The Women of The Black Panthers


"No march, movement, or agenda that defines manhood in the narrowest terms and seeks to make women lesser partners in this quest for equality can be considered a positive step."

Last week we bought an incredible copy of The Black Panthers by Gene Marine (pictured above) a study of the revolutionary men who invented and weaponized Black Power in their fight for racial justice in America. Covering the life and politics of the parties main faces, including Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver and Bobby Hutton, the book is a searing vindication of their struggle. While we passed the book around and talked about these men we started mentioning names of women that we knew were involved with the Party but had absolutely no representation in the book. This book will be for sale on our website but we wanted to make a separate post simply to shine a light on the iconic women who spearheaded the Black Panther Party and helped change the course of history as civil rights activists in the twentieth century and beyond. While it’s always frustrating that male faces, voices and opinions usually take precedence over women's, racial inequality is inextricable from gender inequality and this is something the Party struggled with. Taking this time to focus our attention more sharply on the the women who fought for the movement is extremely important as we all continue to educate and challenge ourselves. At a time of such monumental global change it can be extremely comforting to find common ground with others who have struggled before us, and take strength from the people, and especially the women, who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to stand up for what they believed in and use their voices for change. 
The world for us may seem to be getting more and more divided but during the 60s when the Black Panther movement was formed, the ongoing racial and gender inequality in America and the UK was at crisis point. To this day when you think about the Black Panthers the majority of the faces that come to mind are the male revolutionaries. While they primarily led the movement, like most revolutionary movements, there were a huge number of incredibly skilled and progressive women who played vital roles in all areas of the operation. These women supported the movement from the ground up, ensuring that their collective actions were organised, strategized and implemented with maximum impact and success. They are equally responsible for the reach of the parties core beliefs and by demanding leadership positions, their contributions moved the message of the Black Panthers into social consciousness and changed the face of civil rights forever. While aspects of the Black Panther Parties politics remain controversial, the influence of the women below extends way beyond the reach of the party. By the late 70s, women made up the majority of the party and those same women continue to fight today in the name of justice and black liberation. 91% of Voting American Black women voted for the new President Elect Joe Biden and the political power of Black women is immense. Their stories and contributions to American and Global politics deserves to be learned, understood and respected, not left out of the history books.

Angela Davis 

 “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”

Angela Davis, pictured above, is at the top of our list for her involvement with the Black Panther Party as she joined with the singular intention to address sexism within the movement. She had noticed the unequal delegation of roles among its members and taken offense at some of the language used to address women from the male leaders and sought to change it from the inside out.

She initially suffered at the hands of some chauvinistic members of the party and fought against the ingrained misogyny that was holding the party back. Her natural propensity for leadership and eye for positive reform changed the face of the Black Panthers forever and she continues her advocacy as a writer and teacher to this day. In 1969, the group began feeding vulnerable children at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church on 29th Street before school. By the end of the year, they were feeding 20,000 children in nineteen cities in what would become the blueprint for the government’s school breakfast program.


Angela is currently a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is a founding member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and the author of over 10 books on race, the US prison system, class and feminism. In 2020 she was listed as the 1971 "Woman of the Year" in Time magazine's "100 Women of the Year" edition, which covered the 100 years that began with women's suffrage in 1920.

"The process of empowerment cannot be simplistically defined in accordance with our own particular class interests. We must learn to lift as we climb"


Elaine Brown 

-"A woman in the Black Power movement was considered, at best, irrelevant. A woman asserting herself was a pariah. If a black woman assumed a role of leadership, she was said to be eroding black manhood, to be hindering the progress of the black race. She was an enemy of the black people...I knew I would have to muster something mighty to manage the Black Panther Party."

Elaine Brown joined the Black Panther party in LA after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jnr in 1968. Her work within the party included leading them to set up its first Free Breakfast for Children program in Los Angeles, as well as the Party's initial Free Busing to Prisons Program and Free Legal Aid Program. She was raised in abject poverty but found her way to Los Angeles, meeting Jay Richard Kennedy while working at a strip club. They became lovers and he educated her on the Civil Rights Movement, Capitalism, and Communism which led her to joining the Black Liberation Movement and subsequently the Black Panthers.
Her lifelong dream was to become a singer and during her time in the Party she recorded two albums of protest music Seize The Time and Until We Are Free. After Huey Newton fled America on criminal charges, Elaine was appointed the first official female leader of the Party and used her time in power to focus on community service and electoral politics, educating Black Communities on local and state-wide political nuances. 
After leaving the Black Panthers, Brown focused her attention on prison reform and is considered an expert on American Prison systems and to this day works as an educator and writer on the subject. 

“Oddly, I had never thought of myself as a feminist. I had been denounced by certain radical feminist collectives as a ‘lackey’ for men. That charge was based on my having written and sung two albums of songs that my female accusers claimed elevated and praised men. Resenting that label, I had joined the majority of black women in America in denouncing feminism… . The feminists were right. The value of my life had been obliterated as much by being female as by being black and poor. Racism and sexism in America were equal partners in my oppression.”



Kathleen Cleaver

"At times someone would ask me, 'What is the place of the woman in the Black Panther Party?' I never liked that question. I'd give a short answer, its the same as men. A woman's place is in the struggle." 

Probably one of the most famous female faces of the movement, Kathleen Cleaver was married to Eldridge Cleaver, a minister of information for the party whom the book above centers around. The couple were figureheads for the party. Kathleen became the Communications Secretary and the first woman to enter into the parties decision making cabinets. By the seventies the party was made up of mostly women who had managed to evade exile or imprisonment, led largely by the influence of Cleaver. She decided to divorce Eldridge after twenty years of marriage.

They had been traveling extensively to avoid arrest and intense scrutiny from the police in America, leading to them being granted citizenship in Paris with their son. They stayed in Paris for only a year before returning to America to live in exile and where they eventually separated. Kathleen become a Lawyer and graduated from Yale Law School at the age of 49. Kathleen Cleaver now works as a senior lecturer at Emory University School of Law. She has authored several books that include, Memories of Love and War, Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party, and Black Flags and Windmills, and currently lives in New Haven with documentary filmmaker St. Clair Bourne.


“People have been murdered for less than what the Black Panthers did, so the question was for us: ‘Do you want to live on your knees or die on your feet?”


Fredricka Newton


Assata Shakur





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