Book Review: Power Hungry by Suzanne Cope

There are many books that cover the inception and legacy of the Black Panther Party but I have yet to see one that only discussed the role food played in the movement. We now have an in-depth view of the food programs and some of the women that worked to make these programs successful. Read on for a review of Power Hungry: Women  of  the  Black  Panther  Party and Freedom Summer and Their Fight to Feed a Movement by Suzanne Cope.

review of Power Hungry

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Review of Power HUngry

Power Hungry by Suzanne Cope centers around two women, both activists, who use food to help inspire and support their communities.  Cleo Silvers helped support her NYC community by serving meals to children via the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for Children.  Aylene Quin, who served meals to Freedom Riders who were arrested, going to the jail to provide meals despite being threatened by the KKK.  These two women both in very different communities (Alyene was in the rural south while Cleo served meals in the urban North) but dealt with similar struggles with poverty and police harassment.

It’s also a wider view of how the Black Power movements served food as a way of creating trust between the organizations like the Black Panthers Party and the communities in need.  These programs weren’t just about the food, it was about providing a safe space for people who were harassed on a regular basis by white supremacists and police.

Power Hungry gives an intimate view of just how smoothly the programs ran mostly because of the dedication of the women that ran them.  Afeni Shakur expanded her local chapter to work with local businesses to provide clothing and shoes to community members who needed it.  Cleo found herself supporting local addicts who wanted to kick their heroin habits.  These women weren’t just boxed into specific roles, they did the necessary tasks no matter how menial to provide services to their neighborhoods that just weren’t available.

Author Suzanne Cope doesn’t shy away from the role of the FBI’s COINTEL program on its illegal and abusive policies that eventually succeeded in fracturing the New York City chapter from the National Black Panther Party.  Pointing towards the Black Panther Panther’s community organizing results that endangered Hoover’s racist agenda, Cope meticulously details the sabotage that ranged from ignoring bombings of Black family’s homes by the KKK to how FBI’s planted agents who wrecked havoc on the organization.

While this is the definitive source on how the Black Panther Party Free Food programs worked, I wish there was more insight to how these programs affected the children who participated in them?  Did those children in turn become community organizers?  When the programs stopped were there any similar meal resources that communities relied on?  

Even with these questions, Power Hungry is a critical read for anyone learning more about how Black organizers used food to uplift and inspire their communities and it’s still relevant today in the midst of the politicization of free school lunch programs.

Rating: 4/5 stars


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