe the history of this street and the legacy of the Black Panther Party here?

I bought my house in 2000 and I purchased a house here in West Oakland because of the Black Panther legacy, and how it’s attached to West Oakland. About five years after I moved in, I realized that the house is across the street from where Huey P. Newton was killed in 1989. I did not know that when I bought the house.

It just became even more profound because of the Black Panther Party. Most recently, on Feb. 17, on Huey P. Newton’s birthday, they renamed Ninth Street Dr. Huey P. Newton Way. Coming up in October, they’re going to be installing a bust from the Huey P. Newton Foundation.

Now the mural is sitting on Huey P. Newton Way, which wasn’t the case when the mural was born last summer — everything really seems to be falling in place beautifully.

What I think is so important is there’s a large group of people that know a fuller story of who the Black Panther Party was. A majority of Americans have been fed misinformation and a very biased and negative story of who the Black Panther Party was. It’s very, very important to me to teach and educate people who they really were and this museum and the mural makes it very obvious.

Can you talk a bit about preserving the legacy of the Black Panther Party?

I think that there’s a movement right now, specifically in Oakland, and I hope that I am a part of that spark. I definitely want to be a part of the movement to ask Oakland to stand up and start behaving as if they are proud of this legacy.

Oakland should be nothing but unabashedly proud that they are the birthplace of, in my opinion, the most dynamic group of humanitarians that ever gathered in one place at any point in history. Oakland gave birth to that.

There’s a lot of Black Panthers still in the Bay Area that want to participate in that. Nobody’s trying to hide any part of the history — we’re trying to complete the story. This movement, this mural, this museum, my mission is to try to complete the story, give all the information.

This, along with all kinds of history that has been labeled Black history or ethnic history, and therefore [some say] we don’t have to teach it. This is American history. American citizens were helped by the Black Panther Party.

Copyright 2021 KQED