“Icons like the Black Panther Party logo, the “Sabo-Tabby,” and innumerable pieces of protest art go against the traditional Western taboo around the felines.”


    Feline disobedience works against the Western notion that nature serves humanity and therefore disrupts a sense of order. The superstition associating black cats with bad luck is rooted in the European fear of darkness. Artists have revived an alternative tradition that dates back thousands of years. These representations of black cats have been against the Western taboo that they are ominous or sinister. The Industrial Workers of the World use a black cat (“Sabo-Tabby”) as their icon for sabotage. Similarly, the Black Panthers named their party after an animal that only attacks when provoked.

    “The Black Panther logo was originally drafted in 1966 by Dorothy Zellner and Ruth Howard at the request of Kwame Ture (then Stokely Carmichael) to represent the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. The symbol evolved after the Party for Self-Defense incorporated in Oakland. Local artist Lisa Lyons popularized alternative designs of the panther on black-and-white flyers for rallies and marches, particularly for the freeing of Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver’s presidential campaign. Lyons helped transform the panther into a symbol of beauty and honor.”

    “In most political contexts, black cats are silent agitators advocating for redistribution of wealth or even the overthrow of the government. As the first industrial labor union to recruit women and BIPOC, the IWW (or Wobblies) challenged the tactics of more conservative unions like the American Federation of Labor. Socialist writer Ralph Chaplin created the original Sabo-Tabby at the apex of the union’s radicalism when it was hated by predatory capitalists and targeted for police suppression and surveillance. Over time, the symbol foreshadowed bad luck for bosses but liberation for workers and artists adapted its likeness for political cartoons and propaganda to suit localized actions.”

How Black Cats Went From Bad Luck to Symbols of Defiance