2015 National Board Of Review Gala

50 years after the formation of the Black Panther Party, they are once again the talk of America. And judging by the reactions, their legacy is still strong.

With the new documentary on the group, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, debuts tonight on PBS, the timing couldn’t be better. Beyonce‘s performance during the Super Bowl halftime paid tribute to the group, and the backlash that followed ignited a new conversation about their significance. As many will watch the latest work from award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson, a lot will be shown during its airtime but some details will be left out. For example, there are a few celebrities who once were members of or explored being down with the BPP.

Here are five icons who were once connected to the party.

Chaka Khan Performs Live At Sydney Festival 2014

Chaka Khan

The legendary singer was in fact down with the Panthers in her early days. Chaka Khan befriended Fred Hampton of the Chicago chapter and decided to join in 1967. It was during this time that an African Shaman gave her the name she goes by today. In 1969 however, she left the party and decided to pursue a career in music. The rest is history.

2014 Essence Music Festival - Day 2

Nile Rodgers

Believe it or not, the award-winning producer and Chic member was part of the Harlem chapter of the Panthers. Nile Rodgers said he joined the party in his teenage years and was an active member during the ’60s. He even tweeted about his history with the Panthers after Beyonce’s performance at the Super Bowl:

Miriam Makeba...

Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba was not a member of the party, but at one point she was married to political activist Stokely Carmichael. The famous South African singer, who fled her country during apartheid, was blacklisted in the U.S. music industry, having her shows and record deals canceled due to her association with Carmichael. The two moved to Guinea where they lived for the next 15 years. Makeba could not tour in the U.S. during this time but still performed throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. She would eventually separate from Carmichael during the ’70s.

2015 National Board Of Review Gala

Samuel L. Jackson

Bet you did not see this coming. A young Samuel L. Jackson once received guidance from famed Panthers leaders Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown. Jackson had built a reputation before meeting them, having been with a group that held the Morehouse College board of trustees hostage until they reformed the curriculum. However, before Jackson started working with them, his mother moved him to L.A. out of fear for his life. Later on when he returned to Morehouse, he decided to pursue acting.

Maya Angelou

The late writer was not a member of the party, but lent her support to them. She visited the party’s school in Oakland, and a photo of her teaching a class of students there can be found online. When she passed the former co-founder of the party, Bobby Seale, recounted how she confronted a then-governor Ronald Reagan when he was was attacking the Black Panther Party.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution airs tonight at 9 PM EST on PBS.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty 

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