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."
“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"
-"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."
“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.”
"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?”
"I know that love is not just a feeling and that it's an action in terms of your community. I think that what we did in the Party, was just such a definition of love. It's just an ultimate example of undying love for their community."
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”